The legislature gave initial approval to a revised traffic law Thursday and reduced significantly the amount of fines.
The new draft also created a novice, professional and standard classes of licenses. A novice is someone driving for the first three years after obtaining an initial license.
Professional drivers and new drivers are held to a higher standard in terms of blood alcohol content.
The average passenger vehicle driver is considered drunk with a a blood alcohol content of from 0.50 to 0.75 grams of alcohol per liter of blood. More than 0.75 grams of .75 blood alcohol level as expressed in the United States results in a criminal offense punishable by a term in jail.
Professional drivers and new drivers are drunk with a level of 0.20 to 0.50 grams per liter of blood. For these two categories, an alcohol level higher than -.50 grams per liter of blood also is a criminal offense.
The current law makes it a crime for anyone to have more than a level of 0.50 grams per liter of blood.
Carlos Avendaño, the sole representative of a Christian political party in the legislature moved to lower the application of criminal penalties to 0.60 grams per litter of blood. It unclear if that amendment passed.
The fine for drunk driving in the current law is 468,780 colons (abut $940) for 0.05 grams per liter of blood. The proposed law established a fine of 289,000 colons, about $578.
The current law has had an impact on the income of bars and restaurants, which is why there was a push to loosen the alcohol limit.
The proposed law passed with 37 votes with some lawmakers boycotting the proceeding. The measure had received prolonged discussion.
The text is likely to go to the Sala IV constitutional court for a review before final action is taken. That may take a month or more.
The previous legislature passed the current law and then almost immediately lawmakers determined that some fines were disproportionate and there were other glitches. The current legislature took office in May 2010. Almost immediately the new lawmakers took up the chore that the previous group left undone. Still, the effort took more than two years to come to a vote.
The new law also makes illegal right-hand-driver vehicles as used in countries like England. Owners
have six months to change the location of the steering wheel, if that is possible.
Drag racing would continue to be a crime with a penalty of up to three years in prison. The same penalty faces someone convicted of driving in excess of 150 kph, about 93 mph. In some cases those convicted would be allowed to pay a larger fine or to community service instead of going to prison.
Those convicted a second time can receive harsher sentences.