Why all the nifty Russian meteor footage? Because EVERYONE there has a dash cam
It took a major astronomical event to point out one of the subtle differences between we in the states and our friends in the former Soviet Union: seems almost every Russian driver tools around with a dash cam running non-stop.
That's why there was so much impressive footage of last week's plunging meteor. Amazing video, indeed, but that's only the tip of the proverbial digital iceberg. A lot of the good stuff was already out there and it has nothing to do with the skies but rather the mayhem, corruption and outright chaos on Russian roads.
You can drive your car without your pants on, says one Russian driver's rights advocate but NEVER leave home without your dash cam. It's video proof that prevents you from being scammed by people who'll fake accidents. It's a silent witness when a cop asks for a bribe or tries roughing you up. Most importantly, it's an unblinking eye, a video arbiter when you get into an accident that the other guy falsely claims you're guilty of. Then there's the odd meteor plummeting from the heavens. Or, the occasional plane crash that occurs while you're motoring toward the airport.
There's a host of video up on a Russian web site or you can simply Google "russian dash cam video" and be entertained for hours by compilations of spectacular wrecks, hokey scams and, in one video I saw on NBC Nightly News, an actual gunfight breaking out between two p-o'd drivers.
How things have changed.
I was fortunate enough to have spent two weeks in the then Soviet Union in 1986 while doing mornings with Bob Reitman at the late WKTI. It was a cultural exchange with Radio Moscow, a people-to-people event during which we broadcast from Moscow while we would later host a town-hall session linking Milwaukee with a Soviet city. One of the first things we noticed driving our first night from the airport into the Soviet capitol was the fact that no one was using their headlights--the highway was dotted with cars using only fog lamps or parking lights. Headlights, we were told, were in short supply and very expensive. They were used only when they were really, really needed.
Same deal with windshield wipers. Soviet drivers used them, alright. They just took them with them when they got to wherever they were going. It was common to see drivers hop out of their rides then spend a moment or two to extract their blades from their wipers and put them in purses or pockets, just to be sure no comrade boosted them while they went about their appointed rounds.
That was 27 years ago. Don't know if they've taken care of their wiper/headlight crunch since the fall of the Soviet empire, but it seems there's no lack of high-tech dashboard camera technology in Russia. And for that, the world is indeed a better place.