Revised traffic law finally passed with lower fines

The legislature Tuesday passed on second and final reading revisions to the nation’s traffic law.

Many fines in the 2-year-old law had been thrown out as disproportional by the Sala IV constitutional court. The rewrite cuts many of the fines in half.

Now fines range from 280.000 ($560) to 20,000 colons (about $40). The original law has a top fine of 416.000 colons, about $832.

The new measure retains a provision that can send to prison a driver with more than .75 grams of alcohol in the blood.

Drivers who have had a license less than three years are held to a more rigorous standard in alcohol consumption. Also held to the same standard are those in public transportation. They face administrative sanctions when the blood alcohol level is between .2 and .5 grams per liter of blood. The case becomes criminal with a blood alcohol level of .5.

The average non-commercial driver who has had a license more than three years faces administrative sanctions with a blood alcohol level from .5 to .75 grams per liter. Greater than .75 grams per liter is a criminal offense.

The rewrite also retains a system of points whereby a motorist who accumulates from 6 to 12 points can lose the right to drive. Motorists with a six-year license lose it with 12 points. If the license is for four years, the threshold is eight points. Drivers with a three-year license lose it with six points. Points are only assessed for major violations under the rewrite.

The new bill also allows judges to order community service for serious violators instead of jail.

The measure also seeks to beef up the traffic education programs. The change includes plans for a high school course in the upper grades.

The original traffic law passed the previous legislature. Almost immediately lawmakers recognized inconsistencies and draconian fines. They sought to make changes, but their time in office ran out. The legislature that took office in May 2010 picked up the task and spent more than two years doing the rewrite.

The measure now goes to Casa Presidencial for the signature of Laura Chinchilla.

As with all legislation, the contents of bills are based on legislative summaries and sometimes outdated bills. The specifics and perhaps pitfalls in this new rewrite will not be known until the final bill is published as a law in the La Gaceta official newspaper.

A special committee held more than 15 session with experts to devise the current measure, lawmakers noted. There was considerable discussion because some lawmakers wanted an alcohol law with zero tolerance. In other words, any trace of alcohol would result in at least a ticket.

Proposed new fines

Category A
Fine of 280,000 colons (about $560)

Speeding 120 kph (74.4 mph) or more
Driving under the influence
Driving with an expired or suspended license
Passing in a no-passing zone or on a curve
Passing on the right
Crossing into the oncoming lane
Making an illegal U turn
Making an unauthorized left turn

Category B
Fine of 189,000 colons (about $378)

Driving without safety seats for minors 12 and
under or those shorter than 1.45 meters (57
Doctoring a license plate
Failing to heed a traffic signal

Category C
Fine of 94.000 colons (about $180)

Driving without a license or with a suspended
Speeding more than 25 kph (14.5 mph) over the

Category D
Fine of 47,000 colons (about $94)

Failing to heed traffic signs
Failing to yield
Driving a motorcycle without reflective clothing
Driving 20 kph (12.4 mph) over the posted limit

Category E
Fine of 20,000 colons (about $40)

Driving without required documents
Have a license plate in an incorrect position
Using a loudspeaker within 100 meters of hospitals, schools, clinics or churches

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