Traffic Cops & Speed Traps in Costa Rica

I often hear reports of tourists being harassed by Costa Rican traffic cops. No doubt these things happen; as is the case anywhere else in the world, a few bad guys can get on the force. Yet after driving many thousands of miles and receiving numerous traffic tickets (all deserved), I have found the overwhelming majority of Costa Rican traffic police to be courteous arid rarely stop someone without due cause. With all the crazy drivers in this country, cops have little reason to stop somebody for "nothing at all." Let's face it: Issuing a ticket for speeding, illegal passing, no safety belt, or the like, is not "police harassment." In the United States it's known as "taw enforcement." Tourists aren't exempt from traffic laws, even if they don't thoroughly understand them. Why should they be?

Yet you'll continually hear gringos complain, ?the cops only stop rental cars?. Why not Tico cars?" This is partly true, because Ticos know a little secret: When they see a speed limit sign of 60 kilometers per hour (38 miles per hour), they slow down because they know there's a good chance that there's a radar gun ahead. Tourists, used to 65 miles perhour highways, blissfully pass the slowpoke Ticos in front of them. And guess what?

Most Costa Rican highways have maximum limits of 75 kilometers per hour (about 48 miles per hour). This may seem ridiculously slow, but Ticos know that those occasional long, Straight stretches of good pavement are also favorite places for radar guns. Maybe it seems sneaky, but when 75 kilometers per hour is the maximum, you're asking for trouble by, any faster. I've come to love those speed traps; if it weren't for them, all Ticos would be traveling 90 miles an hour. The fine for speeding is about $40 for ordinary violations, or $100 for velocidad temeraria (20 kilometers per hour and above).

Allow me to offer sonic advice for when you're stopped by traffic police (I've had lots of experience in this department):
1. Be calm, cool, and courteous. After all, a ticket is no big deal. Until you're officially a resident, a traffic ticket doesn't affect your driving record or insurance. I've escaped several well-earned tickcis simply by joking with the officers.

2. Do not get belligerent or raise your voice. Shouting won't help; it only makes things worse. When 2 cop feels he's being harassed for doing his job, don't be surprised if he retaliates in kind. I suspect this is where many cases of true police harassment originate: A tourist isn't aware that he's done anything wrong and becomes angry and abusive. The cop loses his temper, too.

3. Don't offer a bribe. Even the best cops will accept money if you force it on them. This encourages a bad practice. The department has been undergoing a rigorous campaign of professionalism. Wages have been doubled, crooked cops are being dismissed, and intensive training programs are under way

4. If the cop suggests that it would be easier to pay him than have to go to some distant place to pay your ticket, just politely decline and calmly wait for the ticket. Don't even discuss it with him. Again, tickets are no big deal, and you can pay at any national bank or simply save them up and turn them in to the rental company with your car. The agency will pay them for you and add the fine to your credit card. Ticos routinely save their tickets and pay them once a year, just before it's time to renew their auto license plates. if a cop tries to insist on a bribe, make a good mental image of him and report the incident to the Ministry of Public Works (MOPT) at (506) 227-2188 or at the MOPT office on Calle 9 between Avenidas 22, and 2 3.

I might add that since I've grown accustomed to watching the speedometer, I haven't received a ticket in more than five years, even though I make frequent 400-mile round- trips to the Nicoya Peninsulapast a dozen speed traps-sometimes with California plates, sometimes in a rental car, sometimes with Tico plates. Having no speeding tickets in five years is a Central America record for me.

Traffic tickets used to be so ridiculously cheap that drivers routinely ignored traffic laws, preferring to pay the occasional ticket rather than

drive safely This contributed to an appalling accident rate. Speeding tickets were less than SO.00, so why worry? Even with todays $40 fines, people still keep traffic cops busy

Writen by John Howels

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