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February 13th, 2009
A lot of people are surprised to learn that it is perfectly legal to drink and drive in Costa Rica. It’s true! However, the law also states that you cannot drive while drunk. That means that means that you as a driver are depending on the guy who is drinking to know when he is drunk. File that under things that make you go… “Hmmmmm”.
The government, getting fed up with the huge number of alcohol related traffic accidents and the resultant deaths, passed last December La Ley de Tránsito or simply new driving laws.
Although signed into law and effective last December 2008, I did not blog about it because there were sure to be a ton of appeals to the Costa Rica Supreme Courts, called Salas, regarding the legality of the new laws and the associated punishments which are truly severe. Sala IV has upheld some and is still considering others, but it is time to talk about these new laws. In this post, I will provide my thoughts and more important, a shortened list of the new laws and the associated fines and/or imprisonment. If this topic is of interest, read on!
The new laws are nasty but are receiving huge popular support. La Nacion did a survey of Ticos over age 18, and a whopping 77% supported the new laws. Many respondents (58%) told La Nacion they had altered their lifestyle and simply no longer drink anything if they are driving. I guess the government was not alone in their concern for traffic safety. Further, the law seems to be having the desired affect! In January, drunk driving arrests dropped 53% and that ain’t bad!
Stuck towards the bottom of the results was the interesting fact that women had fewer traffic accidents than men. OK, this is where you say, “Well Duh!”. This was probably a shock in machista Costa Rica. Guess they have not figured out that women tend to drive using their big head… but I digress!
As I said, these laws are tough. Some of the fines, however, actually exceed the monthly salary of the transit officers, so that might make bribe taking a real possibility.
The new laws not only have the usual fines, called multas in Spanish, they also include a point system though the point system here bears no resemblance to the systems used in the USA.
Everyone starts with 50 points and when those are gone due to traffic violations… well… so are you, at least on the roads. The points do not come back.
Below, I will break out the new laws and the associated fines and possible prison sentences involved. I’ll put them is order of seriousness/fines/penalties. Note that not all of these laws are effective today. All drinking related laws ARE in effect, and the others phase in over the next months. All drivers are required to know these laws, so if you do not because you do not speak the language, that will not be a defense.
To be clear here! You get the fine AND the loss of points.
Example: Driving (you or adult passenger) without seat belts. Pay $310.00 AND you lose 20 points. Same thing for talking on your cell phone
Jail – the biggie!
Reckless driving, speed more than 100 MPH (150 kph), death of a person from the accident (and perhaps injury!) blood alcohol level exceeding 0.75%. You get to keep your car (which is not too useful as you are in the slammer), but it may become State property at your trial. Loss of 50 points i.e. all your points.
No jail but real costly!
227,000 colones (or about $415.00 at today’s exchange rate) plus points lost
Category A offenses.
Reckless driving, in this case speed exceeding 80 MPH (120 kph) 0.5%, drag racing. Lose 50 points.
Driving without a valid drivers license or learners permit (and I would urge expats, especially those expat “perpetual tourists”) to read this as this WILL affect you!
Driving under a suspended license.
Driving a child without proper safety seats (and you lose all 50 points). Included is driving a motorcycle or any other motorized similar vehicle (like quadracycles with a minor and that minor has no helmet.
Transporting or carrying anything considered dangerous. This is broad and I am not going to go into it, though I do wonder if this would include my menopausal wife…
170,250 colones or about $310.00 plus points lost
Category B stuff. Includes driving 14 MPH over the speed limit, exceeding 16 MPH when passing schools entrances or exits, hospitals or clinics. PS: These are many times NOT marked. Lose 20 points.
Talking on your cell phone not using hands free. Lose 20 points
Running a stop sign, illegal u-turn, or driving a restricted vehicle. Lose 1o points
Driving without the minimum insurance required by law.
Driving with illegal plates…. meaning I think, not corresponding to the car driven. Lose 20 points.
Driving older children but who are still minors not using seat belts. Lose 20 points.
Driving motorcycles or as above ANY similar vehicle without a helmet. Lose 20 points.
Driving or carrying passengers (adults) and not using seat belts. Lose 20 points.
113,500 colones ($210.00) plus the loss of points shown.
Driving in the wrong lane (I think). Lose 15 points.
Driving a motorcycle between cars while stopped or moving. Yeah sure! This will never be enforced. Lose 15 points.
Driving too slow in high speed lane. Lose 15 points
Improper vehicle lights. Lose 15 points.
Driving too slow and impeding traffic and failure to yield to faster traffic. Lose 15 points.
Stopping in the middle of an intersection blocking traffic. Lose 15 points.
Brakes lights etc, Lose 15 points
Driving a souped up vehicle that bypasses environmental pollution rules. Lose 15 points
Driving on the beach. Lose 15 points.
Driving a vehicle without plates. Lose 15 points.
Improper passing. Lose 15 points.
Littering or transporting garbage illegally. Lose 20 points.
These are the biggies and the ones I believe might most affect my readers, whether tourists or visitors.
There are about 60 other items such as driving the wrong way, excess cargo or passengers, driving without a windshield (I am serious), parking in handicapped zone, tooting your horn in front of a hospital, driving on a foreign drivers license while in violation of your visa (US is 90 days), jaywalking, playing music too loud in the evening, failure to have your drivers license with you while driving, driving with an expired license, failure to maintain assured clear distance, etc. The list goes on ad-nauseum and covers all the normal stuff.
Those fines range from 90,800 colones ($180.00) down to 22,700 colones ($40.00) and most include some loss of points.
As far as I can see, when/if you lose points they never come back. If you lose all your 50 points, you must take the driver’s exam again and perhaps attend driving school. I can assure you that neither is offered in English.
In addition, there are another dozen or so that affect taxi drivers and other livery/bus drivers. As I doubt any of my readers fall into this category, I have not included them.
While I am not thrilled with the fact that the points do not come back over time, I am generally happy with the law, though I also expect the extortion by transit officials to go way up. Clearly the problem is many of these fines, especially categories A and B, exceed or come close to the entire monthy income of many Ticos. The payoffs cometh methinks.
Filed under Costa Rica, Costa Rica Law, Driving in Costa Rica, Hmmm!, Life in Costa Rica, Living in Costa Rica | Comments (9)