Notes From Hairenik
Last night around 8:30 I got into an automobile accident. The two passengers in my car as well as in the one that hit mine were all unhurt, which is the most important thing. I and the other driver were also unscathed.

However, readers are probably asking themselves what happened to my poor old Niva. Well, as I was turning left (and also signaling) a mediocre 15-20 year old Mercedes-Benz, one of the smaller types, decided to pass me at a high speed and in the process nicked the corner of my car’s front bumper. The bumper, which is affixed to the body by two weighty metal posts, was torn away on the left side where it was hit, while the right side managed to hang on. The Mercedes-Benz however, was in much worse shape. The front and rear passenger doors were significantly damaged, and on top of that it looked as though the front end was severely out of alignment. Older men in their 50s or 60s who bothered to stop and observe what would transpire as a result of the accident were overheard lamenting the fact that the Mercedes-Benz was smashed up, never mind my car or more importantly the people who were sitting in each vehicle.

As soon as we pulled our respective cars over and got out, the driver who collided into my Niva started to argue, as I was expecting a second after the accident occurred. Amazingly I kept my cool, probably because I was in shock. After a minute of accusing me of failing to signal to turn left, which was not the case, I finally intervened to ask how he and his passengers were. He neglected to ask how we were, which was not surprising to me as I was expecting that the car’s condition would be more important than my own or that of my passengers. After arguing back and forth for 5–10 minutes, my team versus his, with bystanders refereeing, he agreed to pay for the damages to my car. At first he demanded that my car be taken to a body shop located in Noragavit, a part of town only a couple of kilometers from the Ararat region’s border with Yerevan, but then his brother or cousin (the Armenian slang name for the family member is the same) who happens to live nearby where the accident occurred in Achpnyak (Cheramushka) on Arzoumanyan Street nearby the Kievyan Bridge, convinced him to have his neighbor fix my car, which was fine by me. The accident occurred in a residential neighborhood by the way where two schools are situated. The auto body workman seems to be very capable judging by the way he spoke about what needed to be done and how to do it. He also noticed the fact that one of the Niva’s previous owners had some kind of head-on collision, as was evident by the poorly soldered welds and crumbling painted bonding plaster that was used to patch up the mess.

As you can see in the above photo of a nearly identical Niva to my own parked on a beautiful beach with a glamorous woman striking a pose by leaning against it with her right arm, perhaps caressing it admiringly, the corner of the bumper—the black plastic part—needs to be replaced. The steel bumper itself appears to be in fine condition, so I am assuming there is minimal work to be done there. The black grill, which of course is also made from plastic, needs to be replaced, and the lower front needs to be stretched back into its rightful shape somehow, as was told to me. There are some other small dents that formed in the collision which will also be banged out. If I was driving a newer model (mine was built in 1995) the damage could have been worse since they are generally not built as solidly according to what I have heard and even noticed. Hopefully I will have my car back looking as if nothing had ever happened to it in about a week.

Now you may be wondering, why was the driver of the Mercedes-Benz going so fast, and why was he passing you while you were about to make a left turn (that happened to me for the first time a few weeks ago)? Well for one thing, very few people actually learn how to drive here. You see student driver cars around the city now but they are few and far between compared with the amount of vehicles that are on the road and are ever increasing. Most people simply do not know the rules of the road or even care about them judging by the way they drive. My apartment is situated on an intersection that has a traffic light, but there isn’t a minute or two that goes by when I see someone go through a red light or pull half-way into the intersection while waiting 15 seconds for the light to turn green. There are also lots of close calls, especially in the way people pass each other, so my situation was no exception. It is generally amazing that accidents are hard to come across given the reckless nature of most drivers, especially the young punks driving their own Nivas or other Lada models. There should be more traffic police pulling people over on the roads—I observed one such situation last week from my balcony where the cop was giving the driver a hard time about some violation, and it appeared that he wrote the guy a ticket. But you don’t see that as often as is needed in Yerevan especially. I imagine that the pulling over of vehicles by police infrequently happens outside the capital. There is one other thing to consider: Armenians are showoffs. They love to cruise around in their cars, each of them thinking that they are driving the best machines to master the streets, even though many of them are jalopies that barely roll along powered by natural gas. The cocky drivers are the ones who drive enormous black Japanese sport utility vehicles or relatively new German sedans—they think they own the roads and all other drivers are subservient to their hapless moves. They could care less about other motorists or pedestrians for that matter.

Alas, no matter how safely you drive and how many precautions you take while driving here, you are bound to find yourself in a situation as similar to my own. I learned the other day that a BMW went off the road on the highway to Aparan/Spitak and everyone was killed—the motorist was undoubtedly speeding since drivers move extremely fast on that stretch. So long as reckless drivers persist in pushing the limit such accidents will unfortunately continue.

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Blogger Ara said...
According to a taxi driver the other day, ever since they got rid of the traffic cops who could pull you over with their cane and an increase of people buying their licenses without learning how to drive first and actually taking a driving test, automobile fatalities have shot up to 15 to 20 a day. I have not seen any statistics reflecting this (and would not expect the government to publish them), but those who drive the roads all day I’m sure know more about what’s going on out there than us non-Yerevan drivers. I for one have long ago given up driving in Yerevan since I don’t have the nerves and leave this dangerous work to taxi drivers. There is not one time I have sat in a taxi and not witnessed a close-call or an actual minor accident. Yerevan has too many cars and not enough experienced drivers.

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
Last night I was home when a serious accident occurred just outside my apartment at a fairly busy intersection. I could not tell if anyone was serious hurt, it didn't seem that way, but the collision was bad enough that one of the cars had to be towed away almost a hour later. In fact it took an hour for the problem to be straightened out between the people involved. I think one of the cars was trying to drive up my street which is one-way. The other car was an Audi, which has safety belts unlike the Russian cars but it didn't look like they were worn. There were small children in the car, too. Interestingly enough police arrived at the scene less than a minute after the collision, as there was a cruiser (literally a Ford Crown Victoria) nearby. Other patrol cars also stopped by.

I often hear the screeching of tires on my street as people, particularly the youth, come to an abrupt halt for whatever reason they have. But last night was the first time I have seen a significant incident up close, and it was disconcerting. A few weeks ago two cars got into a fender-bender and one of them actually hit a traffic light pole, but one of the cars involved, a Zhiguli, just drove off a few minutes later and no police were in the vicinity.

It also makes matters worse when traffic lights continually go out, presumably because the light bulbs used are of low quality. Many of these traffic lights in the Center were just recently replaced within the last year and at the majority of intersections I have approached at least one light had burned out. Sometimes the timing of the light change is off. In other parts of the city naturally the same problem exists, no matter how busy the intersection is.

So it's a combination of respect for the rules of the road and general maintenance of traffic lights that will reduce the number of deaths. The number of vehicles on the road in Yerevan increase every day -- someone told me that 100 cars are driven across the Georgian border into Armenia daily. So the amount of accidents are going to rise unmistakably, but it's a question of whether lives can be saved by taking necessary safety precautions.

Yesterday, on the way back to Yerevan from Goris, we stopped several times to pick up people travelling from village to village on foot along the main highway. We asked these people, mostly woman and young students, if there was any local transport. They said sometimes but it wasn't at all reliable. What gives????