Traffic Laws

To help curb the lack of traffic law enforcement, MOPT, the Ministry for Public Work, has mandated speed traps all over the country, where transit police stop people for speeding and check to make sure they are wearing their seatbelts. Tourists visiting Costa Rica are all too familiar with these speed traps and have become a target for scams from within the corrupt system set in place.
While transit police should never ask for money from drivers they stop, it is often the case. When I first moved to Costa Rica, I was driving from Jaco to San Jose and was stopped for speeding. The traffic cop explained that he would have to give me a ticket and it would be an inconvenience for me to go pay it. (You can pay traffic tickets at most banks all over the country.) After explaining this to me, he said it would be easier for me (so thoughtful of him!) if I just paid him for the fine. He said it would be 20,000 colones (approximately $40). I told him I did not have that much money and that I would just take the ticket and pay it at the bank later. He asked me how much money I had, and I told him 5,000 colones (approximately $10). He said that would be enough, and without thinking it through, I handed him the money. I watched in my rear view mirror as he pocketed the money, walked away from my car, and proceeded to pull over another vehicle.
At first I thought this was fantastic. Ten dollars, no hassle. But then, I was speaking to an older male tourist from Texas who told me he was in the same position, yet did not speak Spanish and instead of getting a ticket (which are usually never over 20,000 colones) he paid the traffic police $100. This happens time and time again with tourists because most of the time they do not speak the language and would rather get out of a speeding ticket.
Not only are you spending more money by paying off the traffic police, but it inevitably maintains the cycle of corruption in the system, leading to faster drivers and more traffic accidents. Instead, pay attention to the traffic regulations. Most of the major roads have a speed limit of 100 kilometers (62mph) and secondary roads have a speed limit of 60km (37 mph). The speed traps tend to be located in the same places throughout the year and a common courtesy among Costa Rican drivers is a flashing of their lights to let you know that you are coming up on a speed trap.
If you do happen to get pulled over for speeding, do not pay off the transit police. Accept the ticket and pay the very small fee at one of the many places indicated on the ticket. If you do not have time or cannot find a location to pay the ticket, your rental company can pay it for you. And always remember to buckle up!

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