In a first, Venezuela suspends driver's license

Thu May 19, 2011 9:14am EDT

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CARACAS (Reuters) - Car-friendly Venezuela, where gasoline is almost free and troublesome highway rules rarely imposed, has suspended a bus driver from the roads for a year in the first case of a suspended license in the OPEC nation.

Police stopped Ramon Parra, 41, for driving at excessive speed in a large, overladen passenger bus that was missing one of its rear wheels.

The bus was packed with more passengers than legally permitted and one of its six wheels was wedged in an aisle inside, national police chief Luis Fernandez told reporters.

"It is important to emphasize that this is a totally new act; for the first time in Venezuela we are suspending a driving license, for 12 consecutive months," Fernandez said.

South America's top oil producer places a strong emphasis on the rights of drivers. Gas costs about 12 cents a U.S. gallon and prices have not been raised in years, meaning it is economical to operate gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles and 1970s muscle cars like Ford Mustangs.

Testing of drunk drivers is virtually unknown, and traveling on pot-holed interstate highways is a hair-raising experience, as automobiles, buses and trucks weave in and out of lanes at speeds up to 100 miles an hour.

One Caracas mayor attempted to cut crippling traffic jams by preventing car owners from driving one day a week, a policy that has been successful in other Latin American cities. The plan was overturned in the courts for violating citizens' rights of free transit.

The first law allowing authorities to suspend drivers' licenses was introduced in 2008 but had not been used until now, Fernandez said. The maximum suspension is for five years, for killing someone.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)

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