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Drink Driving Results in Family Tragedy Near Moscow
Moscow police blame drink driving for an accident which killed five pedestrians at the roadside.
Controversy surrounds a tragic incident near the town of Staraya Kupavna east of Moscow where four members of the same family and a friend were killed whilst waiting for a bus when they were struck by a vehicle being driven by a young woman who was over the drink driving limit.
The incident occurred on a notorious stretch of road linking the Moscow satellite town of Staraya Kupavna with a complex of small fishing and resort lakes called Biserovo. 24-year old Ekaterina Zaul was driving her Land Rover Freelander back towards the town after spending the day at the lakes with some friends when she collided with the group of pedestrians who were waiting on the unpaved verge for a service bus back to the city. The vehicle travelled for a further 220 metres beyond the point of collision.
The woman admitted to police that she had consumed around 150ml of whiskey during the day and a test showed that she had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05%. She was remanded in custody in the town of Iksha where she is awaiting trial. If convicted, she faces a jail term of up to 9 years for causing the deaths of two or more people whilst driving under the influence of alcohol.
34-year old Andrey Semin, his 33-year old wife Elena, 35-year old sister Olga and his 7-year old daughter Alexandra were all killed in the accident along with Olga’s 41-year old friend Marina Kozyreva. Olga’s 15-year old daighter Katya was also at the roadside when the accident happened but escaped unscathed. However, she was discovered at the scene of the incident in a state of deep shock and is undergoing psychological support at a specialist facility.
On 21st July, Ekaterina Zaul had driven to Biserovo Lake with her husband and a group of friends to relax on the lake shore. According to Ms Zaul’s statement to police, they had decided that her husband would drive and so she had not worried about drinking whiskey. She went on to say that her husband had become ill and she decided to drive him home at the time that the accident happened.
Witnesses say that it was late in the evening, the road was busy and visibility was not good. The road surface was wet and the lane markings were in poor repair and barely visible. Notwithstanding the conditions, the Land Rover was being driven at speed along the verge of the single-carriageway road in order to overtake the column of vehicles returning to the town.
One witness from the town spoke to the Russian press and explained that she wasn’t surprised by the accident since it was common practice for local people as well as Muscovites who have country retreats in the region to use the verges when returning from the resort areas to overtake the columns of cars returning to the town and the main highway that connects the region to Moscow. She went on to say that the attitudes of these drivers to road safety was appalling and their actions are the result of their desire to return home as quickly as possible.
The tendency to use the rough verges in Russia‘s rural areas is particularly favoured by drivers of 4×4 vehicles who place too much trust in the capabilities of such vehicles.
The controversy surrounding this case comes from two directions. The first is the furore in the Russian press which doesn’t have the same controls as many other countries when reporting on cases which are undergoing the judicial process and the second is the role that alcohol played in this tragedy.
The history of driving offences of the woman who was driving the Land Rover Freelander has been widely discussed in the press with two high profile speeding cases which she was prosecuted for since registering the new Land Rover in May 2012. The first case was at the start of June for exceeding the speed limit by between 40 and 60 kph for which she was fined 1000 Roubles and the second case was for exceeding the speed limit by between 20 and 40 kph later the same month. Critics say that such offences should have resulted in the removal of the driver’s licence rather than in fines which were no hardship for the woman to pay.
The role of alcohol in this tragedy is an important point which has implications for other jurisdictions which are considering amendments to drink driving laws. Despite the self-confessed consumption of three large whiskeys, at 0.05% BAC the woman’s blood alcohol level was lower than the UK legal limit of 0.08% BAC and on the limit for much of Europe.
This means that a roadside test in most of Europe would have allowed her to continue to drive whereas in Russia she has been branded a “drunk driver”. Russia defends its zero tolerance policy for exactly the reasons illustrated by this incident near Moscow. Combining an alcohol-induced feeling of well-being with an attitude to road safety which sees the widespread use of verges as overtaking lanes will inevitably result in the kind of tragedy that occurred earlier this month in Staraya Kupavna.