urban transport ► Russian Drivers
To drive in Russia you will need an International Drivers License, car insurance, your passport, your visa and a car. And some nerve. The trip from Helsinki to St. Petersburg is not far but there are often lines at the border so be prepared to wait. Driving in Russia has its risks - especially in terms of being harassed by the GAI/GIBDD/DPS, those wonderful examples of the human race (corrupt and stupid traffic cops). Pay attention to the rules, don't exceed the speed limit (from 60 km per hour in major towns, 80 km in villages and 110 km on the open road) and don't do anything stupid, even though everyone around you will be.
It is fun to drive in Russia. Russian drivers are crazy. They typically do not obey the rules so be careful and don't expect them to be rational. They may cut you off, make short stops, etc. If you plan to drive yourself, make sure that you apply for an International Driver's License in your own country before coming to Russia. In the US the AAA issues them. Just go to a local AAA office with your license, 2 photos and $10, fill out the form and wait to receive it. Your regular national licenses are not valid in Russia. If you plan not to obey the rules of the road (like the Russians) you very likely will have the opportunity to become acquainted with the abovementionedTraffic Police (GAI or currently DPS). These guys are always out to collect bribes instead of fines. If you are pulled over, remain calm, show them your passport and license, pretend that you do not speak Russian and ask to pay an official fine with receipt. If they try to blackmail you into paying a bribe by threatening to take away your license, you can either pay them a bribe (usually 200 rubles but no more than 500) or have your license taken away. They will then give you a temporary license and a court date. Actually, this is no big deal, because you can just not show up in court and apply again for an International license the next time you are in your home country - or, even better, when you apply for an International license in the first place buy a few of them!
There are a few general rules to follow for drivers driving anywhere in the entire Russian territory. If you plan to arrive in Russia by car or rent a car on Russian territory, you better check the laws. When you arrive in the country you can buy a guide with all the road signs, general rules and details about driving in Russia. Basically the rules are quite similar to western standards and in Russia traffic is right-sided. Unfortunately the laws are not always obeyed here, in fact they rarely are. Speed limits are always exceeded; Russian drivers can behave quite rudely on the streets and just go ahead without letting pedestrians cross. You always should be careful on the streets while driving, and it is really helpful if you have a lot of driving experience beforehand. Also it is useful to try and avoid rush hour traffic and downtown areas during traffic periods if possible. Traffic jams are an everyday occurrence and people here drive aggressively. They will run red lights, never give pedestrians the right of way and it's a rare occasion when they let someone cut in front of them or let another car turn. And be aware, In Russia, especially in the big cities there are a lot of high class expensive cars, so be careful. Try to avoid any physical contact with these vehicles and the guys who are driving them, since they tend to get touchy when people mess with their cars. One more factor is that the number of cars is usually bigger than one city can contain, especially when you consider that between them, privately-owned vehicles, taxis, marshrutkas (mini-van buses), buses, electric trams and trolley buses operate twenty four hours a day seven days a week. So the roads are very busy and you need to know the city well in order to escape traffic jams. Grab a good city map at least! Moreover, you need to have good reaction skills to deal with Russian drivers on the road. It is a risky thing to drive in Russia. Try it out but be cautious.