Turkmen Pres. Calls for Improved Road Safety
A News Briefing Central Asia Report
The Turkmen authorities will not succeed with their plan to improve road safety unless corruption among police officers and officials is stamped out, say NBCentralAsia observers.
At an August 6 meeting of the State Security Council, Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov criticised the work of the State Road Supervision Service – the department tasked with ensuring road safety – which he said “is not adequately tackling the issues of safety on roads”.
While the president provided no statistics on road accidents to illustrate his concerns, he charged the head of the ministry of internal affairs with developing a plan to improve road safety.
NBCentralAsia observers agree with the president that Turkmen roads are dangerous.
They attribute a high accident rate to a poor standard of driving, corruption among traffic police and the officials who give out driving licenses, and a rapid growth in the number of vehicles on the roads – many of which are faulty.
Used cars, which are readily available from local markets at reasonable prices, are in high demand in Turkmenistan. However, the vehicles – mainly shipped in from Germany and the Middle East – are often in poor condition.
“There are many defective vehicles on the roads, which creates risks,” said one Ashgabat local. Although regular car services are compulsory, these can be passed for a bribe, he said.
According to an NBCentralAsia observer, the number of vehicles in the northern Dashoguz region where he is based has risen an estimated 1.5 times in the last year.
This increased traffic, he said, has led to a growth in road accidents.
He added that many car owners – impatient to get behind the wheel – bribe examiners into giving them a driving license, instead of taking lessons and sitting a genuine test.
“The situation is critical. Many drivers have no idea about traffic rules because they got their driving license for a bribe at the State Road Supervision Service,” the source pointed out.
Local drivers say that it’s possible to buy a driving license to operate any type of vehicle for 200 US dollars, without a need to first undergo training or pass a driving test.
As a result of this, passengers and pedestrians are constantly at risk from poor driving.
“It is dangerous to get on roads now, especially in [the cities of] Turkmenabat, Dashoguz and Mary, where drivers never let pedestrians cross, even if they are at an official crossing and the light is green,” said one Turkmen journalist.
A resident of Kaahka, a town 20 kilometres east of Ashgabat, who commutes to work in the capital every day, said he is under constant stress when driving.
Drivers of passenger minibuses often take part in races on suburban roads. “I’ve seen car accidents with dreadful outcomes,” he said.
However, one Ashgabat driver who has been driving for 12 years says that pedestrians are often to blame for traffic accidents. Many attempt to cross the road in the wrong place and don’t bother to heed signs, he said.
When policemen try to record cases of pedestrians breaking road safety rules, the latter often argue that they were in the right, or attempt to bribe the officer to turn a blind eye, said the driver.
Turkmen observers believe the authorities should promote a culture of road safety by introducing regulatory measures, such as testing drivers and reviewing their licenses.
However, it will be hard to improve the situation as long as corruption exists, they say.
“If the authorities do not put an end to bribes, outrageous behaviour on the roads will continue,” said the Ashgabat observer.
(NBCA is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service is resuming, covering only Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan for the moment.)
Tags: Turkmenistan , Road Safety , Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedo
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