The National Police’s 2012 annual report, released last Wednesday night during a long, rain-drenched ceremony with President Daniel Ortega, lends new statistical credibility to Nicaragua’s claim to the title of “safest country in Central America.”
According to National Police Chief Aminta Granera, Nicaragua’s homicide rate last year dropped from 12 to 11 per 100,000 people, giving the country one of the lowest murder rates in the region, nearly on par with Costa Rica. While Nicaragua’s drug-riddled Caribbean coast has a disproportionally higher homicide rate than the rest of the country, Police Chief Granera noted that nearly one-third of Nicaragua’s 153 municipalities experienced no murders at all last year.
Furthermore, the top cop noted, Nicaragua experienced a 31% decrease in violent robberies in 2012, as police improved their capacity to respond to crimes with 269 new patrol cars. Police also started construction on 99 new police stations dedicated to providing integral protection and service to victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence.
Yet despite impressive advances in citizen security, Nicaragua suffered another head-on collision last year when it came to highway safety. According to official statistics, Nicaragua last year reported 11 fatal accidents for every 100,000 people. That means Nicaraguans have the same statistical probably of dying in a car accident as they do of getting murdered.
“It’s not possible that our homicide rate is the same as the rate of highway deaths; that can’t be, we have to reduce (the number of car accidents),” President Ortega said during his speech to the police, who lined up in the rain below his covered stage.
“The worst part about these accidents is that they could be and should be avoided,” the president said.
Managua last year registered nearly 50 car accidents per day, and the situation is worsening. “Managua went from 16,642 accidents in 2011 to 17,967 in 2012,” Ortega said. “Managua is what worries me the most and that is why I have told (Granera) to look for information and get to the bottom of this and figure out what we can do.”
According to police, most of the accidents are due to bad driving, poor judgment or other transit violations. Most of the accidents are caused by drivers behind the wheels of new or semi-new vehicles, and more than 30% of accidents involve motorcycles, statistics show.
President Ortega also hinted at the possibility of passing tougher helmet laws, requiring motorcyclists to actually wear their helmets on their heads and not on their elbows, as is the fashion in Nicaragua.
“We have to find a way, from a legal point of view, to establish stricter mechanisms so that this type of crime, because it is a crime, starts to diminish,” Ortega said, referring to the country’s general disregard for the current helmet law.
To combat the rising death toll on Nicaragua’s highways and byways, the National Police last week announced a new “special plan” to deal with road safety, with special attention to motorcyclists, who have a notorious disregard for road safety and common sense. The plan calls for increased highway patrols and new road safety training and education programs.
However, the national plan to improve road safety got off to a visually strange start during Wednesday’s meeting between Ortega and police. Moments after announcing the new initiative to combat highway imprudence, the National Police’s special unit of motorized police showed off their new motorcycles by driving by President Ortega’s rain-sheltered stage and saluting their commander while standing sideways on the backseat of their motorcycles while driving at a dangerously fast speed in a torrential rain shower in the dark of night.
First lesson in motorcycle safety: don’t do that again.