Many of the detailed video images viewed around the world on Friday showing the explosive meteor in Russia can be traced to what may seem like an unlikely source: the country's reputation for crazy motorists, stupefying traffic accidents and corrupt police officers. This has led many drivers in Russia to install dashboard cameras, which document every minute on the road.
The streaking flash of the meteor as it burned up over a swath of central and eastern Russia came during part of the morning rush-hour commute in the city of Chelyabinsk and other populated areas. Disbelieving motorists who caught the footage on their dashboard cameras quickly uploaded it on YouTube.
Capturing cosmic events on video, however, is not the primary purpose of dashboard cameras in Russia, where they have become almost standard equipment for vehicles in recent years in order to prove innocence in traffic accidents. They have also spawned a sort-of mini industry in voyeuristic Internet entertainment on their own for chronicling the dangers of driving in Russia.
Google "Russian traffic violence" or "Russian traffic accidents" to find a litany of motorist chutzpah, ranging from deadly hit-and-runs to crowbar assaults between angry drivers, sometimes in the middle of busy highways. The problem was highlighted by then-President Dmitri A. Medvedev a few years ago, in remarks before the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council in which he castigated the "undisciplined, criminally careless behavior of our drivers" for what seemed an epidemic of road mayhem.
Driving in Russia can be especially challenging because of poorly maintained roads, vast lawless areas and the unsavory reputation of the traffic police, who have been ranked in Russian opinion polls as among the most corrupt officials in the country. Insurance is costly and judges prefer to see visual proof of a motorist's damage claims. Hence the prevalence of dashboard cameras.
The hazards were perhaps most succinctly explained last June by Marina Galperina, a Russian expatriate and an editor-blogger for the ANIMALNewYork Web site, who wrote about the ubiquity of Russian dashboard cameras in a blog post.
"In Russia, everyone should have a camera on their dashboard," she wrote. "It's better than keeping a lead pipe under your seat for protection (but you might still want that lead pipe.")
Fights and other forms of road rage, she wrote, happen all the time, and victims cannot easily press charges.
"Point to your broken nose or smashed windows all you want," she wrote. "The Russian courts don't like verbal claims. They do, however, like to send people to jail for battery and property destruction if there's definite video proof."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.