US issues warning on driving in Cuba

The U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana issued a warning Friday that traffic accidents involving U.S. citizens are on the rise, and noted that seven Americans are currently unable to leave the island because of such accidents.

“We urge you to take extra safety precautions when driving to avoid problems during your stay in Cuba,” the mission, officially the U.S. Interests Section, said in English and Spanish-language statements posted on its Web page and sent to journalists.

Two U.S. citizens were jailed for accident-related offenses during recent months, two others are under house arrest and three more are not being allowed to leave the island because of accident-related offenses, according to the statement.

Prison sentences for car accidents can run up to 10 years, the statement noted, and witnesses and even some people who require emergency medical treatment abroad have been forced to remain in Cuba while their cases are investigated.

“Unconfirmed reports suggest that accidents involving motor vehicles are now the leading cause of accidental death in Cuba,” the warning said, going on to list a long series of problems with the country’s streets and highways.

Highways lack lights and “night driving should be strictly avoided outside urban areas,” it said, while secondary roads are narrow, in bad condition and used by “pedestrians, bicycles, horse-drawn carts and farm equipment” as well as livestock.

In cities, many streets are not lit, some cars and most bicycles lack running lights or reflectors and signage “tends to be insufficient and confusing.” Many Cuban cars are old and lack turn signals, the statement added.

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