Thursday, February 09, 2006

Motorcycle accidents

The traffic along the Comoro Road between the airport turnoff and the Comoro River this morning was banked up. It soon became clear why; a motorbike and a small truck had collided. There were two tin pot ice cream helmets on the road but no obvious sign of the passengers. As is the norm when such accidents occur, a huge crowd had formed while tens of police officers milled about (the National Police Training Academy is nearby).

We know of many “malae” who ride motorbikes in Timor but it is not something we wish to do. We have talked about it at length but the risks are too great. At least most of the “malae” we know wear Australian standard helmets. We know of an Australian Christian brother who was involved in a head on collision and has been in a coma for five years! A Japanese woman was involved in a very serious accident on the Comoro Road not long after she arrived in Timor. She sustained such serious head injuries that she was evacuated to Singapore for brain surgery and then sent back to Japan for rehabilitation. Amazingly, she subsequently returned to Timor and has been here for five years but has not ridden a motorcycle since.

Timorese ride motorcycles in such a way as to greatly increase the odds of them dying. Many do not wear helmets or if they do, they are of the ice cream bucket variety. Many men and women ride together with the woman on the back riding sidesaddle, often with a baby in her arms. We have seen small families all on one bike; father driving, mother and two or three children as passengers, yet only the father wears a helmet. Every time I see such scenes, I wince, wondering if the children will ever live to see adulthood.

Many more people own a motorcycle than they do a car because it is more affordable; and because families are large, you would expect people to utilise a motorcycle in the same way as a car. However, because of the lack of education around road safety issues and the lack of money to purchase safety standard helmets, Timorese engage in very high risk and life threatening behaviour.

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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