San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Traffic fines

Bumpers crash as license plate driving restrictions deemed unconstitutional

After nearly a year in the law books, driving restrictions based on the final digit on Costa Rican license plates have been removed, leaving people free to drive whenever they like with no fear of fines.

Last Friday, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court ruled the driving limitations unconstitutional. And on Monday, Costa Ricans with license plates that end in the numbers one and two were officially allowed to drive on the first day of the week again.

The law was first implemented in July 2008 as a three-pronged effort to address a few long-overlooked problems in the Central Valley, said Germán Marín, the director of the Traffic Police.

“There were three important ideas,” Marín said. “First, to reduce the consumption of gasoline being used by drivers; second, to lower the number of vehicles entering the municipal area of San José and the congestion they caused.” The third idea was to allow more space to restructure the downtown parking system, which tends to be overwhelmed.

The law gave each day of the work week two corresponding numbers. If a driver´s license plate ended in one of those two numbers, they were restricted from driving on that specific day of the week. At close to $10, the fine for violation was rather light – though that amount was to be raised in September.

As would be expected when 20 percent of drivers aren´t allowed to get behind the wheel, the law reduced traffic during the weekday by about 20 percent, Marín said.

That reduction, though, was contrasted by the number of Costa Ricans who took advantage of their newfound freedom to operate and took back to the streets Monday.

“Today has been very complicated,” Marín said of Monday. “There were a lot of vehicles on the roads and an increase in the number of accidents.”

The number of accidents rose to 79 on Monday from 49 a week prior, he said.

The Traffic Police and the Public Works and Transport Ministry are waiting to see the Constitutional Chamber´s ruling, so they can reevaluate their plan to reduce congestion. They are in favor of pursuing a similar law in the future, Marín said.

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