The common practice is Costa Rica is to issued fines and seize license plates instead of the vehicle in most cases of traffic violations, including illegal or bad parking

Faced with a ¢52,000 colones parking ticket and maybe even your license plates confiscated, what would be your reason for trying to get out of paying?

Let me first explain, in Costa Rica the process of appealing a traffic ticket is by filing and ‘impugnacion’, the act of writing out your reason(s) and stating witnesses and documents why the traffic ticket should be nulled, and submitting the form within 10 business days of the ticket issue and then waiting. A wait that could be months. Lots of months.

Given that there is no traffic appeals court, a panel at the Consejo de Seguridad Vial (Cosevi) – Road Safety Council – reviews the written appeals and decides if it has merits. Or not. In the latter, the fine is then due and payable.

Parking in a yellow zone, blocking a driveway, next to a fire hydrant, too close to the corner or on the sidewalk, for example, have always been sanctioned, but starting on July 17 last could Transito can sanction without the driver being present.

The sanction is a ¢52,000 colones fine and could also involve the seizure of the vehicle, though the more common practice is to seize the vehicle’s license plates.

Since the change, fines for illegal parking have tripled according to the Cosevi.

For the year, up to the end of July, Transitos had issued 13,265 parking, an average of 1,895 monthly. In August, the number of parking tickets issued was 5,433. And the majority of the parking tickets issued since July 17 include the seizure of license plates. Read more on the seizure of license plates.

According to Cosevi, of the traffic tickets issued since July 17, a total of 1,352  have been challenged: 470 in July, 877 in August, and 5 to September 5.

What are some of the reasons given by drivers as to why they should not have to pay the ticket?

In its report, La Nacion gives got a glimpse of some of the appeals filed with the Cosevi.

For example, one driver said that on August 23, he had a “physiological need” near the offices of the Organismo de Investigación Judicial (OIJ), in downtown San José. He left his car parked in the street for ten minutes to go to the bathroom and on his return he found a traffic ticket and his car without plates. He alleges, in the appeal, that “there is no reason” for having seized the plates.

Graphic by La Nacion

Another individual claimed that the clinic where he was taking his son for medical appointment did not have parking, so he was forced to park in the street. In his written appeal he asks for clemency because it is “his first time” committing such a fault.

Graphic by La Nacion

The lack of a sign or yellow line is a common argument by drivers appealing their parking ticket.

Graphic by La Nacion

Why do people file an appeal knowing they got caught red handed, so to speak?

Simple. Part of the process of recovering license plates is that all fines, including the recently issued parking ticket, be paid up. Filing an appeal stays the fine until the appeal process is complete, and allows the immediate recovery of the plates.

One can argue that all these drivers are are doing is putting off the eventual. Yes. Perhaps. But the eventual outcome, the time it takes to process an appeal can 6, 9, 12 or 18 months or more. And then there is always the chance that their argument can be convincing enough to have the fine nulled. Or, even wishful thinking, that given the system is so inundated there is always the possibility of the mass cancellation of fines to clear the backlog.

Back in 2011, the Cosevi cancelled thousands of speeding tickets as a result of traffic cameras. During the six weeks of operation, more than 15.000 vehicles were picked off by the cameras. Some 3.000 drivers “did the right thing” by paying their fines on time, the balance did not and the tickets were eventually nulled following a decision by the Constitutional Court determining the traffic cams were unconstitutional.

According to the Cosevi, currently (as of last March) there is a backlog of 148,000 oustanding traffic tickets.

Cindy Coto, director of the Cosevi, explained, “Since last year we began to implement a strategy for the resolution of appeals, which is to classify the appeals by arguments, so that we can (quickly) resolve those appeals that are unfounded.”

Another measure is to reject flat out claims that do not provide witnesses and “in which there are no arguments that require analysis,” continued the director.

“Almost all of the appeals are being rejected because the arguments are very weak,” added Coto.

For his part, Mario Calderón, director of the Traffic Police, it is important for drivers to see the data so that they can change their behavior and see that bad parking has economic consequences and affects the free transit of pedestrians and other drivers.