San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Lawmakers pass new traffic bill in final round of voting

After months of debate, Costa Rican lawmakers finally passed an overhaul of the country’s traffic laws Tuesday evening.

If signed by the president, the law would establish the highest traffic fine in the country at ₡280,000 ($550) for exceeding the speed limit by 120 kilometers per hour or more, driving under the influence, driving with an expired license, passing in a no-passing zone or making an illegal U-turn.

In September 2011, the Legislative Assembly had passed legislation calling for a maximum fine of ₡468,780 ($928). But the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, or Sala IV, struck it down, saying the fines were disproportionately high. That left the country with maximum fines of ₡5,000 ($10) as lawmakers worked on a new proposal.

The current bill passed a first round of debates on June 21. This time, before the second vote, lawmakers allowed the Supreme Court to review the bill’s content to make sure it was constitutional. After receiving the court’s approval, the legislation passed with 43 votes in favor.

The bill now goes to President Laura Chinchilla, who has promised to sign it into law. The bill goes into effect once it is published in La Gaceta, the official government newspaper.

In addition to instituting maximum fines, the bill includes a point system for driving violations and stipulates harsher jail sentences for drunk driving. The legal blood alcohol limit would be 0.5 grams per liter. Driving with a blood alcohol content greater than .75 grams per liter could lead to jail time.

Also, traffic violations are placed in categories rated from “A” to “E.” The most expensive fines – such as drunk driving and driving with a suspended license – fall into category “A.”

“B” punishments are listed as ignoring stop signs, traffic lights or altering license plates. Not having a car seat for children under 12 also falls into the category. Each offense has a maximum fine of ₡189,000 ($379).

The “C” fines include driving more than 25 kilometers per hour over the speed limit. The maximum fine is ₡94,000 ($188).

The “D” category penalizes those who don’t follow traffic signs or violate the right of way of another driver. Driving more than 20 kilometers per hour over the speed limit also falls into this category, as do motorcycle riders without a helmet. The maximum fine is ₡47,000 ($94).

The last category, “E,” fines anyone ₡20,000 ($40) for noise pollution – playing excessively loud music (or other recordings) within 100 meters of clinics, hospitals, schools and churches. In addition, fines can be incurred for driving without proper documents.

The law also creates driver’s education courses and community service opportunities for people who have their license suspended for one or multiple violations.

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