Motorizado nation

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DSC_0174-1With the transformation of the Venezuelan landscape in recent decades, the figure of the motorcyclist (motorizado) has become almost omnipresent not only in the largest cities, but also right in the countryside.

Last December, while travelling to Merida through the TrasAndina roadway, the car made a technical stop in Barinitas. During that brief time I could see how motorcycles outnumber cars in the streets by 3-to-1.

Motorizados are not a recent phenomenon, in fact there was a local movie about them back in the 70’s. They’re not just part of  everyday traffic, but a full-fledged element of our society. Even in the 2012’s presidential campaign, the late comandante presidente was transformed into some sort of criollo “ruff rider” (along other popular youth figures).

But in recent years, motorizado has also become codeword for trouble … for many reasons.

Venezuela has become one of the countries with the worst traffic-related death rates on Earth. There are many reasons behind that dubious achievement, but recently the number of accidents involving motorcyclists has sky-rocketed. In fact, some specialists have called for this to be treated as a “public health issue,” asking for the government to take action. The issue doesn’t quite stop with the accidents themselves, but with their violent aftermaths.

This is not only a matter of public health alone, but also one which is related to our public safety: many of the crimes committed (an expert put it around 90%) nationwide somehow involves a motorcyclist, either as the main perpetrator or as an accomplice. There are stories of motorizados following people out of banks and taking their money, or robberies in crowded roads in the middle of rush hour. Even when they’re laying one of them to rest.

At the core of this problem is the lack of clear rules. The set of regulations to oversee motorcyclists have been delayed for more than two years, even if they were published in the Official Gazzette. The excuse behind it has been “lack of proper consultation and debate”. Some State Governors have tried to solve this legal vaccum but have faced opposition from the central government, organized groups of motorists, and the courts.

There’s no exact number of how many motorizados are in Venezuela, as the national census to register them is about to reach its second ongoing year this October. The latest official estimate is around 261 thousand and counting, but some experts believe there are more than double that figure. The reason? Sales of motorcycles have increased, as it’s more easier now to buy a new motorcycle than a car. That explains why motorcycles are robbed more often.

There’s a public outcry for  clear rules for motorizados, even among some groups which represent them. but this must come as part of a larger effort to improve traffic, public transportation and road safety. And yes, the elephant in the room has to be included.

1 COMMENT

  1. The problem for me is not about the census or creating a “reglamento”. I think is pretty clear that laws do not allow motorcycles to circulate through the sidewalks or robbed people at traffic lights or traffic jams or park in the middle of the sidewalk or run a red light. Is about the lack of enforcement of existing laws that have created the current anarchy and chaos in Caracas This also applies to car drivers, but not to the extent of motorizados. Unless there is political will to actually enforce laws on the streets, instead of creating a “reglamento” they should recycle that paper to be used a toilette paper. That way it should actually be of some use

    • Law enforcement, law enforcement, law enforcement… that’s first and foremost, and the rest (education, new regulations, etc.) comes afterwards as a further refinement.

      • Yes, law enforcement is required, but the law has to make sense. Laws are an agreement between countrymen, citizens or tenants in which are the proper ways to behave in public.

        If you have 90% of motorcyclist driving in highways, it will be a very hard law to enforce unless you become a police state.

        City planning around motorcycling commuting and rethinking the way we use roads to not only make it safer for motorcyclist and drivers, but also to leverage the benefits of two wheel driving is a huge opportunity that no one seems to be looking.

        Truth is, that the topic creates huge divisions and resentment. But I see as a great opportunity to alleviate traffic, reduce fuel consumption and make the city a more enjoyable one.

        For example, take the city of Sydney:
        http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/65768/MotorcycleScooterActionPlanStrategy.PDF

        • Rodrigo,
          I agree that a police state is not solution to most problems. However, in a country where people in motorcycles rob people in broad daylight, circulate against traffic, ride through the middle of the side walk disregarding pedestrians, do caravanas where they stop traffic and rob people, park the motorcycles wherever they want ,enforcement is a major issues in explaining the situation with motorizados. They know they can get away with everything, even motorizados in Norway would behave the same if their authorities behaved like ours.
          I think most people agree on the rule that they should not steal or violate all traffic rules.
          For the record I was mugged by a motorizado last week, so perhaps I´m not being completely objective.

          • Yes. That’s my point. only a few percent of motorizados rob (although this is pure conjecture). But pretty much all of them drive in the highway or between lanes when there is heavy traffic.

            Enforcing something that only a minority does is easy (but yet, not done in Vzla). Enforcing something that the majority does it is next to impossible.

            You have to ask yourself that, and then plan what to enforce first, with the limited resources you have.

  2. The first time I was involved in an accident with a motorizado, I was riding shotgun in my sister’s car. Naturally, the motorizado (with the obligatory chubby parrillero) not only was coming too fast onto an intersection, sino que tambien se comio la luz. His moto took some damage and thankfully the guys were all right but, almost immediately, wave after wave of motorizados bore down upon us like the unholy plague they are.
    I was (naively) relieved to see that PoliChacao happened to be in the vicinity and shooed away the motos, and after explaining how the crash came about, and when the motorizado admitted that he had no insurance of any kind, I thought it’d be a no-brainer….The cop not only did not fine him for not having seguro, but didn’t even tell him off for breaking traffic laws. He simply told us to sort it out between ourselves and bid us good day.
    My sister gave false info to the guy and made up some story about how she was late for a meeting and we ran off. Three months later, who should we see on our doorstep but the same motorizado, who had gone to the office of Transito Chacao, found the cop and persuaded him to reveal (illegaly) my sister’s real information from the croquis of the crash?
    In a country where even the institution charged with maintaining order in society refuses to do its job when it is 2 feet in front of it, what more can you expect?

