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Motorcyclists to protest proposed law prohibiting passengers

March 18, 2015

Traffic in downtown San José could get complicated Wednesday evening. The National Motorcyclists’ Civic Committee announced they will hold a public demonstration to protest proposed regulations prohibiting more than one person on a motorcycle, among other changes.

Motorcyclists say the proposed changes violate their private property and free transit rights. Authorities say they’re necessary to reduce crimes committed from atop two wheels.

Criminals riding motorcycles have shot 45 people dead in the past year, officials say.

Leaders of the motorcyclists’ committee are calling on all riders to gather starting at 5 p.m. outside the National Insurance Institute (INS) in Barrio Amón. Then they plan to caravan to the Legislative Assembly and the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) to deliver petition letters.

OIJ Director Francisco Segura Montero is scheduled to attend Thursday’s session of the Legislative Committee on Public Security and Drug Trafficking to discuss ways to curb crime rates, including the proposed new motorcycle rules.

During a press conference last week Segura said it was “urgent for the Legislative Assembly to approve amendments and regulations to reduce crimes committed by motorcyclists, which have spiked in recent weeks.”

Broad Front Party legislator José Francisco Camacho Leiva, who chairs the Public Security and Drug Trafficking Committee, said legislators agreed to call Segura to the assembly after reviewing OIJ’s numbers on motorcyclists’ participation in murders and other crimes.

Camacho said all modifications will be analyzed with caution, as they involve changes in citizens’ rights.

“We know that the vast majority of people use motorcycles to work, to transport relatives or for recreation. In that sense we are willing to dialogue about the reforms,” he said.

Along with prohibiting more than one person on a motorcycle, Segura proposes banning motorcyclists from wearing balaclavas or using dark helmet visors. He also wants to make it mandatory to display license plate numbers on vests and helmets, and to increase the size of motorcycle license plates.

And he wants stricter regulations on carrying weapons.

According to Segura, 45 people have been shot dead by motorcyclists since the beginning of 2014. Last year OIJ received 1,738 complaints of assaults committed by individuals driving motorcycles, and so far this year they’ve received 251 complaints.

Chief Prosecutor Jorge Chavarría Guzmán believes changes suggested by Segura must be taken into consideration.

“(Segura’s) initiative mostly is aimed at strengthening the prevention of robberies and homicides committed with the help of motorcycles,” Chavarría said following Segura’s news conference last week. He said requiring license plate numbers to be displayed on vests was especially important, and said they should appear on the back and front of vests.

On Tuesday afternoon, Public Security Minister Gustavo Mata Vega said he supports most of Segura’s proposals. Regarding the ban on passengers, Mata said it has to be carefully evaluated to avoid violating Constitutional rights.

That proposal is motorcyclists’ main complaint. Eugenio Badilla Quesada, who leads the National Motorcyclists’ Civic Committee, told The Tico Times that the rule “would affect thousands of families who only have a motorcycle as transportation.”

The group also argues that the proposed ban contradicts most motorcycle specifications, which say the vehicles are for two passengers. Badilla said the two-passenger limit “is even stipulated in the vehicle circulation permit collected by INS every year.”

As for the other proposals, the motorcycle leader said they are ineffective “as any hitman can print a fake license plate number on a helmet and a vest.”

Honduras, Guatemala and several other Latin American countries prohibit passengers on motorcycles. It’s unclear whether the rule has reduced crime in those countries. Last week in Guatemala — in two separate incidents — three journalists were shot dead and a fourth injured by passengers on motorcycles.

Badilla said Wednesday night’s protest “is not intended to affect traffic in the capital. (But) we might drive around San José depending on the responses we get from lawmakers and from Francisco Segura.”

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