Ecuadorian Transit Law
There are many auto accidents in Ecuador every year, and unfortunately, many people are seriously injured and/or die from them. The frequency of Ecuadorian vehicle accidents has intensified the debate about road and pedestrian safety in Ecuador. The road culture in Ecuador is still developing and evolving (and so are Ecuador driving laws at that), and one important question is vital in this road and pedestrian safety debate: Who is responsible for a vehicle accident in Ecuador?
In Ecuador, the responsible parties in a vehicle accident are determined in a trial with an Ecuadorian transit judge. This trial ends in a judgment and sentence from the judge. While the general populace has the instinctive tendency to always just blame Ecuadorian drivers for any type of accident that takes place, regardless of the determination of the transit judge, the actual reality of the matter isn’t so simplistic. The real causes of frequent accidents in our country require a deeper analysis. All Ecuadorian traffic offenses should be evaluated and each road user’s legal responsibilities need to be well noted, whether concerning an uneventful failure to observe a rule of the road, up through the most treacherous forms of hit and run accidents in Ecuador.
Traffic Offenses in Ecuador
Art. 371 of the Organic Code of Criminal Procedure (COIP) states: “Traffic offenses or omissions produced in the field of transport and road safety are traffic violations.”
Additionally, Art. 183 of Ecuador’s Transit Law states: ”The road users are obligated to obey the regulations and traffic laws, the indications provided by a traffic officer, and traffic signs that establish either an obligation of prohibition, except in justified special circumstances.”
All road users are expected to fulfill these obligations. There are a few special circumstances that allow for exceptions. These exceptions are listed in Art. 253 of the General Regulations of the Ecuadorian Transit Law, as follows:
- Health Emergencies, if someone’s life is endangered.
- Road Emergencies.
- Natural Disasters.
- Fire or similar catastrophes.
Art. 253 goes on to state that evidence of these special circumstances must be presented reliably to a traffic officer in order to justify any behavior that disobeys road regulations. If there is an accident, these circumstances must similarly be explained to the transit judge in the trial.
Driver Responsibility in Ecuador
The push for road safety in Ecuador has come from people who regularly drive motor vehicles. Art. 270 of the General Regulations of the Transit Law of Ecuador states: ”In every moment, drivers are responsible for their own safety, and the safety of passengers and other road users”. Regulations place high legal responsibilities on drivers as they traverse Ecuador’s roads. The safety responsibility of drivers and the requirement that they comply with traffic officials is stated in Art. 271 of the General Regulations of the Ecuador Transit Law, which says that ”Drivers will guide their vehicles with the highest precaution and prudence possible, in compliance with the dispositions and hand signals of the traffic agent and in general with all signs placed in the public roads.”
Art. 270 through Art. 283 lay out the specific responsibilities of all drivers, standardizing these rules and regulations. These include, among others, the following rules:
- Drivers must always drive on the right side of the road, except in special cases as stated in the law or indicated by traffic control agents.
- Drivers must reduce speed when pedestrians are close; drivers must not have children less than 12 years of age in the front seat.
- Drivers must obey road safety dispositions.
- Drivers must guarantee the safety of passengers and pedestrians. While drivers have the higher degree of responsibility in the case of an accident, the roads are used by others who are not operating motor vehicles as well, and it’s important to remember that they also have certain responsibilities.
The Responsibility of Other Road Users in Ecuador
Art. 373 of COIP states: “Responsibility of the pedestrians, passengers or controlling officers: When the person responsible for the accident is not the driver or driver of a vehicle but the pedestrian, passenger, driver or other person, they will be sanctioned with the penalties provided in the corresponding articles, according to the circumstances of the infraction…”
When determining the cause of any vehicle accident, it’s important that the judicial process evaluates the responsibilities and behavior of everyone involved, whether they were the driver of a motor vehicle, a passenger, or someone on the road in another capacity. While it’s generally true that imprudent behavior on the part of car drivers is the main cause of Ecuador vehicle accidents (such as an Ecuadorian hit and run accident or drunk driving in Ecuador), the behavior of Ecuadorian motorcyclists, bikers, pedestrians, and even passengers can be a contributing factor as well, and these actors should not be excused from violations of their obligations as road users (such as fleeing or leaving the scene of an accident in Ecuador), even though they have special protection under Ecuadorian law.
The Responsibility of Pedestrians in Ecuador
Art. 199 of the Ecuadorian Traffic Law states that while walking on a public road, pedestrians should comply with the following regulations:
- Obeying all indications given by the traffic agents.
- Using the streets and sidewalks only for activities that do not endanger their own safety, or the safety of any third party or property.
- Abstaining from asking for help or requesting transportation from drivers in forbidden or inappropriate locations.
- Crossing the street only at the crosswalks and flyovers, or if there are no crosswalks, only at intersection corners.
- Abstaining from walking on roads that are trafficked by motor vehicles.
