MOSCOW, Russia — They are the videos everyone is talking about. Rare images of a meteor streaking across the Russian sky in a bright, fast-approaching ball of fire. The drama was captured on numerous dashboard cameras and then uploaded on YouTube.
While the cosmic event was stunning, the fact that those dashcams caught it all on tape is not surprising. Those cameras are almost everywhere in Russia.
People mount them in their cars to record what happens on the country’s lawless roads, then post the videos online. They have become one of YouTube’s most viral phenomena.
The small video cameras have captured all sorts of madness: Death-defying crashes, road rage, that infamous “cows spilling out of a truck” video, low-flying helicopters and fighter jets, and military tanks barreling across the road.
One dashboard camera even caught a plane slamming into the side of the highway last December. The plane’s landing gear can be seen smashing into the car ahead.
But these videos are not just YouTube gold, they serve an important purpose to expose Russia’s uber-aggressive driving culture. They catch corrupt and violent cops, expose cabbies wielding baseball bats and bust alleged car insurance scammers – like when people back into another car on purpose and then blame the other drive for hitting them, or others who pretend they were hit by a passing car.
Peter Shkumatov was the victim of an actual hit and run. Nothing dramatic, but police were able to use his dashboard cam video to look for the culprit.
“It’s always on and it’s the best witness,” he said. “And this witness doesn’t lie.”
Mikhail Podorozhansky, the editor-in-chief of Russia’s Auto Review magazine, said the reason for why more and more of these wild videos from Russia are cropping up on YouTube is simple.
“The reason why you see these things is because devices like this become more and more popular,” he said.
Despite what appears online, Podorozhansky said Russia’s roads have actually improved, thanks in part to the cameras, which can shame drivers into better behavior.
“Believe me, if you compare it to let’s say five years or 10 years ago, now you’ll say, ‘oh they’re really behaved,’” he said.
Judging by what’s on YouTube today, that’s a scary thought.