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  1. If you’re not already familiar with it, there’s a genre of video captured from dash-mounted cameras that’s been steadily stretching the internet’s seams. There are certain stylistic impositions. The footage is bitmapped. The driver is listening to music you’d only otherwise hear in a gym. The content is odd. And it always is Russian.

    Two bovines in the throes of passion getting hit by a car. A policeman clinging to the bonnet of a speeding car. A horse using a zebra crossing. A tank, à propos of nothing, shooting across a busy crossroad. An SUV being struck by lightning. A naked man fleeing from the boot of a car. And the most intense crashes known to lunacy. But why the hell are Russians filming everything?

    WARNING: links contain distressing images

    Words: Matt Jones

    This feature first appeared in Top Gear magazine

  2. “There’s such disorder on the road in Russia, and corruption affects everyone here - you never know when you need to prove your case,” says Steve Rosenberg, BBC’s Moscow correspondent. “Dash-cams give motorists a lot of confidence.”

    Which is why one in nine Russians is filming every journey, every day with portable cameras. In 2011, there were more than 200,000 reported traffic accidents, and 27,991 traffic deaths in 2012. Then there are the hustles.

  3. If you’ve got the stomach for it, rummage through Russia’s LiveJournal video community where you can see scammers reverse into cars at traffic lights or launch themselves onto bonnets to try to collect a cash payout.

    The country’s vast road networks still bear the vestiges of Communism, too. While 1,799,805 new cars were sold in Russia over the past 12 months, the traffic’s still very… Soviet. And it’s virtually impossible to get fully comp insurance cover on anything more than 10 years old. If you’re one of the 18 million Russians living below the official poverty line - one of the lowest lines you can draw without falling over - pre-2003 motoring and a dash-cam to protect your liability is your only option.

  4. Communism’s legacy still lives on. Russia’s been gristled with corruption for decades, and there’s a deep distrust of the authorities. Transparency International ranks it 133rd in its corruption index (where number one is the least corrupt). And in a recent poll conducted by the Russian Public Opinion Study Center, 32 per cent of Russians surveyed claimed traffic police were the most corrupt institution in the country.

    Rosenberg says: “It depends where you are, but in the provinces, corruption might be as common as it ever was. But even in Moscow, it’s a problem that can affect everything from motorists to the courts. But [dash-cams] give Russians support, back-up and confidence.”

  5. Andrew Eagle, of the Federation of Russian Car Owners, adds, “[Motorists] think they have to defend themselves from the police. They think the police are there to take bribes only. And the government cars break every rule there is because they feel untouchable.” Ironic, considering rules passed in 2009 by the Ministry of Interior Affairs stated the use of video recording equipment among road users “shouldn’t be discouraged”.

    But we still don’t know why Russia - lo-res YouTube Russia - seems so utterly, deeply terrifying. Addressing high accident statistics in 09, President Dmitry Medvedev claimed it was a consequence of “the undisciplined, criminally careless behaviour of our drivers”, adding, “Often, these are not mishaps, but blatant acts of crime.”

  6. As Rosenberg says: “The perception of Russian drivers isn’t positive, and you certainly need a sense of adventure to drive here. But the roads can be terrible, things aren’t well signposted, and conditions in winter are extremely hairy.

    “But there’s a real camaraderie that doesn’t exist in ordinary life. Russia’s a dog-eat-dog place, but if you do a good deed on the road you’ll be rewarded.” Just look online. For every video of an axe-wielding maniac, there’s one of Ladas being rescued from snow, pensioners being walked to safety, dogs being carefully removed from motorways…

  7. Rosenberg adds: “I don’t think there’s more mad stuff going on in Russia, but there are a lot more people filming. They capture the best and worst of the country.”

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