San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Arias Signs Tough New Traffic Law

President Oscar Arias this week signed a law that will dramatically increase penalties for traffic violations and, authorities hope, reduce roadway accidents that kill on average about one person a day.

Under the new law, drunk drivers automatically lose their license for two years and could be locked up for one to three years, although a judge can replace jail time with community service. Driving faster than 150 kph and racing other cars carry the same penalty.

The law, a reform to 1993 legislation, also raises the maximum fine for traffic violations to $410 from $36. A driver is charged $410 for speeding at 120 kph or driving without a valid license or permit. Forgetting to wear a seatbelt, holding a cell phone or ignoring traffic lights carry a $310 fine.

“I know this law is harsh,” Arias said. “But rather than get scared, we should thank lawmakers for passing it. We have let (drivers) get away with too much.”

In the coming days, the law will be published in La Gaceta, the official government newspaper, and criminal penalties will take effect two weeks later. Fines will take effect in September to give the Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT) time to inform drivers about the changes.

– Gillian Gillers


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