Costa Rica's New Traffic Laws - Will They Work?

Cop in traffic
Supposedly, things are going to get tougher on the practice of careless driving that is so embedded in Tico culture. After the first pass at an overhaul of the traffic code about a year ago, most of which was thrown out by Sala IV (Supreme Court), the Costa Rican legislature made another try. This time it's stuck and went into effect October 26th.

Here's a link to a PDF of the new infractions, fines, and points. The table is sorted by the points column, values zero to six.

Points? The first run at a new code gave everyone 50 points on their license from which points were taken for the more serious infractions. Now they've reversed that notion. All licenses start off with zero points and infractions add points. When it reaches 12 points the driver's license is suspended for 12 months, and he or she must take a driver's education course to reinstate it.

Minor things, such as a burned out tail light, have a fine, but zero points. The maximum you can get for a single infraction is 6 points, for, say, driving over 120 Km/h anywhere, or driving without headlights between 6 PM and 6 AM. Most of the 6-pointers have a fine nearing $600.  By the way, the first six months of the law, the fines will be in force, but not the point system.
Crashed Toyota Matrix
Crashed Toyota Matrix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All this is going to be quite interesting to watch play out over the next year or so. Most of the fines are sky-high for the average Tico, which could bring back an increase in bribery, though there have been efforts to reduce that recently.

Things such as obeying stop signs (ignore one and it's $380 plus four points), talking on the cell while driving ($560 plus four points), or crossing the double yellow line to pass (also $560 plus six points), are just how everyone drives here. Everyone expects it, including pedestrians, and the adjustment period, if there is one, will probably result in tempers flaring. I just wonder if it's all a bit too much all at once.

Español: policia montado motorizado Español: p...
On the other hand, I also wonder if there is going to really be much difference. The problem with enforcing the traffic laws seems not to have been addressed in the new law. I have yet to see anyone pulled over by a cop in a car or on a motorcycle. Seriously, they do not chase anyone down. Their usual M.O. is to park on the shoulder and one or two officers stand along the road to flag down drivers with a hand wave or a radar gun. You rarely see traffic cops on the highways and if you do, half the time they are violating some traffic law themselves.

 In the end, I hope some of the careless driving habits of Ticos (some of which I've now adopted myself, unfortunately) are changed for the better and no one goes without food on the table due to a fine equal to a month's pay.  I won't miss seeing parents carrying their infant or 2-year-old on the handlebars of their motorcycle, for on thing.

There is one infraction that I found amusing in a gallows humor sort of way:
  • Motorcycles (includes mopeds) that weave through traffic (in between vehicles) at more than 25 km/h  ¢189.000 ($380) plus 4 points
The way motorcycles nonchalantly drive between lanes and weave and dart about is enough to give you a heart attack here. That the authorities didn't deem it necessary to ban this practice entirely may be a hint at the level of confidence they have that any of these laws are going to change ingrained bad habits any time soon.

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1 comment:

  1. Ah, driving in Costa Rica is an experience! I personally love being able to drive around people or let them drive around me if I'm going too slow for them. It reduces a lot of stress on the road. BUT I don't love seeing other cars come towards me in my lane at break-neck speed, or wondering who is coming at me in my lane as I round a corner. THAT does not help the stress. We need a balance of convenience and safety. If only we could keep the good and get rid of the bad.


Thanks so much for your comment! - Casey