    • No one gets outraged from children riding motorcycles with no helmet with no punishment from the state. But defend that some people uses formula instead of breastfeeding and get attacked by the pc twitter crowd.

      • The PC twitter crowd is addressing an alterate reality Venezuela. You live in a Venezuela of growing poverty, sky high traffic deaths and shortages, they imagine one where the greatest concern is whether mothers are breastfeeding.

        If you imagine that Venezuela is something akin to Iceland, and all the problems are just mirages thought up by the media, then Chavista rhetoric makes a lot of sense.

        • It was the same thing about “cabeza de caja” in los Juanes in Morrocoy. I had innumerable discussions arguing that it was hypocritical to get outraged and start a manhunt because two consenting adults were faking intercourse on the beach in a country where murderers, pedophiles, rapist, drug lords get off jail simply by bribing judges and prosecutors. But then is always about the children getting exposed to that, but at the same time no one gets outraged by children in this country being exposed to violence from a very early age, exposure that is far more harmful than to sex.

  3. Somos un pais de malandritos. Cuando estalle la guerra civil, no serán los lanceros de Páez sino los motorizados de Bernal. You just wait and see..

  4. Just a personal anecdote to go with Gustavo’s post. Last month, I took my inlaws to Venezuela for the first time. We were driving from El Vigia (airport) to Santa Barbara del Zulia to visit relatives. Very much a rural area. Halfway through we witnessed the most horrible traffic accident. A grown man and a young kid on a motorcylce decided to cross the road in front of us like it was el patio de su casa, while at the same time a car was passing us at about 120km/h. The car hit the motorcycle spot on, the kid and the men went flying in the air like dummies. Both died on the spot. We saw it happen in front of us like a scene from Mad Max.

    I was told these accidents are a dime a dozen in that region (sur del Lago). There are thousands of motorcycles everywhere, like flies. Anyone can get a cheap chinese one, no permit required. Unfortunately yet another sign of the overwhelming anarchy.

  5. I don’t know what the solution to this problem is. But I do agree with the poster that mentioned that motorcycles are not the problem, the problem is the lack of law enforcement, and that goes for cars as well (driving on the shoulder, running lights, speeding, etc. etc. etc eeetttccccc.)

    I also believe that lack of education of motorcyclist isn’t the only problem. Most people driving cars in Venezuela have NO IDEA what they are doing. I realize the following will sound totally parcializado, but I own one of those cheap Chinese motorcycles, and only when I started driving it did I realize that 4 wheel vehicle drivers are HORRIBLE drivers, driving all over, NEVER using their espejitos.

    Anyway, Venezuela is total anarchy and I just don’t see a way out of it, even if in 6 months we have Capriles in office, the damage done by the chavismo has been too great.

  6. In the 70´s and 80 ´s there was also a Motorcycle boom (in US the movie “On any Sunday” was a hit) but the devaluation of 1983 made the Japanese motorcycles too expensive .. also the many accidents made them unpopular ..But today the locally assembled and inexpensive Chinese bikes (Empire, Bera, etc) are invading all roads, assembled at a rate of 200 to 300 PER DAY … As other have said, it is becoming a health problem, many people maimed by stupid accidents…

    “On any Sunday”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_Any_Sunday

    • Another issue, how many Motorcycle riders have driven a car and vice versa ? If the Motorcycle drivers knew how many blind spots a regular car has, even with two mirrors, they would surely not do many of their stupid stunts (like driving on the right side of cars and ignoring turn signals)

      In US and other countries, motorcycle must be driven behind cars, not between them as driven in Venezuela and other third world countries.

      Motorbikes are nimble and maneuverable, can lacerate quicker than most cars, are economical to operate, have low gas consumption but as a friend of my father used to say ” the problem with motorbikes is that you are the fenders ..” (Uno es el parachoques…)

      • I agree. The experience of being in the others’ place can be very revealing of the annoying, dangerous or stupid things you might do without noticing. We could learn something. In this case, the ‘motorizados’ generally have more to loose in the event of an accident than the one inside the car, so I don’t understand their superman behavior (blow the horn instead of using the brakes- texting at 100 km/h on the highway- not properly securing the helmet in their head-to name a few) instead of driving more carefully. Maybe is that lack of common sense again.

      • Just wanted to point out one thing. Third world countries like ENGLAND allow lane splitting with motorcycles. But both car and motorcycle drivers are more prudent.

    • A Colombian once told me that two on a bike were forbidden due to robberies and assassination (sicariatos), so two on a bike were allowed only if different sexes so… women learned how to rob and use guns, so in the end two on a bike were banned …

  7. I think part of the problem is that drivers here (car and motorbikes), do not know how to drive properly. That saying you sometimes here that “If you drive in Venezuela you can drive anywhere” is SO false.

    Venezuelan drivers do not know most of the laws and rules they should be following (and many drivers lack common sense as well). In other countries, to get a driving license is a difficult and expensive task, you have to study, pass written and practical exams. In contrast, the stories about getting the Venezuelan driver’s license just within my friends and family are a joke.

    If we had a serious process to earn a driver’s license, and then proper enforcement of rules attaining to the use of said license, I’m sure some improvement might be noticed.

    • Very true, exams for licenses are a joke … (the instructors tells you the answers during the examination ) I have been told, never seen it… I studied for my exam and passed. I do remember that for he practical exam you could not arrive at the Inspectoria driving your own car … somebody had to drive with you … More than one was denied the license for arriving in a car alone .. I rented a car offered by a friend of the instructor – a 1953 Chevy Sedan with Powerglide automatic transmission and no Hydraulic assist … quite a challenge to park .. that was in the mid 70´s

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