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Cops Won’t Enforce New Transit Law

February 28th, 2010

I have been waiting patiently for many months for someone in the government of Costa Rica (ummm – that would be the diputados),  to realize just how idiotic is the new ley de tránsito (traffic law) that goes into effect tomorrow, March 1, 2010.

In fact I have re-written this post about 3 times, the last time being Friday when they decided not to enforce some laws requiring everyone carry fire extinguishers, those reflective triangle thingies, and a couple of other items (like child seats)  that they probably should have left in! I was running out of time… but my guardian angel told me to wait until Sunday…

So I did wait, only to learn last night that the least likely group of all (that would be the transit police officers union) voted overwhelmingly to not enforce the new laws, but will enforce really tough drunk driving laws and those regarding reckless driving!  Sadly, those are the laws the courts are ignoring with only eleven convictions in over a year. I am thinking now that the police officers (that would be the group with the brains) should perhaps trade places with the diputados!

Interested?  Read on!

Sometimes Costa Rica is kinda like that old fairy tale about the king has no clothes. Everyone sees something is not going to work well, but they plunge ahead.  Oh… yeah!  I guess the USA is about the same, with pols trying to force the stupid, hugely expensive. and almost universally hated Obamacare, down the throats of voters who already know how dumb it is… HA!  And you thought Costa Rica was a better option! But I digress!

So immediately, the transit chief starts making noises (probably correctly) that officers who do not enforce these new laws will be  derelict in their duties.  The diputados, not to be outdone by management, join in the hue and cry for enforcement.  Should be interesting!

OK, so what is the big deal and why won’t the new laws work?

Basically, they are overkill. Costa Rica drivers are arguably the world’s worst. I have driven in a lot of countries, but drivers here just scare me to death. Therefore, new laws are a good idea… right?

Yeah…  unless you make the fines  so large that they can come close to the salary of the police office whose job it is to enforce them.

Oh… and before I begin, there is also a point system.  Once you get 50 points, you lose your license for two years.

Let’s look at a few: (If you want to know how much in US dollars, the formula is colones/550 = $$$  Example: 165,000 colones = about $300.00

Red light / U Turn – 165,000 colones – 20 points ($300.00 – now you do the math!)

Taxi or bus drivers who are rude to passengers 90,800 colones (no points)  (not a joke)

Talking on a cell phone while driving – 165,000 colones – 20 points (castration would be better!)

Taxis that fail to use the meter (la maria) – 90,800 colones (no points)

Driving without a license – 227,000 colones ($410.00)  – 25 points – HUH?

Bribing a police officer – 227,000 colones – 20 points

OK so why am I on a rant?

These fines, for many Costa Ricans, can represent all or close the monthly income of some families!   The last time I checked, a rookie police officer only made perhaps $250,000 colones (around $450.00)  per month.

Now what do you suppose will happen when that officer stops someone to issue a $300.00 traffic ticket? Or maybe a drunk driving citation that costs the driver 293,000 colones ($530.00) plus loss of license, car and jail time?

To put this into perspective, it would be like someone in the USA, earning $60,000 per year, having to pay about $4,000.00 for blowing a red light.

Now, the police officers union is also thinking that trying to ticket a driver who may not only lose his license but may be unable to feed his family or pay his mortgage just might tend to cause a conflict.  Gee… ya think?  The actual wording (translated) is that “officers could be exposed to dangerous situations.  Now you wags could argue that that is their job… but clearly, the officers do not relish these types of confrontations.

Oh… and did I forget to mention? When you go to court, you are asked about your income and if it is larger, these fines can get larger! Ahhh, and as these fines are tied to a base number, they will rise automatically every year. Just gets better and better.

Now…. raise your hand if you think any of this may affect tourists? Tourists won’t care about the points, but they can get tagged with the fines…even after they leave the country if renting a car…  and they won’t fight it. There are many, many stories about bribes being solicted and/or offered.  Most are true.  The nice thing is that tourists won’t report an officer for bribery either way.  They will just pay up and move on!

Another goofy think is that all new and (as I understand it) first time renewals of drivers licenses will now require a psychological exam! Cost will be about $30.00 and INS, your friendly local monopolistic insurance company will not be assisting. This means first time and maybe first renewal of licenses will cost a whopping 85,000 colones!

Life goes on.  The law will be in effect for most of you who will be reading this with your Monday morning coffee.  I have no idea if it will be enforced…. Be well, be careful out there… and pura vida!

