Costa Ricans woke up this morning to find a new law in effect aimed at changing the country's notoriously bad driving habits. For law-abiding, safety-conscious tourists, this can only be a good thing.
The law, which Congress approved way back in December 2008, promises to put new teeth into what heretofore has been lax application by police.
As I write in my Moon Costa Rica  guidebook: "Tico males display unbelievable recklessness, often driving at warp speed, flouting traffic-laws, holding traffic lights in disdain, crawling up your tailpipe at 100 kilometers per hour, and overtaking on blind corners with a total disregard for anyone else's safety."
Maximum fines are to increase from a paltry ¢20,000 (US$36) to a more noteworthy ¢300,000 (US$547), and a new point system is to be introduced–much like that in effect in the U.S.–that could lead to the temporary or permanent suspension of a driver's license. In fact, anyone caught speeding over 120 kph (the maximum legal limit is 100 kph) will now face the possibility of an automatic suspension of their license for two years. Repeat offenders could lose their license for good.
All well and good. Part of the problem, however, has been lax enforcement of existing laws. How many times have I witnessed Costa Ricans running red traffic lights IN FRONT OF POLICEMEN (!), who go about their business as if nothing had happened.
As I see it, many police officers consider it normal to drive like a lunatic without regard for laws. It's the culture that they grew up with.
Recent years, however, has seen a marked improvement as more educated and less macho tránsitos (traffic police) have been hired. Fortunately, too, directives have also gone out to tránsitos stating that they are under obligation to apply the new Ley de Tránsito (traffic law), regardless of personal feelings. Officials who don't comply now face the threat of disciplinary action. And Ministry of Transport (MOPT) supervisors are being put in place to ensure that tránsitos meet their obligations to ticket drivers committing serious offences, without exception. This includes not wearing a seatbelt, speeding, talking on a cellular phone while driving, driving under the influence, and failure to respect a stop sign or traffic light.
Don't say I didn't warn you!
For further information about travel in Costa Rica, buy Moon Costa Rica 
Copyright © Christopher P. Baker