Monday, August 10, 2009

Donor cycle

I have never been a fan of motor cycles. I just can’t imagine how someone could feel the least bit safe going 80 mph without any sort of real protection. Here in Paraguay the situation is even more dangerous. Relatively recently, several new factories/motorcycles stores opened up. Prices have plummeted so there are motos absolutely everywhere.

As far as cheap mobility goes, this is great because motos are far cheaper to purchase, power, and maintain than cars. But the death rate for motos is skyrocketing, so I’m not sure if the extra mobility is worth it. About a week ago my teacher, Pabla, had 2 neighbors who were killed in separate moto accidents the same weekend. This week 2 volunteers came to class today, each with their own story of someone else who had died this past weekend in accidents. Guys in their late teens, early 20’s have been the ones most often killed while riding the motos, but its not uncommon to hear of several people dying in the accident when the moto collides with another vehicle.

For example the accident involving 1 of Pabla’s neighbors had a total death toll of around 3-4: the guy on the moto, the guy he hit, a policeman who pulled over to help, and, I think, a truck driver who ran into the pile-up [though he may have only been injured]. I hear about these incidents regularly, not through the grapevine, but from people who directly knew the deceased. Its no wonder PC has prohibitions volunteers from using motos at anytime for any reason. If they find out a volunteer has been on a moto, they will ‘administratively separate’ them from the program and sent back to the US.

One reason is that motos are involved in so many accidents is that people don’t maintain them well. I often see motos at night, barely, without working headlights. Also, motos are extremely overloaded with people, sometimes 4-5 [including very small children and babies], or bulky, heavy items. This makes them really difficult to steer.

There are very few asphalt roads. Most are very rough cobblestone or extremely uneven dirt roads. This is really hard on the motos, which makes them wear down quickly. The only nice thing about the stone and dirt roads is that people generally can’t drive at high speeds, however on the asphalt they fly down the road, in between other vehicles, on the side of the road… Actually its very common for people to drive on the wrong side when they are passing slower cars. Obviously in the states we can do this as well, but they do it much more frequently here and when the oncoming traffic is much closer.

Another road hazard is that the lines dividing the lanes are a suggestion more than a rule. People drive where ever they can fit, stop and start suddenly, cut each other off, pull out in front of each other, run red lights, drive really really slow or really really fast, not with the flow of traffic, buses race each other to get the next fare, wooden bridges collapse because they aren’t taken care of, you get the idea…oh and there often aren’t working seatbelts in the vehicles.. These things are the norm, not the exception. Its frightening. Even if I was allowed to drive here, I would get in an accident within 10mins.

Ultimately, it is really inconvenient that I can’t ride a moto, but its better than getting into an accident and killing myself or someone else. Now I’m just worried about all of my little Paraguayan friends who seem to be oblivious to the danger of driving recklessly, even when the friend are the ones becoming statistics.

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