By on February 17, 2015

bmw migalka

Sometimes I wish I was the President of the United States. Sure, I might have to be extremely vigilant about what I say in public (“I’m more of a Chevy guy than a Ford guy”), have to give up a good portion of my privacy (Really? You want to see how terrible I am at golf?), cannot drive a car (Great, now I need to learn how to use a trickle charger), and deal with a group of people hell-bent on obstructing my policy. (So you think my plan for requiring a minimum internet speed 100 Mbps is horrendous? Horrendous HOW?)

However, there are benefits to being the head of state. I’d get to live in a large house. My office would be in that house. I’d have a personal gym and my own swimming pool. I would have a chef. I’d have a fleet of airplanes at my disposal. I wouldn’t have to answer my own phone or carry a smartphone. More importantly, I’d never have to sit on the line with customer service of any company. There would be access to a vacation home. I could get reservations at almost any restaurant. I could find out what really happens at Area 51.

But the most important thing to me about being the head of state is I wouldn’t need to deal with traffic. And it’s not just because I’d have dedicated chauffeurs and access to helicopters. Roads are blocked off so that the President can travel to destinations quickly, regardless of the time of day. Being President of the United States (or Prime Minister of Canada), means I can transcend the impediment to daily life that is a traffic jam.

Though traffic where I live (the San Francisco Bay Area) can get pretty terrible, it’s not as bad as Beijing, where a traffic jam into the city was 100 kilometers long, São Paulo, where the city becomes a parking lot on Friday nights, or even Nairobi, where the Kenyan government estimates more than $500,000 a day is lost in productivity due to traffic. But today’s example is Moscow, Russia, where people have developed coping mechanisms, some adorable and some disagreeable. Since I need to make this feature interesting, I’m focusing on the objectionable method.

Most of us are familiar with the ways of Russian roads and Russian drivers. Go on YouTube, and you’ll see thousands of dash cam videos people driving in the opposite lane, bypassing other cars on the shoulder, forcing other cars off the road, shooting at other cars so they get off the road, and trying to pass between gaps much narrower than the car. In fact, it’s gotten so bad in Russia that even Vice, Yahoo! News, and even Maxim all have a story on “Stop a Douchebag,” a vigilante group stopping from people driving on sidewalks to avoid traffic. “Stop a Douchebag” is only the latest group trying to do something about Russian traffic scofflaws. Many of videos take place on rural roads and towns much smaller than Moscow, so we can only imagine what happens on the roads of the large cities that the dash cameras don’t catch.

At least in America for people to bypass traffic, there are high-occupancy vehicle lanes that can also be used by electric, CNG, or plug-in hybrid cars. This has led to situations in Northern California where the HOV lane can be among the slowest lanes on the highway due to the numerous electric vehicles that all need to take the same exit. Unfortunately, Russia doesn’t have such a concept as a) Russia is among the world’s largest oil producers and refiners, which leads to cheap gas and largely negates electric vehicle ownership and b) single-driver cars would drive in the high-occupancy lanes anyway.

The Russian elite have their own solution for dealing with traffic. In Russia, if you’re truly powerful, you get a flashing blue light on your car, called the migalka. It signifies importance, meaning normal cars have to move out of your way and that migalka-equipped cars can get away with driving on the shoulder (or even sidewalks!) to bypass traffic. As you might expect, that blue light on your car confers a status symbol, distinguishing their passengers from all the other motorists. For instance, when the New Yorker was profiling the head of Russia’s largest state-controlled television network, the magazine took special notice of his migalka as a symbol of his status in the country. When an Oscar-winning film director lost his migalka, it was actual news, meaning he had lost influence in the government. (In the meantime, Russians were wondering why he had the benefit in the first place.)

Imagine if something like the migalka was introduced in the United States (or Canada, being inclusive here). Americans wouldn’t like that Jay-Z and Beyoncé could leave their house late, yet bypass Los Angeles traffic just to be on time for the Grammys. The CEO of Coca-Cola would accomplish the impossible in Atlanta and get to work from Buckhead in 15 minutes during rush hour. The chairman of Comcast could get to work faster than I could download an episode of Top Gear using the connection provided by his company. And if someone in traffic didn’t get out of the way, there would be some law against “impeding pathway of essential person” for which the sentence would be a $10,000 fine and 10 days in jail.