19 Responses to “Cops Won’t Enforce New Transit Law”

  1. Jim Gaudet on March 1, 2010 6:59 am

    I do feel, like you said, that this will either force more cops to bribe the drivers or the drivers will try to outrun a cop or worse, “confront” them.

    They are awfully high prices for tickets…

  2. Robert Harding on March 1, 2010 8:22 am

    So much for life in Paradise!!

    A third world country,with first world fines,they may want to get thr toilets working, whats next a fine for flushing paper. Maybe Driver Ed is required,or some road sense

  3. Carl Carlsson on March 1, 2010 8:34 am

    Sounds about right. At least in Costa Rica there is some freedom. Not so in Gringolandia-Europa. Why get excited about the changes. Without an army or KGB type service, no one is coming to your house to cart you off to jail, are they? So, who really cares what laws are passed. Public transport is cheap, so is shoe leather. Ride with a friend, ha!

  4. Bob Furlong on March 1, 2010 9:05 am

    Tim, I’m afraid that this is the first time I have to disagree with you in all matters except the Psych test. Whether the Culture will be impacted by these laws is really questionable, probably not. We can only hope that the “worlds worst drivers” will improve. With the worlds worst anything I’m not sure their can be an overkill except the death penalty. Hmmmm! Bob

  5. Ken Collins on March 1, 2010 9:34 am

    Tim: I did notice, last year, a difference between that time and the month ealrlier I was there. I said “Why is everyone stopping at the red lights?” Nuevo ley ..I was told, along with the other violations and life changing fines. Finally, I thought, something to help stop this insanity, deadly insanity at that.
    I finally figured out that the drivers(?) negotiate their autos, similar to riding horses and that is the mental position.
    I cannot beleive there is no driver’s education in the school system. If you are 13,14,15 years of age and have an auto or moto available then go for it.
    The new bridges/overpasses, such as in Alujelita, will help prevent the horse mentallity for illegal egress onto highways but the laws are of no value when individuals have no idea (and do not care)why they exist and the reason for such excessive fines. It is the only way to get the offenders attention.
    The most persistent arrogance is the speeding into an intersection and stopping with 1/3 the vehicle in the opposing lane, beleiving the legal oncoming traffic will stop. Nail this arrogance with a 200K colone fine to start.
    You, as others, are correct as the majority of Costaricans are the worst and most deadly drivers in the world.

  6. Aimee on March 1, 2010 10:50 am

    Those are some of the worst drivers, I’ll agree there.

    Currently there is zero regard for lights and signs bye the population as a whole, but baby steps would definitely be the best approach.

    If a cop is “good” and goes through with the citation I foresee it causing an unnecessary spike in violence. If not, it’ll just increase the level of corruption which is already ridiculously high.

    The Wild West didn’t change in a day, yet this legislation is trying to change people’s mentality from driving with total chaotic freedom to being afraid of losing their life savings for just doing what was perfectly normal yesterday. What a crock.

    Hopefully nobody gets seriously injured or killed while this law is failing.

  7. Bob on March 1, 2010 12:56 pm

    i was just there, the drivers really do not care about safety, but there are better ways than robbing the people with out of sight fines, we were going back in the spring. but not if they are going to find new ways to rob a gringo, it was tough enough with the people always trying to get over on you now the govt wants to rob u. Belize it is, in the spring thnks for the heads up.
    p.s it just affected the tourism
    i will not be the last, a lot of people are tired of being robbed in CR

  8. Tim on March 1, 2010 1:32 pm

    Well Bob, if this is the first time in maybe 5 years that you do not agree…. I am still pretty happy! Tim

  9. Brian on March 1, 2010 9:06 pm

    I’ll never forget the first time I went to CR. I drove through SJ with a flat, but didn’t realize it until some Ticos on the sidewalk pointed it out. The roads were so bad that I couldn’t feel the difference in tire pressure. I have yet to drive on any of the new roads, but I’m sure they will go the same way as the roads in the rest of the counry…good in the beginning, then steadily worse as they age.
    I used to hunt on the farm of this old Swamp Yankee who refused to grade the rough road out to his property. When I had finally had enough of getting beaten up by the rough ride in, I asked him why he didn’t grade it, since he had the equipment to do so. He said, “because every a-h… in the county would show up wanting something if I did.”
    Makes you wonder if the “leave me alone” mentality is alive and well here and there in CR. I can understand it if it is so, there are places in this country that I would love to see pristine forever, so let’s not be too hasty opening our paradise found so fast, even though we are visitors here anyway. As for the new laws, are you kidding? Lay a fine on someone like that, and you’ll never see THAT tourist again… I hope someone comes to their sense here…

  10. Janie on March 4, 2010 8:01 pm

    A friend of mine is a volunteer for the Multilingue program in CR and he asked students the other night how they felt about the new laws. They said, no question about it, they would offer the cops a bribe before paying a high fine or losing their license. It seems like the lawmakers would have anticipated that response.

