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Drivers Fight Flashing Blue Lights With Buckets

Alexei Dozorov standing by his blue Toyota hatchback equipped with a blue toy bucket ?€” a silent protest against officials?€™ cars with flashing blue lights. Igor Tabakov

Fr om a distance, Alexei Dozorov's blue Toyota hatchback looks like the car of a low-level security officer equipped with a flashing blue light.

But up close, the light — which gives drivers, usually high-level officials and emergency services, the right to ignore traffic regulations — turns out to be a blue toy bucket fixed on the roof with a magnet.

“This idea was born as a joke, but the truth is that we regular drivers are treated like second-class people compared with authorities,” Dozorov said in an interview Wednesday. "In the sauna and on the roads, people should be equal."

Dozorov, head of the Moscow branch of the public Committee to Protect Drivers' Rights, came up with the idea of a blue bucket “light” four years ago. He wanted to poke fun at the country’s elite who abuse the flashing lights, seeing them as a status symbol, he said.

The idea picked up steam in early April, after liberal Ekho Moskvy radio host and publisher Sergei Parkhomenko learned about it and called on other motorists to follow Dozorov's lead.

On Tuesday, Moscow police blocked several dozen cars with blue buckets on their roofs from driving down Kutuzovsky Prospekt, a thoroughfare frequently used by officials who turn on their flashing blue lights to cut through traffic jams on their way to posh cottage settlements to the west of the city.

Both Parkhomenko and Dozorov took part in Tuesday's procession. Several participants were fined for various traffic violations, and some were detained for several hours, said Sergei Kanayev, the head of the Moscow branch of the Russian Federation of Car Owners, another public watchdog.

In November 2009, Vedomosti and the Silver Rain radio station launched a campaign to count the real number of flashing lights, which is officially lim ited to 964 for the whole country.

In two months, photos of 1,201 flashing light-equipped cars were collected for the media outlets by their readers and listeners. Vedomosti asked the Interior Ministry earlier this month to explain the mismatch between the numbers.

Viktor Kiryanov, chief of Russia's traffic police, has promised that his department would check on whether some of the cars use the lights illegally. He did not specify how many cars tracked by Vedomosti belong to security services, calling the figure a state secret.

Dozorov, who calls his bucket “a fight with traffic police and defense of drivers' rights,” has often been stopped by traffic policemen because of the toy. He has even filmed a video of puzzled traffic cops trying and failing to find a legal reason to demand the removal of the blue bucket from the roof of his car.

An engineer for a mobile phone network, Dozorov is getting a second degree in civil law to fight legal battles for drivers' rights.

He said traffic cops often share his resentment over the driving habits of senior officials and express their support in private talks. But he said traffic police officers who guard Kutuzovsky Prospekt and Rublevskoye Shosse, often used by officials and powerful businessmen, were his “ideological enemies.”

Dozorov has a sizable number of followers who have started online "Blue Bucket" communities at Sineevedro.ru and Community.livejournal.com/ru_vederko.

“Flashing lights for emergency services only, not for the mighty and powerful, because they don’t have any privileges over the people,” reads a statement posted on Sineevedro.ru. It also calls for monthly bucket-on-a-roof processions, the next of which is scheduled for Thursday in St. Petersburg.

Public anger against flashing light abuse has found sympathy from several high-level bureaucrats, including Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov and Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who has proposed cutting the number of flashing lights to three — one for the president, one for the prime minister and one for the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

On Tuesday, United Russia Deputy Anatoly Ivanov introduced legislation setting fines of up to $850 for using flashing lights without an urgent need to do so, Kommersant reported.

Dozorov said bureaucrats should not use flashing lights on their cars at all. “If some official is really in a hurry to get to Paris for an urgent meeting, then he could call on a police car with a flashing light to go in front on him,” he said.

Dozorov’s actions are supported by another acclaimed motorist, Moscow businessman Andrei Hartley, who became well-known in the Russian blogosphere for not giving way to the car of Kremlin adviser Vladimir Shevchenko and filming Shevchenko's reaction on video recently.

“I think this is an original and funny way to address pressing issues,” Hartley said of the blue buckets. He called the traffic police action against the bucket drivers “inappropriate.”

“I don’t think it was ordered by authorities. These are just some people on the ground who have gone too far,” he said.

Dozorov’s car is covered with stickers from past campaigns, including a protest against the extension of the presidential term to six years, a change initiated by President Dmitry Medvedev in November 2008.

Dozorov said his fight against the flashing lights is a part of a bigger strategy to fight the ugly behavior of officials, including policemen and prosecutors, who have been involved in many road accidents in the past few months.

In December 2006 — the first time Dozorov put a blue bucket on the roof of his car — he was fined 100 rubles ($3) for the violation of "cargo transportation regulations.” The decision was overturned on appeal.

These days, Dozorov carries the court ruling in his car, showing it to policemen who flag him down.

“There is no law that prohibits someone from carrying a bucket on the roof,” he said, smiling.

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