The motorcycle problem in Latin America is a very serious one: in the last few years the number of accidents involving children under the age of 17 traveling with this form of transport has rocketed. These youngsters travel for the most part without paying the slightest attention to the most basic safety principles, such as wearing a helmet.
The motorcycle mortality rate in Latin Ameria is 1.6 per 100,000 inhabitants (1998-2010). The increased death rate is striking. It rose from 0.8/100,000 people in 1998 to 3.5/100,000 in 2010. The countries with the highest motorcycle death rates are Colombia (3.6 per 100,000), Brazil (2.9 per 100,000) and Paraguay (2.5 per 100,000).
Moreover, motorcycle ownership in Latin American continues to grow. The main reasons are its low cost, cheap maintenance, and its relative speed as a mode of transport compared to the alternatives. The data is chilling: in Latin America and the Caribbean, traffic accidents are the leading cause of death in children between 5 and 14 years old and in countries such as Uruguay, Brazil, Colombia and the Dominican Republic, motorcycle deaths account for nearly half of all deaths.
If an adult is especially vulnerable on a motorcycle, even with the minimum protection required such as a helmet a child is even more so given their physical attributes and considering that both the cranium and the brain have still not completely developed. Legislation in our country is crystal clear, as we explain in our article entitled “Can I take my child on a motorcycle?”, but in Latin America it is not so clear cut.
Oddly enough, the general perception that children are safe on a motorcycle in Latin America is widespread in all six countries included in a study by the Ibero-American Road Safety Observatory (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Paraguay, Dominican Republic and Uruguay), with 80% percent of mothers and fathes believing that a motorcycle is a safe form of transport for their children.
As we have said, the main reasons for this striking increase in motorcycle use (in Brazil the number of motorcycles has risen by 346% in 11 years and the percentage of those under the age of 17 who have died rose from 1% in 1996 to 26% in 2014) are economic ones and because of their speed in traffic, as well as other less important factors such as insufficient public transport options.
Despite this increase in motorcycles, the perception that they are safe is a completely wrong one in the vast majority of the countries and cities included in the study: the reason given for not using a safety helmet, vest, and reflective bands, or lights, etc.) is that they are uncomfortable, or there is a lack of awareness, a lack of clear laws along with other more subjective reasons such as the fact that they make you feel too hot, for example. In the case of young children, a complete lack of approved helmets designed for them (and the fact that there are no laws regulating this) and not being able to put their feet on the motorcycle foot rests because of their small size just further raises the risks.
Other factors contributing to an increase in motorcycle accident rates are that the legislation is not adhered to, where it does exist, and children ride on them unprotected and are seated in a dangerous spot (such as, for example, in front of the driver). There is considerable work to be done in this region of the world in order to educate the population so that arguments such as "it won't happen to me", and "the helmet makes me hot" or "the safety precautions are too expensive" can be overcome.