I have been helping my daughter study for the written part of her driver’s exam and noticed that the manual did not cover many of the realities of driving in Costa Rica.
To better prepare her, I have put together an additional 9 list of obstacles one must be aware of when behind the wheel on our highways:
1) The multifunctional left hand turn signal
I was slowly following a tractor trailer up a long mountain road. At one point the left turn signal flashed on the truck, and I awaited a left-hand turn that never came. A few minutes later there were two cars behind me, and when the left turn signal flashed again, both shot around me and passed the truck.
Know this: The left hand turn signal is used for both upcoming left hand turn, and safe to pass.
2) When to use the hazard lights
I only use the hazard lights when stuck on the side of the road, or in a no parking zone while someone gets in or out of the car. Other uses here include when slowing down in traffic, when pulling over to the side of the road, when coming to a sudden stop at a stoplight. Around 1 out of every 5 drivers forget they are on and continue to drive with the hazards flashing to add to the confusion.
3) Behold, the One-lane Bridge
Ask a Costa Rican why there are so many one-lane bridges, and you will often be told that there was money for a 2-lane bridge, until los choriceros got their hands on it. And voilà, once the choriceros pocketed their portion, there was only money for a 1-lane bridge.
Whatever the explanation, these relics still exist in most areas of the country, and often where least expected. While there has been progress in bridge building over the past 20 years, be prepared to yield when approaching a one-laner, even if you have the right-of way.
4) The Camouflaged Speed Bump
Speed Bumps or Muertos or Policiamuertos as Ticos call them are usually found on the road in front of schools or at the bottoms of long hills in residential areas.
Sometimes there are signs indicating their presence, but other times no. And while all were initially painted yellow, the paint is almost never weather-resistant, and fades with the first rainy season. Leaving unsuspecting drivers with jolted suspensions and minor cases of whiplash.
5) The Mobile Advertising Vehicle
You may find yourself on a busy street, stuck behind a car traveling at the speed of a pedestrian, with a large speaker mounted on the roof, blasting out an ad for a nightclub, or a clothing store, or maybe selling eggs.
It is just as obnoxious as those businesses that mount speakers in the doorway and play merengue music at Metallica live in concert volume, except that it is also moving. Pass it as soon as it is safe to do so.
Our highway traffic police are rarely seen cruising our highways; Instead, they will usually be stationary, either stopping traffic to check the papers of random drivers, or directing traffic in a way that makes everyone on the road late for their appointments.
7) Yield to Every Bus
Costa Rica has fantastic bus service that connects the entire country and also outlying neighborhoods of every city and town. On our many narrow and winding roads, our buses are like the 400-lb guy who buys only one ticket in the coach section. They will crowd you and it is best to yield to them or take evasive action, because you will not win the collision.
8) Yield to Pedestrians as Well
If a bus is a 400-lb guy traveling coach, then a pedestrian is a kid who thinks he has a superpower, namely the ability to walk in front of moving vehicles without being struck. And in fact, pedestrians are rarely struck as most drivers give them the right of way.
9) Potholes and cave-ins and Landslides, Oh my!
Sometimes all three on the same stretch of road.
So when driving on our streets and highways, keep all of the above in mind.