The number of deaths caused by drunk drivers last year was 54, down from 62 in 2007. Only two people died in such incidents in December, down from tallies of five in both October and November. But 33 people died overall on Costa Rican highways last month, slightly above the 29.5 deaths per month average in 2008, a year in which 354 people died on the roads. In 2007, 339 people died on the roads.
The overall number of December highway deaths in 2008 was more than double the 15 fatalities recorded in December 2007. Transit Police Director German Marín said the increase was due to more pedestrian deaths; however, according to the statistics released by Public Transport Ministry (MOPT), only six deaths in the month were attributed to “pedestrian imprudence.” In 2008, 71 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents, 11 more than in 2007. It was the second-leading cause of deaths in the month, after the nine deaths credited to swerving. Five deaths were attributed to speed and five to “human error.”
Some are speculating that the decline in drunken driving deaths indicate drivers are being more cautious in light of the new, tougher traffic law, despite initial criticisms that the fines were draconian and unaffordable for most Ticos, many of whom would try to bribe traffic cops to avoid them (TT, Dec. 12).
Under the new traffic law, which went into effect Dec. 23, the legal blood-alcohol limit dropped from 1.0 grams of alcohol per liter of blood to 0.75 grams. There is also a “pre-drunk” limit of 0.49.
The fines for driving tipsy went up from ¢10,000 to ¢200,000 ($18.50 to $370), and drunken driving charges, previously punishable by a ¢20,000 (about $36) fine and six-month license revocation, can now get motorists up to three years in prison.
Over the holidays, police arrested 172 people for drunken driving, MOPT reported.
In one case, the National Police last week stopped a man who was allegedly driving an ambulance down San José’s Avenida 6 under the influence. Officers noticed the ambulance, owned by a private medical response company, was being driven “in an irregular manner,” and checked the driver’s alcohol level to find that it was 1.9 grams per liter.