- Abstaining from crossing the street in front or behind momentarily stopped vehicles.
- If there are no sidewalks, walking in the designated margins of the road, and if there are no marks, keeping to the edge of the road and walking in the opposite direction of vehicular traffic.
- Entering or exiting vehicles without entering the flow of traffic in the street, and only when the vehicle is completely stopped near the sidewalk.
- Assuring the safety of drivers and other people on the roadways at all times.
- Adhering to all other rules established in all regulations.
Art. 266 of the Regulation to the Transit Law states: “Without any detriment to the obligations established in Art. 199 of the Organic Law for Ground Transportation, pedestrians walking on public roads should comply with the following”:
- Make way for official vehicles by clearing the roadway and staying in refuges or pedestrian areas when fire trucks, ambulances, police and official cars are active and using their sound and/or light signals.
- Groups of children must be guided to the sidewalks in one or two rows, and must have guidance at the front and back of the row, preferably holding hands. While crossing streets, guides should request assistance from traffic officers if they are present.
- Pedestrians should refrain from crossing the streets diagonally, at inopportune times, or exhibiting any other reckless behavior.
- As pedestrians cross the street they should take all precautions on roads that do not have intersections, traffic lights, crosswalks, or flyovers that create safe pedestrian crossing conditions. They should always avoid crossing at any curves in the road.
- Pedestrians should abstain from walking on public roads in infrastructure that can jeopardize their safety, such as tunnels, overpasses and bridges that are designed only for vehicle traffic.
- Pedestrians must allow the SITU tests to detect alcohol, psychotropic substances, narcoleptics, and narcotics to be conducted by a traffic officer who in all cases must follow the rights and procedures for these tests that are established within these regulations.
Based on general observations, pedestrians in Ecuador are often not in compliance with these regulations. Many drivers in Ecuador will recall that in the past there was a surge of negative responses from pedestrians when traffic agents attempted to penalize pedestrians who were not in compliance with these regulations, whom insisted that they should always and forever be considered as nothing other than innocent bystanders in Ecuador with free reign to do as they please on and about Ecuador’s roads and highways. This negative reaction caused traffic officers to largely stop enforcing these policies with regards to pedestrians. Add this lack of compliance and enforcement to the frequent imprudence of persons driving in Ecuador, and such type accidents will continue to be the largest cause of violent deaths in Ecuador.
The Responsibility of Cyclists and Motorcyclists in Ecuador
Art. 284 of the Regulation to the Transit Law states that motorcycle drivers in Ecuador and drivers of similar vehicles should abstain from the following unsafe behaviors:
- Holding onto any other vehicle that is operating on a public road.
- Transiting in parallel with others, or disregarding any other regulations established to maintain the correct flow of traffic.
- Carrying any kind of load that impedes visibility, equilibrium, or other correct operation of the vehicle, or carrying something that creates potential danger to the cyclist’s life or to any other users on public roads.
- Turning without using the correct turn signals.
- Driving on sidewalks or other areas that are designated exclusively for pedestrians.
- Transporting disabled persons without appropriate equipment and safety measures.
- Transporting people or children whose height or age means that they cannot use the necessary safety precautions.
Cyclists in Ecuador do typically follow the obligations set out in these regulations better than drivers of cars and buses, likely due to self-interest because of the substantially higher likelihood of them getting injured or killed in any type vehicle accident because of the lesser (or zero) physical protection afforded them by virtue of their generally two-wheeled vehicles in comparison to that of the generally four-wheeled vehicles that are consist of any standard car, bus or truck. Motorcyclists and cyclists often wear safety helmets and use lights and reflective strips so as to ensure that they are seen (whether during the daytime or nighttime), and they often appropriately give the right-of-way to pedestrians. However, motorcyclists in particular often also perform dangerous maneuvers, overtaking other vehicles at high speeds, weaving through cars, buses and trucks, and transporting too many passengers.
The situation with bicyclists (cyclists) in particular is complicated, because it seems that often cyclists may simply believe that since they are choosing the eco-friendly option of cycling instead of driving, that they don’t have to follow the traffic regulations that are applicable to all other type vehicles. This kind of person may at times (or even always) believe that they should have free use of the public roads and sidewalks alike, without any restrictions. Given that cyclists in Ecuador often narrowly avoid hitting pedestrians and commonly use areas that are created for pedestrians exclusively, this way of thinking can lead to unsafe conditions for everyone.
This sense of entitlement often leads to Ecuador cyclists driving in the opposite direction of traffic and not respecting traffic signals. Very few cyclists routinely stop at red lights or hold in place for pedestrian traffic. They can often be seen holding onto the back of a vehicle like a pick-up truck or bus. The appropriate use of bicycle paths is another issue that needs to be addressed, but it’s outside the bounds of this article about traffic issues in general.
