The average monthly income for a Costa Rican is $540. Yet drivers caught traveling more than 20 kilometers per hour over the speed limit risk a $600 fine.
The installation of new traffic cameras in five locations throughout the Central Valley and exorbitant fines for violators are generating considerable debate in Costa Rica.
Punishment for speeding ranges from about $600 per infraction to three years in prison. Drivers apparently aren’t the only ones complaining. On Monday, President Laura Chinchilla, who was recovering from surgery, met with Public Works and Transport Minister Francisco Jiménez, Silvia Bolaños, director of the Roadway Safety Council (COSEVI), and other government officials to discuss the “rationality” of the fines.
According to a press statement from the Presidency Ministry, Chinchilla praised the new program for its efficiency, citing the dramatic reduction in violations since cameras began operating on Sept. 8. During the first three days, cameras caught an average of 2,616 speeders daily. By Sept. 30, the number of infractions decreased dramatically to 250. Traffic accidents also decreased from 4,700 in May to 3,100 in September.
Chinchilla acknowledged that complaints have poured in from across the country from people criticizing the cameras, fines, lack of signage and a difficult payment process. The president recommended the installation of more signs to alert drivers of the presence of cameras, the creation of a public information campaign, and a better system to facilitate payment of fines. She also urged traffic officials to consider revising speed limits.
But reducing the fines is up to the Legislative Assembly. Chinchilla urged lawmakers to reform Costa Rica’s Transit Law and lower the fines as soon as possible.
“The government respectfully requests that legislators speed up the approval process for changes to the Transit Law,” the ministry statement said. “The objective of this administration is to strengthen, not weaken … the country. Fines need to be reasonable and respond to the socioeconomic parameters of our country. For that reason, this administration suggests adjustments to the current fine amounts.”
Many questions about the new traffic camera program remain unanswered. One common question is who would be fined if a vehicle owner is not at the wheel at the time of the infraction. Bolaños said vehicle owners are responsible for paying fines.
“If someone other than the vehicle owner, such as a wife, brother or friend is driving, the ticket will still be issued to the registered owner of the vehicle,” Bolaños said. “The cameras only record the license plate and do not provide a photo of the driver’s face.”
Another common question is how the fines will affect tourists in rental cars. Last month, Bolaños said that COSEVI officials were coordinating with rental car companies to make sure tourists paid fines before leaving the country.
Bolaños said that lists of violators would be distributed to rental car companies daily. If a license plate number on a rental car appears on the list, drivers will be charged fines when the vehicle is returned.
During the first two weeks of operation, 16 traffic cameras racked up more than $9 million in fines.
Bolaños said a total of 450 traffic cameras would be installed in upcoming years to reduce the number of deaths on roadways. According to COSEVI, 234 people died on Costa Rica’s roads during the first nine months of the year, including 61 due to high-speed accidents. Bolaños said the reduction in accidents and infractions indicate that cameras are beginning to function as designed.
“The primary objective of our role at COSEVI is to reduce the number of Costa Ricans who die on national roads each year,” Bolaños said. “With the camera project, the objective isn’t to generate infractions, but to reduce speeds in high-risk areas.”
Are C.R.’s Traffic Fines Too High?
In an attempt to reduce traffic fatalities, Costa Rican lawmakers set exorbitant fines for speeders. Now that cameras are in place, many Costa Ricans complain that the fines – which are more expensive than an average worker’s monthly salary – are too high. Here’s how Costa Rica compares with other locations:
New York: Fines range from $50-$350 depending on speed.
Ireland: Traffic violations result in a fine of €80 ($108) and a loss of points on driver’s licenses.
Spain: Fines range from €140 ($189) to €500 ($676), plus a one-month license suspension.
France: Fines range from €135 ($182) when below 50km/h over the limit to €1,500 ($2,025) when above 50km/h over the limit.
California: Fines range from $35-$450 depending on speed.
United Kingdom: Fines range £45 ($70) to £200 ($311) and result in a loss of driver’s license points.
Puerto Rico: Fines begin at $50 with additional $5 for every mile over limit. If speeds exceed 100 miles per hour, the fine is $500.Costa Rica: With some of the highest fines in the world, Costa Rican speeders face fines of $600-$800 or 1-3 years in jail.