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November 1st, 2006
Now THIS otta be fun! For those of you who actually live (and drive) in Costa Rica, your eyes must be doing a 360 about right now. Mine sure did. For those of you who have not had the ummm… pleasure… of interfacing with a Tico on the roads of CR… well… I bit of explaining may be in order.
I happen to like our new president, Óscar Arias Sánchez, but for some reason, he has apparently lost his marbles on this issue.
First, if nothing else, the average Tico driver could be called “creative” though I have no doubt other words have been used as well. Traffic laws, while technically “on the books” are seldom, if ever enforced except against tourists who have the bad luck of running afoul of the ever alert transit police who lurk on the pistas (highways) between San Jose and the beaches. Other than those officers, there simply are no police cruisers or motorcycle police anywhere. Add to this those drivers on motorcycles (who pay even less attention to the traffic laws and are never ever stopped), and we have a situation where the roads of Costa Rica are best described as a zone of lawlessness not unlike the olde West.
In addition, the roads themselves are often in pretty bad shape. Driving in Costa Rica is not for the faint of heart.
So now comes the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transporte, MOPT, or the Minister of Public Works, proposing new fines and penalties for lawless driving in this country. Arias apparently agrees with all this.
Well, on the surface, is this not a great idea? The answer is, “Of course!”, but we really need to examine the realities of the situation.
The proposed fines are just silly! Here are a couple:
- Running a red light (the second most popular sport in Costa Rica after fútball (soccer): 234,000 colones or about $450.00 US.
- Not using a seat belt: $350.00 or with a minor in the car: almost $400.00
- Making a U-turn: about $350.00
Kinda gets your attention, huh?
Well here is the problem. These fines are supposedly based on the monthly salary of an office worker in the Poder Judicial, but the reality is that the VAST majority of Costa Ricans do not earn anywhere near that much money every month. Even for those who do, the figure is absurd. It would be the equivalent of a $2,500 fine in the US for cruising a light!
So what happens if the fine is not paid?
Well, come year end, you must pay your marchamo and renew your license plates which cannot be done as long as there are outstanding traffic tickets. Sadly, I have had some experience with this BTW. The average Tico will absolutely NOT have the cash to pay a ticket like this. He will not be able to gets his plates renewed nor pay the marchamo. He may have to use his alguinaldo (year end bonus) to pay the tickets and THAT for the average Tico family would be a disaster. It is that or drive illegally.
Let’s examine some other fines:
- Drunk driving: about $540.00 (actually, too low IMHO unless it includes castration) plus loss of license for 2 years
- Drag racing: Same fine and penalty.
I think these are just fine, though I expect the loss of license will not affect those idiots as they will just continue to drive without one. Their odds of getting caught are about zero as there are just not sufficient police to enfores this. With that in mind, they want to add 13 patrol cars and 46 motocycles… for the whole country!
So about those huge fines? What about the bribes so many folks pay to get out of these tickets now before they cost so much? Paying 5,000 or 10,000 colones to a transit officer is as old a tradition as Pura Vida and guarro. Now, there will supposedly be enforcement!
HUH? The average transit cop earns MAYBE $280.00 per month. Methinks the bribes will go up.
Back to enforcement! A new internal affairs department will be set up to investigate bribes. Cool huh? Well maybe not. The IA will have the right to examine the bank account of police officers. OK… so which police officer will be dumb enough to go home after his shift and deposit his nightly bribes?
Now of course YOU could report that YOU paid a bribe right? Testify? The other shoe dropping is that if you pay the bribe, YOU get socked with a $550.00 fine as well. So you pay the transito 20,000 colones ($40) to avoid the $400.00 ticket (which he will just deny anyway) then you report him just so you can receive another $550.00 shot in your wallet for bribery.
Now let’s examine another reality. Will the transit police even give a ticket to another Tico knowing eerything above?
I know about 5-6 of them and they are ALL really nice people as are most Ticos. I expect they will not want to give a speeding ticket or a ticket for crashing a light to a fellow countryman knowing the pain such a ticket will cause. They might do it if an accident or fatality results, otherwise I doubt tickets will be given at all, except for…………….?
Yup! Tourists and foreigners living in Costa Rica! In other words those who theoretically can afford it. I expect they will become the targets. I also pity the poor Nicaraguan who happens into the area.
The whole system also uses a reverse point system. You start with 60 points and lose them for each sin committed. Get to zero and you’re no longer licensed. I could not see where points are added back for good driving. I guess the incentive thing has not yet cught on in Costa Rica.
All the above must still be presented and approved by the Asamblea Legislativa, so with luck, they will read my blog and cooler heads will prevail.Filed under Costa Rica, Expatriate Life, Life in Costa Rica, Rants, Retire in Costa Rica, Travel | Comments (21)