All those meteor videos out of Chelyabinsk this morning have people wondering why so many Russians seem to have dashboard cameras. Slate.fr answered this question earlier this month, and we’ve translated their Explainer in light of Friday's news.
If you’re an average Internet user who spends five hours a month watching videos on YouTube, you have likely stumbled upon a video compilation showing, with the aid of a dashboard camera, a plane crash, a spectacular road accident, or a man narrowly avoiding being run over. For the most part, these videos are from Russia. Why do Russians install cameras in their cars?
Because they’re scared of scams and police corruption. Russia is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. And the glaring gap between rich and poor leads the latter to mount increasingly elaborate scams. For their own protection, drivers, the preferred targets of frauds, install cameras in their vehicles.
An increasingly popular practice
Russians, laymen and professionals, have been rigging their cars with cameras for years. They can legally record a conversation with the police, and this practice is becoming more and more popular. (Currently, France isn’t as familiar with the practice.)
Installing cameras is legal (which is true in France as well), but the recordings can’t always be used as primary evidence, since videos can be manipulated.
When two cars are in an accident in Russia, the affair can be amicably settled between the two drivers if they agree on the circumstances of the accident and the damage does not exceed 25,000 rubles, or about 600 euros (more than $800). Beyond that, it’s mandatory to call the police.
This is when certain less scrupulous drivers offer a bribe to the officer so that he takes their side. If the wronged driver’s car is equipped with a camera, he can prove the circumstances of the accident and seek compensation.
A proposed deal for the victim
Three sorts of fraud involving Russian motorists are particularly common.
In the first, the victim stops at a traffic light or a stop sign behind the scammer’s car. The scammer then quickly strikes the victim in reverse before accusing him of being struck. The following video, shot in Toronto, Canada, illustrates this type of scam.
In the second case, the victim is accosted by another driver. He announces that the victim hit someone or another vehicle a few hundred meters up the road without stopping, which is an offense punishable by suspension of one’s license.
In the last case, the scammer, a pedestrian claiming to have been struck by the victim, throws himself in front of the car. This process is extremely dangerous for the thief, as shown in this Russian video:
In each case, the victim is made an offer: either he immediately reimburses the damage or compensates the injury or the scammer calls the police. Frightened and without evidence of the scam, most victims accept the blackmail, the amount of which depends on the skill of the scammer.
By installing a camera, the driver protects himself. Transparency International, an NGO that fights corruption, also advises, in the case of an unequipped vehicle, to record the conversation using a mobile phone. In most cases, the scammer, seeing that he is being filmed, flees the scene.
Thanks to lawyer Natalya Collo and Transparency International's Andrew Gvirblis. Thanks to Byron Boneparth for the translation. Find other L’explication articles here.