However, since this is Russia and people are willing to do anything to get ahead of the car in front of them, there are many abuses with that blue light. The staff or family of politicians eligible for the migalka will drive the cars with the light on, regardless of whether the politician is in the vehicle or not. Wealthy businesspeople and celebrities can get the migalka from the state if they know and pay the right people. This has led to many accidents involving cars equipped with the migalka.

It’s gotten so bad that a few years back, an organization called the “Society of Blue Buckets” was established way before the “Stop a Douchebag” videos took over the recent news cycle. Members put a small blue bucket on top of their vehicles where the migalka would normally be in protest of people abusing the migalka privileges. Surprisingly, even though the show of solidarity is entirely peaceful, Russian law enforcement actually charged several people who put blue buckets on the roof on their cars. To promote their cause, the group even tried hiring an advertising agency, but none of the agencies they met with wished to take part, because the firms didn’t wish to cross the government.

At the moment, these news stories about migalka abuses aren’t as prevalent as three or four years ago. That’s because the Russian government did crack down on the number of people allowed to have the blue lights. Nevertheless, abuses can still take place, albeit on a much smaller scale due to the crackdown on migalkas, in the form of staff, family, or friends of migalka-authorized VIPs “borrowing” the migalka-equipped cars and dealing with traffic as if the important person was on board. Nonetheless, the misuse of the blue light is nowhere near as prevalent as it was three to four years ago, when the issue appeared in newspapers and websites across the world.

All in all, the migalka is something I’m thankful isn’t prevalent in the United States (or Canada, being inclusive here). Imagine the amount of road rage that would occur between people with guns. Imagine the amount of people attempting triple-digit speed in rush hour while applying make-up. Imagine the increased amount of accidents and the increased insurance rates. Imagine Congress trying to defend the exemption to the country.

I guess my only option now to avoid traffic is becoming President of the United States (since I can’t become Prime Minister of Canada). It’s time to start looking forward to faster internet connections.

Satish Kondapavulur is a writer for Clunkerture, where about a fifth of the articles are about old cars and where his one-time LeMons racing dreams came to an end, once he realized it was impossible to run a Ferrari Mondial. He now needs to write a stump speech. He would also raise the speed limit on the highways if he was leading the country.

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20 Comments on “Here’s One Way to Bypass Traffic Jams in Russia...”

  • avatar

    This one certainly is all over the place; the first four paragraphs just being fluff, and a couple more interspersed later. A more effective approach might have been the history and significance of the migalka. How it started, who had it first, what was the original intent.

    And accompanying, some photos of old Russian cars with migalkas installed.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree, I can find a few things I’m simply itching to say, but absolutely none of it is relevant to whatever this stories point is, you say migalkas, I keep getting distracted by thoughts of totally different topics.

    • 0 avatar
      Satish Kondapavulur

      I tried finding those photos of old Russian cars with migalkas, but the backlash (which I was really focusing on) started in the 2000s, so there are few photos of those. I was focusing more on the backlash. If you need the history, my Russian skills need some work. :(

  • avatar

    XM-Nav Traffic or Google Maps “Traffic conditions” serves me well.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    “(So you think my plan for requiring a minimum internet speed 100 Mbps is horrendous? Horrendous HOW?)”

    Yep, the only consequence of giving the FCC regulatory power over the internet is that you get faster speed. Wonderful.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    We already have it in DC. I used to live right off the George Washington parkway. On many a Sunday morning I’ve seen black GM SUVs with their blue lights on heading South, probably for brunch in Old Town. I was standing outside Reagan airport one day, having a smoke and waiting on my flight. A black Tahoe pulled up and tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum popped out wearing suits and communication earpeices. Dee stayed at the curb and dum went inside. Dee talked to his sleeve and a mother daughter combo got out of the Tahoe. Mom in her 50s and daughter in sweats. They hugged and mom told daughter to have a good spring break. Daughter went into the airport, mom got in the back seat of the Tahoe and the twedles got in the front seats and they drove off. The Tahoe had gubmint plates. Our tax dollars at work. Me? I was on a business trip.

