QCOSTARICA – Riding in between cars, passing on the right, not wearing a helmet and more craziness has in the first three months of the year left almost 4.976 motorcyclists injured, some 738 more than the same period in 2015.
The Institutio Nacional de Seguros (INS), national insurer that provides the mandatory vehicle insurance included in the annual circulation permit or Marchamo, reports spending more than ¢5.5 billion colones in treatment and hospitalization for the injured, that is more than ¢1 million colones for each person injured.
The majority of the lesions: severed limbs and head wounds.
In addition, as of May 13 of this month, the death toll of motorcyclists reached 81. While in the same period last year there were 52 fatalities.
Although the majority of the accidents occur in the populated areas of the Central Valley, the risk is no less in rural areas, were many motorcyclists and their passengers do not use a helmet and even less respect for the rules of the road.
“Daredevils” is what the head of the Policia de Transito (Traffic Police), Mario Calderon, calls them. The police chief doesn’t mince words, “they disrespect signals and commit indiscretions that increase the number of motorcyclists killed or injured,” says the police chief.
Besides not wearing a helmet, exceeding the speed limit, driving without a license, zigzagging between cars and even talking of a cellphone while driving are some of the actions of motorcyclists fined daily.
And what about those motorcyclists insisting on lights off at night, travelling on highways like the Ruta 27 at speeds of 40 km/h and at times with an excess in passengers. The night is great to travel on bikes that are in poor condition and without a license, given the lack of police patrols.
“Any vehicle at more than 60 km/h requires skill to stop it. So far this year, deaths from collisions with fixed objects have tripled, reflecting inexperience,” explains Calderon.
In Costa Rica, anyone over the age of 18 can purchase a motorcycle and driver off with it. Literally. Retail stores (importadoras) have gotten into the game, offering motorcycles along with washers and dryers, fridges and microwave ovens.
With messages like “don’t get stuck in traffic” and payments for as little as ¢1.000 colones a day, they entice people to hit the roads on two wheels. With the easy financing options, literally anyone with a “orden patronal” (proof of employment) and little ability to pay can buy one. And drive away from the store, just like buying a television set.
Rodrigo Montero, motorcycle driving instructor for seven years, told La Nacion that in the country, the culture is not to take motorcycle driving seriously. “The formal and technical learning options are scarce and many do not know or think they need them,” said Montero.
For Calderon, the battle is on three fronts.
The first is the driver. “Many believe they can learn to drive in hours or in an afternoon. That is irresponsible,” said the police chief.
The second front is the need for legislation, which should go beyond requiring the use of a helmet and reflective vests. And the third, has to do with strengthening operational (spot checks). Calderon explained that in recent spot checks in Huetar Norte, Upala and Desamparados they have seized over 900 motorcycles.
In addition, the police chief points out the urgency in an increased budget for the traffic police, saying the police force lacks at least 1,100 officers to adequately cover the country.
The Policia de Transito is a police force under the umbrella of the Ministry of Transport, a force of some 1,200 officials, of which at best two-thirds are active (allowing for sick days, leaves of absence, vacations, etc.), covering the entire country.