The Responsibility of Bus Passengers in Ecuador
Passengers are largely overlooked in issues of vehicle accidents and other traffic issues. There are, however, regulations set out that put certain obligations on passengers of public transportation. Art. 202 of the current Ecuadorian Traffic Laws states that users or passengers of public transportation services have the following obligations:
- Abstaining from using any public transportation service when a driver is or reasonably appears to be under the effects of alcohol, narcotics, or psychotropic drugs.
- Abstaining from committing acts inside the bus that threaten the safety, comfort, tranquility, or integrity of other users, or taking any action that violates regulatory or legal provisions.
- Using only authorized bus stops to embark and disembark, and requesting stops with sufficient anticipation.
- Abstaining from any act against the appropriate use of buses and public property.
- Giving priority seat access to disabled people and other vulnerable people.
- Refraining from smoking in public transportation vehicles.
- Refraining from leaving garbage inside the vehicle.
- Complying with any other dispositions established in all regulations and other policies.
Users (passengers) of public transportation are also subject to Art. 292 of the Ecuador Traffic Law, which states: ”Without prejudice to the obligations established in the Organic Law for Ground Transportation, the users or passengers of public transportation have the following obligations”:
- Notifying a traffic agent or national police officer, or, in their absence, calling a police station or emergency service department, if they suspect that any driver of a public transportation vehicle is under the influence of alcohol, narcotics, or a psychotropic substance. The passenger should be able to properly identify the vehicle when they make the call.
- Abstaining from entering a bus when it has reached its passenger capacity.
- Abstaining from using the running boards of public transport to travel.
- Abstaining from distracting the bus driver when the vehicle is in motion.
- Abstaining from carrying animals unless the vehicle is sufficient for their transport. Blind people with specially trained guide dogs under their control and responsibility are excluded from this regulation.
- Abstaining from transporting dangerous materials, objects, or guns, without the appropriate permits and/or other than as permitted under specific regulations.
- Notifying the bus driver about passengers that are causing problems by exhibiting behavior contrary to the general morals and sensibility of third parties, as well as notifying the driver about people carrying dangerous materials, objects or guns.
- Demanding that the bus driver permit adequate time and security for the embarkation and disembarkation of passengers, by starting and stopping the engine without shaking the bus or causing any other abrupt movement, keeping doors shut until the bus stops completely, and stopping as close as possible to the right sided edge of the road.
- Demanding the bus driver abstains from fueling the vehicle when passengers are inside.
Unfortunately though, as so many of us have seen, witnessed or otherwise been informed of by others as well as the news itself, passengers are not always in compliance with their immediate above stated obligations, and sometimes are in stark violation of any or all of these, respectively.
Nevertheless, the intention of this article is not to advise anyone to plead guilty in the case of an accident, regardless of his or her capacity as any type of vehicle driver, passenger or even pedestrian. Ultimately, determining the responsible parties in any vehicle accident lies with the Ecuadorian transit judge in a trial. However, it’s important that the national debate in Ecuador about road safety considers the responsibility of all road users, and considers each and all of their own needs and safety concerns, as well as for the public at large, without the fear of offending any particular group(s).
The purpose of this debate is simply to decrease accidents on the roads and improve safety for everyone in Ecuador, rather than to generally assign blame to anyone or type of road user in particular. Until this discussion can move forward productively, drivers and pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, and passengers will all likely just continue to accuse each other of negligence rather than taking their own individual responsibility to follow the regulations of the road, and the roads throughout Ecuador will continue to silently witness traffic accidents and the tragic loss of life, as so sadly occurs each and every day in our country.
If we can overcome the barriers to effectively communicate the importance of the above discussed Ecuador traffic laws and insist that everyone simply complies with the obligations placed on them as users of the public roads, then we can/will best create a culture in Ecuador of peace, safety, and responsibility, keeping people (and animals) safe as they travel within their town or city, or even across the country as a whole.
Sara Chaca (Attorney - Abogada) is a seasoned Ecuadorian Lawyer, who principally serves Expats in making their moves to Ecuador, as well as for any legal issues that arise or become actionable for her Expat clients to undertake in their new lives here in her beautiful country. Sara resides in Cuenca with her family, which consists of her American husband and 2 daughters (as well as her parents and siblings), and when not working, she enjoys spending time with her family in Cuenca’s majestic Cajas Mountains and local parks & fairs of Cuenca, plus visiting the coast as well as the many gem towns of Ecuador. Sara’s personal email address is email@example.com and her law office's fully informative website is www.ecuadorvisas.com for you to visit at any time of day or night - plus, her personal Ecuadorian cell phone number is 099-296-2065 and her Toll Free "800" phone number for US & Canadian callers is 1-(800)-655-1581. Sara has a less than 24 hour first response policy, in that if you email or call her, she WILL return your first email or first phone call in less than 24 hours (more typically in closer to 24 minutes). Most importantly, all first time consultations with Expats for any type Visa or Legal matter(s) are always FREE OF CHARGE.