San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

New Transit Law in Force But Getting Another Look


Even as police apply what many consider exorbitant fines for traffic violations under a new law that went into effect Monday, legislators are toying with the language and hoping to rewrite the law before they leave office in May.

Lawmakers already blew through a six-month extension on the implementation date of the law, which originally was to be effective in September 2009. But the heavy cost of traffic violations, inconsistencies in some of the requirements for drivers and a questionable point system continue to hover over the heads of many legislators who say the law needs to be revised.

On Tuesday, lawmakers passed a motion to eliminate the point system, a method by which drivers lose points on their licenses when they commit traffic violations and stand to lose their licenses after accumulating a specified number of points. Transportation Minister Marco Vargas said that taking out the point system – which cost a half-million dollars to introduce – made the law inferior. But lawmakers responded that the point system would be unfair to drivers and that the Transportation Ministry is not equipped to operate it.

Lawmakers also passed a motion to remove the psychological exam as a requirement for first-time drivers, saying such an exam would constitute an unnecessary cost.

But by mid-week lawmakers had not addressed the serious fines for traffic violations. As written, the law places fines that can run as much as $300 for talking on a cell phone while driving, to $535 for operating a vehicle without a valid license and to $400 for occupants’ failure to wear seatbelts.

“We are looking for the necessary consensus,” said National Liberation Party lawmaker Alexander Mora. “The idea is to adjust the sanctions so that they reflect Costa Rican society.”

In the first five hours of ticketing on Monday, Transit Police issued 90 tickets. By the end of the day, 218 tickets had been issued, a number that represents half the number of tickets usually issued every day, according to the daily La Nación.

Juan Carlos González, spokesman for the Public Works and Transportation Ministry (MOPT), said Transit Police are operating at full force.

“Our obligation is to apply the law,” he said.

MOPT Minister Vargas told the daily Diario Extra that police should put more emphasis on actions that endanger other people and not be as vigilant in applying the tickets to minor offenses.

“What I have said in our guidelines is to pay particular attention to what we call serious offenses, such as drunk or reckless driving,” he said. “But that transit authorities should apply the full force of the law.”

–Chrissie Long

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