Nov 8, 2011

Driving in Costa Rica

Some months ago the Ministry of Public Developments and Transport (MOPT by its initials in Spanish - I used the word "development" to translate the word "obras" which would encompass public road infrastructure development) put in work a few cameras to watch the traffic and fine drivers who drove too fast. The cameras were installed quite ahead of time, and were extensively tested, and then they explained on several media that these cameras would take measure the speed at which the cars drove and issue tickets for those who exceeded the speed limit. People complained some, but then, when the cameras came to work and the first tickets were issued people went in a frenzy claiming all sort of unfair procedures and treatments, from which a "model" claimed that she shouldn't be fined because she works only at nights, doesn't watch TV, wasn't aware of the news, at that hour there were no cars on the road, so she was entitled to drive at +100 kmph on a 60kmph road, and 12 tickets in a week was unseen and she had no money to pay the tickets. Others complained that the amount of the fines wasn't proportional to the average income, and with such amount only the rich could afford a speeding ticket! A lawyer actually had the nerve to claim that the tickets were illegal because they were based on the plate of the car, so you wouldn't know who was driving.

Initially the MOPT held its position, though this was quickly eroding as it was made evident that the only tickets issued were for those who surpassed the speed limit by 20 kmph. (In other words, if you were driving at 80 kmph on a road allowing 60 kmph you are okay, BUT if you drive at 90 kmph on a 60 kmph road you've got yourself a ticket.) The complains continued showering, and people made huge lines to complain in an effort to get their tickets revoked, all of them with arguments that held no water. I mean, if you lend your car to someone - be it friend or family, coworker or someone who lends it from you for money - you are still responsible for your vehicle, and you shall face the damage done with your car. It should be up to you to arrange the matters with whomever was driving your car, not a matter for the Ministry to sort and solve. Then, regulations and laws are made to be kept. So, if there's a sign that says "MAXIMUM SPEED LIMIT 60 KMPH" it means that you are not allowed to go at any speed over that speed. However the Government wa lenient in that and sensing their weakness a population used to breaking traffic laws and invent their own pushed until recently the Ministry danced back and promised to check on the project of the cameras again.

Currently there's a regulation that seeks to reduce traffic at the Capital City, which bans certain plates from entering the Capital City on certain week days. The complaints shower tremendously on this measure, and only a small group of drivers keep it (me among them), with the vast majority still driving their cars on their restriction day, looking for escape routes and alternative alleys when they see a traffic officer. What would have happened if the camera system would have also checked on the plates and issued tickets for the cars that were caught driving on restriction days?

Some smarty-pants talked on the media about the whole system indicating that the new fines in Costa Rica were so disproportionate the same fine was cheaper in Europe (a 5 minute research proved them wrong, yet they still hold their stand), but also complained that it was irrational to demand you to drive at 60 kmph on roads that allowed higher speeds with modern cars that can go faster, claiming that driving at 80 kmph already created a traffic jam, so slow that speed was. This last arguments holds no water either, as I've personally proved that driving at speeds consistently between 40 kmph and 60 kmph allows a nice, fluent traffic and no, people don't honk at you and insult you for going at that speed. However these sort of shameless public declarations sadly put in evidence an undeniable fact about Costa Ricans: they don't know who to drive.

From the habit of paying off the instructors to get the License, to the idea that stunts and hazardous driving are part of good driving, to the idea that fines shall be affordable, it doesn show the need for tough measures, shows that high fines that can't be afforded are in need to keep people from considering breaking the law as their unallienable right, and constant camera surveilance on the roads to keep the Captain Americas fo the road from thinking they have any piece of asphalt at their mercy. Changing lines regardless of the cars behind on the same line, speeding up to cut through two or more lines, rushing into incoming traffic, disrespecting red lights, rushing through yellow lights, getting into the other line with vehicles coming just to pass another car, passing at full speed on the right side... next to a cliff, passing traffic using the shoulder of the route... these are more are among the bravados considered "skills of good driving" and here I haven't even mentioned the crass mistakes like phoning or texting while driving, eating AND texting while driving (that's right! Driving with no hands on the wheel, no eyes on the road), or driving ahead while looking back to attend a child on the backseat.

Yes, 60 kmph on metropolitan roads must be enough. There's no reason to claim the right to rush +100 kmph in a 10 km route that goes in front of a hospital and it's marked over 3 times with signs indicating you that the speed limit is set at 60 kmph, and yet drivers do and are upset when fined for driving at speeds over 80 kmph.

The picture I added to this posts was taken from this site ESTIMATED ROAD TRAFFIC FATAL INJURY DEATH RATE, which you can check to discover a few interesting fact, among them how the countries that some of the "experts" quoted as having "cheaper fines" have half or even a third on fatal traffic accidents per 100K people than Costa Rica, or for instance how Costa Rica has the highest rate of fatal traffic accidents per 100K people in the Continental Central America. (Mexico isn't part of Central America, is part of North America.)

Tough measures are needed, but also a Government with brass balls and iron fist to draft them, pass them, execute them and tell the complainers to fuck it.

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