Dear President Luis Guillermo Solís,
I’m a Costa Rican, but I spent most of my teenage and early adult years living in Canada. I returned a few years ago because I missed my home country and family. Now, I’m a father of my own young son. It is with great sadness and concern that I have to watch the nightly news and see the horrifying loss of life by children on our roads.
I always read about foreigners complaining about some aspect of life in Costa Rica. Some of the complaints are reality, but most are mere inconveniences.
This complaint is as important as your fight against corruption, the escalating national debt, the assault on nature or the impending bankruptcy of the Caja. It is the dangerous crisis on Costa Rican roads (no lines, reflectors, potholes or a lack of traffic lights), terrible drivers (motorcyclists, buses, taxis, trucks and regular cars), near non-existent enforcement of traffic laws and a general lack of courtesy and respect for other drivers and pedestrians.
I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel to many countries, and I’ve driven in North America, Central America, Europe and Asia. I’ve encountered fast, crazy driving in many places but never have I seen the dangerous conditions like on the roads of Costa Rica. I’m always embarrassed when family or friends from other countries visit and
observe the conditions on the roads. One of the hallmarks of a modern, civilized society is the safety of the streets. Using this measure, Costa Rica would be seen as the lowest of Third World countries. I was reading the annual list produced by The Economist magazine a couple of years back to see if Costa Rica ranked near the top at anything. Only in one category did it rank: 2nd highest rate of traffic deaths per capita in the world (the Ivory Coast in Africa was #1) .
Tourists that I talk to are afraid to drive here. Almost every Costa Rican driver that I’ve met has been in some kind of a traffic collision. Most Costa Rican families that I know have been devastated by the loss of a loved one on our roads. Drivers talk on cell phones, they constantly text, parents drive without car seats, drunk drivers, motorcyclists weave with abandon, youthful drivers speed at such high rates of velocity it would be considered criminal in another country. It’s a national embarrassment and stain. I’ve been aware of the lousy drivers and bad roads in Costa Rica for years. But now that I’m a father, I can see the urgency of the situation. Everyday that I drive in Costa Rica, I feel lucky to make it to my destination in one piece.
I never see a cop handing out tickets for dangerous driving practices. Mostly, I have witnessed the police themselves driving in a haphazard fashion. You could solve some of the debt, Caja and infrastructure problems if the police started handing out fines for traffic violations. You could train and employ many more traffic police and pay for the program by issuing tickets. More importantly, you might save some children’s lives.
Special to A.M. Costa Rica