In 2002, 32,200 people were killed and 215,000 were injured in 184,000 traffic accidents in Russia, the Moscow Times reported Wednesday.
Damages incurred in the car accidents hit 182 billion rubles (about 6 billion US dollars) last year, or a whopping 1.6 percent of 2002 gross domestic product (GDP), said Vladimir Kuzin, a department head in the traffic police.
2002 was the first year the traffic police tallied damages fromtraffic accidents, as part of the run-up to the introduction of mandatory car insurance across the country Tuesday.
"Traffic accidents have worse consequences in Russia than in European countries," Kuzin was quoted by the newspaper as saying.
"In Europe, three to five people die in every 100 accidents, while in Russia this figure is 14. This is too much."
Moreover, there are 500 to 600 cars for every 1,000 people in Europe, while Russia has only 200 cars per 1,000 people, he noted.Some 33 million vehicles were registered in Russia as of last year,excluding those used by the military and several other state agencies.
Kuzin blamed the high accident rate on poor driving skills, pointing out that every third novice driver is unable to pass the driving test on the first attempt.
In Russia, it has been a widespread practice that to-be driverspay bribes to skip driving school and obtain licenses.
Kuzin said drunken driving accidents jumped by 16 percent last year, while the number of unsolved accidents grew by 18.5 percent.
In Moscow, traffic accidents appear to be on the decline this year. Deputy city traffic police chief Alexander Khodakov said thenumber of accidents fell about 18 percent in the first five monthsof 2003, compared to the same period last year. Accident fatalities fell 25.9 percent.
Russia police started refusing to register new cars Tuesday as a law requiring third-party car insurance went into force across the country.
Only insured cars can be registered by the police now, and the shortest policy that insurance companies can sell by the new law lasts six months, which disappoint car owners that want to reduce cost by purchasing short-term insurance policy.
Rates vary from city to city and vehicle to vehicle. A one-yearpolicy for the average Lada owner in Moscow will cost about 126 USdollars.
From January 1 on, the traffic police will start fining car owners whose vehicles are not insured.