Mérida, 3rd February 2014 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – A government proposal to restrict the circulation of motorcycles during night-time hours has caused controversy among bikers. The measure is one of several being implemented to reduce crime in Venezuela.
The plan to restrict night-riding in the Greater Caracas area responds to the perception that motorcycles are the favoured means of transport for delinquents and that the two-wheeled vehicles are also involved in a disproportionate number of road accidents.
The proposal, which is being drawn up by the national government in conjunction with the municipal authorities of Caracas, is part of a set of new initiatives being designed to improve citizen security in Venezuela. According to official statistics the country has one of the highest homicide rates in the Americas, and President Nicolas Maduro has pledged to reduce violent crime this year.
However last Friday around 2,000 motorcyclists gathered in the capital to protest the planned night-riding ban. Roaring their engines and chanting “We’re not criminals, we’re workers!”, motorbike -taxi and other motorcycle groups complained that they were being “stigmatised” by the proposed measure.
“Today we are dignifying the praiseworthy work of motorcyclists...not everyone who rides a motorcycle is a criminal,” said Ricardo Vargas of the group Bikers United for Peace.
The motorcyclists, known as motorizados in Venezuela, handed in a petition to the National Institute of Land Transport (INTT) demanding that the night-riding ban not be implemented. They argued that the measure goes against a constitutional clause guaranteeing free transit at any hour, and that the government should focus on implementing existing transit laws properly instead of designing new ones.
INTT president Dario Arteaga confirmed in a statement that he had received the petition. He defended the proposed ban by saying that in regional states where such measures had already been implemented, “road accidents involving motorbikes and crime levels have reduced considerably”.
It is not clear how the motorcycle night-riding ban will play politically for the Maduro administration, as many motorizados belong to poorer sectors of the population and are considered to be pro-government. Nevertheless many citizens share the perception of motorcycles as a transit pest and facilitator of violent crime, and publicly applaud the measure.
“It [the night-riding ban] seems good to me, as with the way crime is, a motorbike is used for many things,” said Victor Lara, a taxi driver and student, to Venezuelanalysis.com. He also said that “almost all” the people he knows support the proposal.
The idea appears to be gaining traction in Venezuela. Bans on motorcycles’ night circulation have already been implemented in four of the country’s twenty-four regional entities.
In the border state of Táchira a ban on riding motorcycles between 10pm – 5am weekdays and 9pm – 5am weekends has been in place since last October. Motorcyclists can apply for permits to ride at night for educational and work purposes, and a range of new safety measures such as mandatory helmet-wearing now apply to bikers.
Táchira state authorities report that night-time motorbike-related accidents have reduced by 90% as a result of the policy.
National and local authorities are also implementing a new “intelligent” police patrol system in the Greater Caracas area, an urban zone of over four million people.
Under the plan the capital city has been divided into 158 square kilometre quadrants, with a specific police unit assigned to each one. Local residents are given the number of the quadrant’s corresponding police unit to contact directly in case of emergency.
It is hoped that the strategy will result in more effective policing and quicker response times to emergencies. Intelligent Patrolling will also be incorporated into the new Comprehensive Monitoring and Attention System (SIMA), which will install 30,000 security cameras across eight Venezuelan cities to better detect and react to crime.
These new citizen security policies are being implemented in cooperation with both pro-government and pro-opposition regional and municipal authorities, as a result of meetings that Justice and Internal Affairs Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres is holding with local authorities around the country in order to design and implement a coordinated anti-crime strategy.