Official statistics from KAT (the traffic police) show that 207 people died in traffic accidents in Bulgaria and 1,971 people were injured in the first quarter of 2007 alone. These statistics, in a nation of just 7.5 million people - and not that many cars - are truly shocking.
If we analyse the figures we find that 34.4 percent of the fatalities were drivers, 27.3 percent were passengers and 38.55 percent were pedestrians. More than a third of those killed were in the 18 to 24 age group.
"Road Rage" is a term used to refer to violent behaviour by drivers, leading to accidents or incidents on roadways. It includes speeding and aggressive acceleration, tailgating, cutting others off in a lane, weaving in and out of traffic, forming a "convoy" to block access to a traffic lane and sounding the horn or flashing lights excessively. It also includes rude gestures and verbal abuse.
There are various explanations for the death toll. These include lax driving tests, the alleged corruption of the KAT and the supposedly aggressive Bulgarian national character. Perhaps nobody can say for sure. But one thing I do know. I am terrified of driving, being a passenger, riding my bicycle or simply walking around. One traumatic incident shattered my confidence: my cousin, her husband and their daughter nearly died after a moron hit their car in a head-on collision on a dangerous curve near Sofia last September.
After this accident, I realised that no one is safe. The fact is, too many motorists are guilty of all the aforementioned road rage offences. Amazingly, they even commit such violations in front of KAT officers and have been known to try to run them over at intersections. It seems they deliberately break all the safety rules made for our protection.
Nothing will improve until drivers realise that greasing the palm of a traffic cop will not work. A friend of mine, an employee of a wine company, was stopped for speaking on the phone without a handsfree. The police saw the company's logo on the vehicle and asked my friend for some samples. He put two bottles in a nice company bag and dropped it in the trunk of an unmarked car nearby.
Some will say they are merely minor violations. But we have to start somewhere. Some blame the state of our roads. Potholes are indeed a problem but my cousin and her family were hit on a relatively new street in broad daylight. Perhaps it would help if we had nicer roads, but most major highways and motorways have improved.
We need fundamental changes before errant drivers mend their ways. Realistically, we can't replace all the current KAT officers with "incorruptible" idealists. And, sadly, bumper stickers and advertising campaigns seem to have little impact.
Unfortunately, changing the driving culture in Bulgaria is likely to be a tortuous process. We need stiff fines and honest, strategically placed traffic police. Above all, we need to prick the arrogance of aggressive motorists. They will have to learn that rules are not there to be flouted.
Until this happens we'll just have to pray that we don't cross paths with a lunatic driver. So please drive carefully and do develop eyes in the back of your head.