Q COSTA RICA – With the aim of reducing the carnage on the roads and demand more respect of drivers, Congress has approved reforms to the Ley de Transito (Traffic Law) that calls for the maximum fine of ¢306,850 colones(US$550) for refusing a roadside breathalyzer test.
Currently, there is no sanction for a driver refusing to a breathalyzer when requested by a Transito (traffic official).
The Traffic Law reforms was approved in first debate by a 37 votes in favor and one against. The bill is expected to be presented for second and final debate within the coming week, after which it requires the signature of the president and publishing in La Gaceta, the official government newsletter, to take effect.
Among the new sanctions included in the reforms are:
- A fine of ¢104,600 for overcrowding the vehicle, that is carrying more passengers than permitted (based on the Marchamo certificate).
- The same ¢104,600 applies to drivers carrying passengers in an open vehicle, for example the back of a pick up truck, a common practice mainly in rural areas.
- The ¢104,600 fine also applies to drivers in a vehicle without the corresponding license. That is, a driver behind the wheel of a minivan or bus without the specific license for the type of vehicle. The Ministry of Transport (MOPT) issues various licenses for vehicles such as a motorcycle, passenger vehicle, heavy truck, small and large buses, among others. It is not uncommon for a driver without multiple vehicle classifications to carry multiple licenses.
- A fine of ¢307,000 will be applied to drivers with “excessively noisy vehicles”. The MOPT has standards that are applied at the time of the vehicular inspection (Riteve).
- A ¢51,316 for taxi or special services vehicles operating in authorized areas or if they disobey a direct order of a Transito. The example of this is at the San Jose airport, where the red taxis are not allowed to pick up fares on the fly or at bus stops where taxis use the bus bays to wait for fares.
The Traffic Law reforms also takes aim at drivers that add to the vehicular congestion gripping the greater metropolitan area (GAM), giving power of seizure of license plates of illegally parked vehicles.
For example, if and when a vehicle obstructs public roads, sidewalks, bike lanes or parked at bus stops, handicap ramps, fire hydrants, emergency exits and blocking driveways or entrances to parking garages, public or private, a Transito can pull the tags even if the owner if not present. That is not the case today.
“This is key to combating road congestion,” said Liza Castillo, deputy minister of transport, in a statement to the press issued by Casa Presidencial.
According to the Cosevi, last year (2016) a total of 18,392 tickets were issued to illegally parked vehicles.
Cindy Coto, director of the Consejo de Seguridad Vial (Cosevi) – Road Safety Council, said “it is clear that it is not enough. With the reform we can sanction the vehicle without the driver necessarily present, which is something that we cannot do today”.
Another change is sanctioning the registered owner of the vehicle in the even the driver (if the driver is not the owner) is not carrying a valid drivers license, or his or her license is expired or suspended. In such cases, Transitos can also seize the license plates of the vehicle. Currently, only the driver is sanctioned.
Vehicles in the country with foreign plates will also be targeted with seizure of license plates if found circulating in the country past the three-month limit.
Transitos can also seize license plates of vehicles used illegally for public transport. On this, the MOPT statement was not clear if it was targeting drivers working with Uber.
Coto said the breathalyzer requirement to be the most relevant change in the reforms: “We have some rebellious drivers who refuse to take the test, and with the reform they may refuse, but We will issue the maximum fine. Likewise, they will be charged for the cost of the test if they blow positive”.
Souces: La Nacion; Casa Presidencial; Cosevi; MOPT