  11. Daniel on March 11, 2010 4:41 am

    Bribing a police officer – 227,000 colones – 20 points

    I think it would be better to say, “attempting to bribe”, beceause in the actual event that the bribe is accepted, there is little reason to think that it would be citable.

  12. Jonathan on March 11, 2010 1:01 pm

    Are radar detectors legal in CR? Are they effective there?

  13. Janie on March 14, 2010 5:50 am

    Good point, Daniel. I have a lot to learn about the ways of Costa Rica. Anyway, I would think the new laws are at least a step in the right direction. I hope they make a difference.

  14. Tim on March 24, 2010 7:53 am

    No and yes!

  15. Floridian on March 25, 2010 3:02 pm

    I can’t believe they are doing this. I agree that something had to be done, but these fines are WAY overboard! The fine needs to fit the crime. Otherwise it’s going to turn into revenue source, bu tthe police will be getting all the revenue. Unless they start sharing the fines with them, then it will be “How many tickets can I write today??”
    Belize for me next time, and I am sure when word gets out, alot of others will feel the same.
    It’s been nice…..

  16. Kimberly West on April 16, 2010 7:26 pm

    My husband and I have been in Guanacaste for 5 1/2 months. We wish we would have left after 3 months. For the first 3 months, we loved it. The country only likes tourists for 3 months. We drove down from California…quite an adventure….and we thought that would prepare us for anything Costa Rica would throw at us. Nobody explained to us that you can only have your own car here for 3 months. When we went to leave for the mandatory 72 hours, after our 3 months, they told us that if we drove our car into Nicaragua, we could not bring it back in to Costa Rica for 90 days. Then they informed us that we could not get an extention for our car, nor could we drive our car in Costa Rica. Then, once the permit was expired, they told us that we could not drive it home w/out paying the enormous taxes to license it in CR (more than we paid for the car) where we were not going to be driving it, and we couldn’t sell it, because the expired permit and WE WOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO LEAVE WITHOUT IT!!!! We finally were able to sell it for much less than it was worth, but last we heard, the new owner was not able to get it out of customs! Through the whole ordeal, everyone we talked to, at every different government office/border/airport/etc… gave us a different version of bad advise…. So here’s our advise….. go to Nicaragua, instead of Costa Rica.

  17. Alejandro on May 4, 2010 5:35 am

    Looking at the prices of the fines one would begin to think they are designed for Gringos with money. I mean it makes no sense to fine a local that much, it is obvious they can not afford it. They should perhaps look at a system where there is no money but rather your appearance at some official office is required. Once it is proven you are a resident or not then the price is set. If you fail to appear then your license is automatically suspended for a month.

    I think the points system is a good idea, I do hope there is a expiration date on the points so as you become a better driver your points decrease with time as they expire.

  18. accident attorney brooklyn on July 1, 2010 6:40 am

    “Taxi or bus drivers who are rude to passengers” this law sounds good ! The fines for these laws are huge comparing with income, but i subscribe the ideea that those are made for tourists only.

  19. aNYsurfer on December 19, 2010 9:18 am

    First, the bribes are a standard supplemental income for the police who patrol the highways. when the tickets were cheaper they still asked for money even if you told them to write the ticket. most times they would let you go if you told them to write the ticket for not waring a seat belt. as a tourist you have to consider it as part of the vacation fee if you are stopped for speeding. If you are not in a rush and stand you ground you will get off for a few dollars. Most times the police officer used the same high speed he collected on his radar from some local and said it was your speed. how do you fight that? If you have surfboards on the top of your truck you will be pulled over. even if you are going slower then the sped limit. I only once made it past a speed trap without being stopped because the two were speaking to an official looking guy. I even was stopped for driving to slow and scolded for it. all in all it is still Paradise.

    Second, are radar detectors legal or illegal in Costa Rica?