Un-Paradise by the Dashboard Camera


The video above is a 13 minute long compilation of traffic accidents and other oddities from Russia, all taken from the point of view of the driver. There’s a horse crossing at a crosswalk and sheep, well, not; drivers obviously going the wrong direction and other inexplicably reckless drivingexplosions and flips, and, uh, thisthis, and this. (And that all is only from the first four or so minutes.) The amount of sheer ridiculousness is astounding. But it also prompts a question:

Why do all these Russian drivers have dashboard cameras in the first place?

The answer is mixed. In a report from late 2012, Al Jazeera estimated that one million Russians — nearly one percent of the population — use dashboard cameras. Given that not all Russians drive (for example, children can’t — although given the video, who knows), that’s a sizable chunk. Russia’s population (141 million) is about 45% of that of the United States (313 million), but you don’t see nearly as many dashboard cameras here. One reason is that driving in Russia is simply a lot more dangerous. Despite the much smaller population and the lower population density in Russia, both countries have roughly the same number of motor vehicle deaths each year, at around 30,000 to 35,000.

The high mortality rate underscores the similarly high rate of accidents, as evidenced by the video. But while that explains why the dash cams can get all sorts of patently ridiculous stuff caught on video, it only partially explains the cameras — it’s not like the entire nation is collectively, intentionally, creating a real-life version of Grand Theft Auto. Rather, the cameras are there for security — from road raging motorists as well as the legal and insurance systems. One report sums it up: “Dash-cam footage is the only real way to substantiate your claims in the court of law.”

And we aren’t talking about fender benders or lazy police officers. The issue is much more nefarious. As Wired reported, many of the videos — none seen in the clip above, because YouTube policies disallow for such content — involve “profanity-laden fist-fights, massive crashes, and gruesome deaths,” any of which would easily make the news in the U.S. and most other places. If that does happen, and you’re the victim, proving it is tough. TIME notes that the courts there “won’t, apparently, take physical bruises as evidence of bodily harm.” Further, TIME reports, “dash cam footage helps prevent against bribery, police brutality and intimidation by traffic police, which 32 percent of Russians called the most corrupt institution in the country.”

Because of the distrust in the system and the rampant bad driving, insurance rates in Russia have gone through the roof — and denials of coverage have, too. Without the dashboard cameras, it’s easy for the insurer to decline to pay the injured insured; as Geek.com reported, “scams became so common that Russian auto insurance companies [were] denying claims with little reason.” And because very few people have anything more than basic liability insurance (that is, they’re uninsured unless they can show someone else caused the harm), a simple hit-and-run can become incredibly costly — unless you can demonstrate who hit you. So if you’re driving in Russia, you probably want that dashboard cam —  as one person told Wired, “you can get into your car without your pants on, but never get into a car without a dash cam.”

Bonus fact: One other benefit of Russian dashboard cameras? Capturing meteor explosions on video. When a meteor unexpectedly struck Siberia on February 15, 2013, no one knew to get the cameras ready — but thankfully (for science!) a few drivers had their dash cams running.

From the ArchivesEternal Flame Pit: After the meteor hit in Russia, a number of media outlets incorrectly reported a picture of a burning pit of fire in the country. This is what they were talking about. (It’s not related to the meteor, at all.)

RelatedA wide variety of dashboard cameras.