Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Drive carefully on Bulgarian killer roads

The translation below is from an Aug. 22, 2010 DarikNews report:

"Boy dies after car crash near Burgas
A 16-yr-old boy from Sofia died after a heavy car crash on the road Sofia - Burgas (Bourgas). His mother, 14-yr-old sister and the driver are hospitalized...
The crash happened 300 m east of the village of Venets, near the town of Karnobat... The driver, a 46-yr-old Cuban citizen living in France, attempted overtaking, although it was banned by traffic sign and road marking. She lost control over the vehicle and crashed frontally into a tree.
A 16-yr-old boy from Sofia travelling at the back seat died at the spot. His 14-yr-old sister is severely injured and her life is in danger..."

Readers have left the following comments:
"Oh, oh, this road between Karnobat and Venets - the stretch of death."
"Come on, overtake where overtaking is banned, like savages!"
"I knew the girl - may her rest in peace, and her brother also. I do know know what happened to the mother, may God keep her strong if she is alive..."
"I knew the boy, his name was Kaloyan. We attended the same school. He was always merry and was making merry all of us. He was an excellent friend and will remain forever in my heart, and in the hearts of all who knew him! I hope he and his sister are at a better place now! My condolescence to the parents..."

The victims are my neighbours' grandchildren. I vaguely remember the handsome boy with whom we exchanged greetings at the staircase of our apartment block. He often stayed with his grandparents because his school was in our district. Now, the obituaries of the two children with their smiling photos and attached flowers are facing us at the block's front door.
There are some inaccuracies in the DarikNews report. The boy was seating not at the back seat but at the front right seat, and this is why he died immediately when the right half of the car crashed into the tree. His sister was behind him. She died at the hospital 8 days later. The two adult women - the children's mother and her friend who was driving, were only slightly injured because they were sitting at the left side. The driver, presented in reports as Frenchwoman of Cuban origin, was in fact a Bulgarian living in France. Despite her long driving experience, she made the fatal mistake to drive on Bulgarian roads with a speed appropriate for a French highway, and to violate the overtaking ban.
Bulgaria has always been behind with its road infrastructure, but the situation became grotesque after 1989. As the emerging capitalism burdened our roads with unprecedented traffic, the domestic and EU money allocated for their construction and maintenance kept being stolen. I am not talking about "standard" corruption diverting 10-15% of funds yet allowing the road to be built. I am talking about Bulgarian corruption diverting 90-100% of funds. Millions have disappeared and we still have no roads. EU member Bulgaria does not yet possess a single finished highway - not one! With pain and peril, drivers navigate narrow roads full of turns, suitable for donkey cart travel between villages.
Through the years, every time when EU officials discovered that EU funds allocated for infrastructure had been stolen, they used a standard approach - to stop future transfers until appropriate anti-corruption measures are taken. I have very mixed feelings to this starvation policy. I admit that it is not too justified to enrich Bulgarian corrupt politicians with the money of European taxpayers. However, stopping the transfers deprived Bulgaria even of the small fraction that was used on purpose. What, exactly, are you hoping to achieve by depriving poor people of money? Possibly you are hoping that Bulgarians will behave as proper citizens and will keep their corrupt rulers responsible? But Bulgarians are not able to behave as proper citizens and to keep their rulers responsible, despite the superficially perfect multy-party representative democracy. This is actually the reason why Bulgarians, and also many other nations, are poor and stay poor. I would prefer EU to send Western companies with their equipment and workers to do the job, without any capital coming to Bulgaria in a convertible form.
Now, when beginning new constructions and opening road stretches finished with 15-20-yr delay, our rulers half-heartedly admit that the obsolete and poorly maintained roads take lives ("our goal is to diminish the number of car crash victims," said Prime Minister Borisov in 2009). It is good that they are talking like this, because talking about a problem is the first necessary step to solving it. However, it is not a sufficient step, and I don't yet see much deeds to back the words. No measures are taken even for places known to cause heavy crashes regularly, such as the Karnobat - Venets "stretch of death" which is narrow and has many turns.
Meanwhile, if you are a visitor to Bulgaria, your well-being and that of your fellow travellers depends on your successful navigations of Bulgarian killer roads. Be careful, do not speed and remember that there is no such thing as urgent business.
Keep your eyes open for potholes that "mine" Bulgarian roads. And for dangerous turns that are found at every kilometer. Because we are still using the old roads that connected towns and villages, you will pass through every single settlement on your way - speed down when you enter it. However, pedestrians and farm animals may appear on the road even when you are far from any settlement.
And please overtake as rarely as possible. All Bulgarian roads, if not 2-lane in their entire length, have long 2-lane stretches. You will soon find yourself behind some too-slow vehicle, and you will get nervous. Try to relax, rather than attempting a risky overtaking that may end in a frontal crash. And if overtaking is banned by signs, abide them even if you wonder why they are put there. Sometimes, such a sign marks a place where someone has died in attempted overtaking. So the sign may be an anonymous memorial to a previous victim, and it is not wise to neglect its warning.
Keep in mind also that Bulgaria is a poor country and if you are injured in a crash here, you may not receive state-of-the-art medical treatment. (This is not to imply that the Burgas doctors who tried to save the life of my neighbours' granddaughter have any responsibility for her death. She was injured very severely - I guess, beyond salvation.)
If you are travelling in winter, remember the risk of ice. Too little is done to make the roads usable after a snowfall, so you have to rely on yourself again. Personally, I always feel relieved when a winter car jouney comes to an uneventful end. It is January now and the most dangerous weeks for drivers are coming, as snow covers the roads where half a year ago two children were returning from their last sea vacation.

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