After nearly a year on the law books, the driving restrictions based on the final number of Costa Rican license plates have been removed, leaving people free to drive whenever they like with no fear of fines.
A week ago, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court suspended the driving limitations while it considers a claim that the restrictions violate constitutional rights. 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, 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, that person’s car was restricted from driving on that specific day of the week. The fine for a violation was about $10 and was to be increased in September. As would be expected when 20 percent of drivers aren’t allowed to get behind the wheel, the law reduced traffic congestion during the weekdays 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 on Monday.
“Today has been very complicated,” Marín said, referring to the Monday traffic. “There were a lot of vehicles on the roads and an increase in the number of accidents.”
The number of accidents increased to 79 on Monday, up from 49 a week prior, he said. Throughout the week, the number of accidents increased by 40 percent compared to last week, Marín said on Thursday morning. In some cases, the swells of cars added up to 40 minutes for city-wide trips this week.
The Sala IV had not released a ruling as of Thursday afternoon, but said in a press release that the decision was the result of an action presented to the court by a lawyer whose last name is Guillén Elizondo.
According to the release, Guillén Elizond´s action claimed that the vehicle restriction ¨limits free transit through the national territory,¨which should be a ¨fundamental right and guaranteed by the State.¨
Marín said the Traffic Police and the Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT) are waiting to see the Constitutional Chamber’s full ruling so that they can reevaluate their plan to reduce congestion. They are in favor of pursuing a similar law in the future.
¨We are confident we will be able to reinstate the driving restrictions,¨ Marín said.
TT reporter Mike McDonald contributed to this story.