(QCOSTARICA) Every day there seems to be more and more motorcycles on the roads, in between vehicles, on the shoulders; drivers of four-wheeled vehicles constantly are surprised with the sudden appearance of a motorcycle on its side or front. In many cases motorcyclists put their lives at risk and that of others.
Why is this happening?
With the high prices of gasoline and growing traffic congestion, many are opting for the two-wheeled motorized transport.
In fact, there are some 500,000 motorcycles moving through the streets of the country; that’s according to the number of officially registered motorbikes, but it is estimated that at least 150,000 more circulate illegally, so the total would exceed 650,000.
Many use them to get to and from work. Others are recreational. But in call cases, the risk is very high and many have lost their lives.
Purchasing a motorcycle or scooter is easy in Costa Rica, just as easy as buying a rice cooker. In fact, “importadoras” – appliance retailers – have gotten in to the game of selling motorcycles. Most of the appliance stores offer low prices and easy credit, as if you were buying a stereo or kitchen stove.
Purchasing a motorbike, at an importadora or bike dealer, there is not the requirement to have a driving license. You go in, put your money down (or get credit) and take the motorbike home.
Roy Rojas, project director of the Road Safety Council (COSEVI), to bring the point home says , “it is less complicated to buy a motorbike than a washing machine or refrigerator.”
Motorcycles have become popular, they are relatively inexpensive to purchase, fuel-efficient and can be used to maneuver through traffic congestion, getting to work or home more quickly.
In rural areas, motorcycles have become so popular that they have replaced the horse, car and bicycle, according to Rojas, explaining that the “bike boom” began in 2007, which unfortunately coincided with the increase of people killed in traffic accidents.
The numbers are chilling.
According to the Dirección de Proyectos de Cosevi, provided by the Dirección General de Tránsito (Directorate General of Traffic), in the first half of this year (2016), 215 people have died (on site) in traffic accidents, 101 involved a motorcycles: 94 were motorcyclists and 7 passengers. In the same period in 2015, there 25 deaths: 23 motorcyclists and 2 passengers.
In the last five years:
- In 2015 there a total of 398 deaths on the roads, of which 158 involved a motorcycle;
- In 2014, it was 122 of the 359 road deaths;
- In 2013, 87 of 288 deaths;
- In 2012, 90 of 330 deaths;
- In 2011, 72 of 289 deaths;
- and in 2010, 72 of the 298.
These numbers don’t take account of deaths in hospitals resulting from a traffic accident.
The numbers also reveal that the largest number of motorcycle deaths were of young people, between the ages of 15 and 34 and most accidents occurring at night, the period from 6pm to midnight with the largest number of deaths.
Weekends are the most tragic. In the first six months of this year, 24 motorcyclists died on a Friday, 42 on a Saturday and 66 on a Sunday.
Playing Chicken (Gallina Ciega in Spanish). Transport officials cite imprudence as one of the main cause of traffic accidents and fatalities.
Roy Rojas explains the “gallina ciega”, the game that many young riders in rural areas get into after hitting the bars at the end of the work day. The game consists of two motorcyclists and the required companion (on each bike), they come to a straightaway and agree to play; they head to opposite sides of the stretch of road, (the motorcyclists) cover their eyes and at the start command head toward each other.
“Liquor has been a factor in this kind of ‘nonsense’ that has caused deaths, including in some cases all 4 involved,” said Rojas.
And then there are the acrobats and street racing (piques in Spanish). “That’s the fun of the boys in many rural areas, but the same is true in urban areas,” said Rojas, adding that there are organized networks for such activity.
But not all is bad. Rojas explains that some of the “acrobats” have now become an ally of the authorities, mixing with networks looking to stop these activities.
Other allies, said Rojas, include riders of “bike gangs” that circulate the roads in large displacement motorcycles. Accidents among these groups is practically nil. Also, the Association of Motorcycle Importers is active in preventive work.