A.M. Costa Rica reported that in the first half of 2012, there were 1,132 arrests for drunk driving with a blood alcohol level of .75 grams/liter or more.
When I compare these data to those of my state, New Jersey, i am astounded. Costa Rica’s arrest rate is about one tenth that of New Jersey, which has twice the population.
When I assumed responsibility for New Jersey’s Intoxicated Driving Program along with my other duties about 25 years ago, there were about 43,000 convictions per year (with a total population of 7+ million — more than twice Costa Rica’s at the time). When I retired in 2000, there were about 23,000.
This dramatic decline in convictions was only partially due to the improvements we made in screening, evaluating, and providing education and treatment to convicted drivers. It was a combination of many policy changes. Fines were substantially increased; insurance surcharges due to increased risk were imposed; treatment for those determined to need it was mandatory. The driver had to respond to all of these demands to get the driver’s license reinstated.
The key to New Jersey’s success lay first in the emphasis given to drunk driving arrests by all law enforcement agencies. Checkpoints were set up. The roads near well known watering holes were monitored. Police were taught to observe physical signs indicating intoxication, from observing gross behavior to testing nystigmus or eye movement.
This laid the groundwork for identifying and helping the problem drinker, and from the point of view of law enforcement, getting drunk drivers off the road. It was only possible through a concerted effort by all involved government agencies.
I don’t see the same thing happening in Costa Rica, and I urge A.M. Costa Rica to pursue this topic with appropriate government officials.