    • 0 avatar

      This is standard fare in DC. With so many senators, aids, diplomats, ambassadors, and abc agencies, it becomes a common sight.

      It seems like half of all DC traffic is black Tahoes with G-plates.

  • avatar

    I don’t think something like this would ever fly in NA, outside of legitimate officials in a hurry. Russia (and many of the former Soviet states) have always seemed to have a higher level of acceptance toward overt social inequality across daily life. Yes there has always been push-back, but as a whole, there seems to be a sort of defeatism to what has always been the status quo.

  • avatar

    Another very related phenomenon (often used in conjunction with the blue lights and headlight strobes) is having a laminated piece of paper on the lower part of the windshield carrying some important sounding government organization name with a Russian tricolor in the background; up to and including FSB/MVD. This is combined with a fake set of documents including a passport for the driver backing up the little windshield paper. The idea is that even everyday traffic cops will respect the authority of the fraud-driver, basically granting their owner immunity on the roads. There was a special on Russian TV a few years back when the government cracked down on this (and publicized it strongly to gain favor with the populus). They had groups of FSB agents in full tactical gear and automatic weapons at police checkpoints waiting to pounce, then had the traffic cops pull over all cars with the laminated sheets in their windows. Inevitably the drivers would start their “govt VIP” spiel and the FSB agents would get involved. Made for some first rate television.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    In Mexico, if you see a large black SUV, with heavily tinted windows and flashy rims and tires, and driving like an a-hole…..move out of the way immediately.
    No lights required. He is a Narco.

  • avatar

    You apparently haven’t lived in California very long. We already have a device that allows you to “bend” the road rules to bypass traffic. They’re called motorcycles, and yes, if you ride one you’re generally a douchebag. The only difference is that nearly any idiot can get one with a comparably miniscule fortune, however the results are basically the same.

  • avatar

    Hah, around these parts, it’s the Disabled Person Blue Tag hanging from

  • avatar

    Hah, around these parts, iurt’s the Disabled Person Blue Tag hanging from your rear view mirror that allows parking privileges near front doors that the terminally lazy fight to obtain.

    Yup, get one for grandma and her walker for the one time a week you take her out. Then use it for yourself as a self-aggrandizing feature of your own self-worth and importance. Had a few conversations myself with foul-mouthed women hopping athletically out of vehicles parked with the wheelchair tag. Told to mind my own busines

  • avatar

    I do believe my bluetooth keyboard isn’t working too well. Revenge of the self-appointed elite!

  • avatar

    The first thing the article made me think of was the Russian “secret service” assassin in “The Bourne Supremacy”! :-)

  • avatar

    “Imagine if something like the migalka was introduced in the United States”

    Don’t give them ideas they can come up with executive order very fast. I can imagine that Americans are against it but who cares. People will elect politicians who get most contributions no matter what they think about them. That is the power of money.

    Beside when president is in Bay area which is very often, to collect dues – the traffic on certain freeways and streets halt. He does not need migalka for that. He does not need Congress either to pass the laws, does not care about Supreme court since can assign justices. He can start wars, invade countries, ruin world financial systems. Russian president does not have all this power – he just sent a few “advisers” and some old weapons to Ukraine and see what happened.

  • avatar

    I have a personal experience of driving in Russia and particularly in Moscow. First – sidewalks are not for pedestrians (in Moscow at least) – it is just an emergency lane which pedestrians can also use if there is no traffic, which well – never. Then on traffic light the biggest and baddest car has a right of way. You need some cash to bribe police when they stop your car for the “violation” which is couple of times during the trip. You also have to let mean looking cars to pass you, if you want to come back home alive. You have to plan to spend night in the car if some bad accident happens or road is blocked for any reason. Considering General Frost and experience of German troops you should always have a plan B in case if you stuck on the road over night and it is -30C to -40C outside.

    BTW Americans are considered in other countries (like Russia, Italy and etc) as being “stupid” because they follow the laws. I remember one Israeli engineer who came to Silicon Valley to attend the meeting who was admiring American drivers for not driving on the shoulders during stop and go traffic. He could not understand why they follow the rules if there is no police in sight. I got impression that in Israel it is considered totally acceptable, just like in Russia.

  • avatar

    There are lot of Russians in Israel anyway.

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