While you can drive in almost every country on Earth, the driving experience you can get in Russia could be priceless . While it can be exciting to take in the unparalleled beauty that the country has to offer, the lack of “driving necessities” may leave you stranded, lost, or worse. For example, driving in the US, you expect the interstates and freeways to be well stocked with gas stations, restaurants, easy-to-read and clearly marked road signs, and stores; in Russia you cannot take these things for granted and in many places, you’ll be lucky to see any of them. The challenges that you may face are not to be taken lightly so one must be well prepared.
System of Roads/Federal Highways
Being that Russia spans from Kaliningrad in the westernmost point, north of Poland, all the way to its easternmost point located at Big Diomede Island in the Bering Strait, and has an area of nearly 6.5 million miles, you’d expect a large system of highways, right? Think again. As long as you are in the western part of the country, there is a nice array of highways, all the way up to St. Petersburg and a bit beyond. You can quite easily travel south all the way to Azerbaijan. In the western part of the country, it can be said that “all roads lead to Moscow.” Should you wish to travel east, your choices go from few to nonexistent rather quickly. The farther north you go, well, let’s just say that you probably don’t even want to try.
Condition of Roads
Considering that Russia’s climate encompasses some very hot and equally cold temperatures, you can expect road conditions to greatly vary. With many Russians opting for chains on their tires in the winter, you can bet that this takes a toll on the roads. The last six hundred miles of the Russian Federal Highway running from Moscow to Yakoutsk is called the Lena Highway and after the winter thaw, it is widely considered one of least hospitable in the world. Each time it rains in the spring and summer, the road turns to mud. In many places the regular maintenance is well overdue. On the bright side, roads in major cities like Moscow may be comparable to other places in Europe.
The imagination of Russian police officers when it comes to hiding and setting up radar should not be overlooked. As in other parts of the world, a car heading toward you flashing its high beams often means that you’d better check your speed. It is also recommended to carry a bit of cash when you drive because you can be stopped for any reason. Unless you are doing something horribly illegal, the cash can usually be your key to freedom.
Until recently, you did not have to have automobile insurance in Russia. Also, as long as you are not staying more than six months, your state/country’s driver’s license may also suffice. It is worth noting that Russian driving etiquette often trumps the rules of the road so get out of the way of a speeding motorist and always be on the look out for the unexpected. At night, you may see motorists throw all caution to the wind and drive however, and wherever, they wish. This is because many police officers use this time to catch up on their sleep.
In conclusion, it is worth mentioning that until quite recently, many Russians did not own automobiles due to the lack of financing opportunities. This means that those who do have vehicles are likely to cherish them because of the difficulty in procuring them. The parking practices in much of Europe that would often allow one to gently “nudge” another’s vehicle while making room to park will be gravely out of place in Russia. With public transportation being so adequate in most cities, it would be advised by this writer to utilize it and save yourself the headache.