A Matter of Life and Death: A Comment on Driving and Traffic in Bulgaria

Written by on February 15, 2017 in Bulgaria, Latest - No comments

The U.S. State Department in Washington D.C. has lots of travel alerts on its website. They deal with terrorism and wars a lot, but also with crime, medical aspects and traffic. In their assessment of the Bulgarian road network, they wanted to use the sandwich technique, meaning they tried to phrase the first sentence in a way which would make it sound diplomatic. It didn’t work. How do you state the obvious in a moderate way? This is what they came up with: “The Bulgarian road system is largely underdeveloped.” Sorry, Bulgaria. With roads like that it does not get any more moderate.

Once they had the first sentence dealt with, those diplomats at the State Department threw all restraint overboard. This is the second sentence: “Roads are in poor repair and full of potholes.” Oh, really? I thought they were the best roads in the world. Yeah, what the Americans are trying to say is this: The roads down here are crap. You better watch out.

Now let’s see what the Berliners did, at the German Foreign Ministry, on roads in Bulgaria: “The state of many streets, but also roads, is bad.” They did not even try to sound moderate. “Large and deep holes in the road surfaces and other unforeseeable obstacles are not rare.” Certainly not.

According to both the U.S. and Germany, driving in Bulgaria is dangerous. The Americans are even saying they are not recommending driving at night. And they are warning their travelling citizens of aggressive drivers. Also they are absolutely right.

Let’s face it: Bulgaria generally has pretty big issues with roads, vehicles and driving, for several reasons. And what do those problems lead to? The highest death toll among all nations in the European Union. Last year, 700 people died on Bulgarian roads. That amounts to two deaths per day, in a small country like this one. So, this is a matter of life and death. Any decisions on traffic laws are about life and death. Any decisions on renovating roads, or building them properly in the first place, are about life and death. Enforcing traffic rules is a matter of life and death. Understanding these facts is therefore a matter of life and death as well.

Before this harsh winter started, in November of 2016, the Bulgarian Road Infrastructure Agency took the right decision. They wanted winter tires (American spelling) to be mandatory. The National Assembly softened that recommendation by experts and made sure they did not “burden millions of Bulgarian households with an obligation to buy winter tires”, as GERB’s MP Delyan Dobrev put it back then. The consequence was that in this harsh winter, winter tires were not mandatory and the decision was plain wrong. Security in traffic has to be the highest priority.

An S-Class driver, on Trakia Motorway, who just pushed law-abiding drivers out of the way, at a speed exceeding 200 km/h, in August of 2016. He was one of many that day. Nobody stopped him. Photo: Imanuel Marcus.

But that was not the only ridiculous decision the National Assembly took. A few years back, they voted to increase the maximum speed on motorways to 140 km/h, from 130 km/h. What? In Bulgaria, an estimated 40,000 people drive without driver’s license, a large percentage of the vehicles using the roads are not safe. Neither are the roads themselves. Even Trakia Motorway between Sofia and Burgas does not really support 140 km/h. That is because large sections are in a bad state. And some of the new sections, which were built only a few years ago, are already severely damaged, especially on the right lanes. And they increase the speed limit? That decision likely cost lives already.

After a lady was killed in a car, by a falling lighting fixture beam in a tunnel on Hemus Motorway between Sofia and Varna, on February 5th, 2017, the entire country was suddenly discussing tunnel safety. Bridges and tunnels should be the first objects to check. They need to be inspected on a regular basis. But nobody seems to know, including those who were responsible. Prime Minister Gerdzhikov fired high-ranking officials three days after the accident. Will that right move change anything? To be honest: I doubt it.

Also, at least traffic laws which directly affect security on the roads should actually be enforced. This is not about parking tickets, but about the kind of driving which threatens lives. The police should just use plain cars and drive along Trakia Motorway at the maximum speed allowed. Within minutes, a large BMW, Porsche, Audi or Mercedes will show up in the rear view mirror, at a speed exceeding 200 km/h, and it will likely be a lot closer than it appears. It will try to push that car away from the left lane, even while the right lane is full of traffic and there is no place to go. That aggressive driver, who put lives in danger, including his own, also by tailgating the vehicle in front of him, should be stopped immediately, pay a huge fine and have his license revoked for at least two years. The same applies to the hundreds of drivers who behave the same way every single day. This is just an example. On highways and elsewhere, a lot of ignorant drivers put people’s lives in danger all the time and nobody seems to want to stop them.

Oh, by the way: There is something called awareness-raising. The government could start a campaign, by explaining things effectively in little, well produced clips on television and the internet. The interior ministry could provide training for traffic police on enforcing traffic laws affecting security. But first, those ministries should be aware of this whole dangerous mess themselves.

By Imanuel Marcus

 

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