Traffic police operations like this are common in the downtown core (only during the day), as many new recruits are posted to their first detail.
Traffic police operations like this are common in the San José downtown core (only during the day), as many new recruits are posted to their first detail.

Here is a different kind of story, a story you rarely read about, but may become a common practice, that of a traffic official turning down a bribe and also charging the driver for offering a bribe.

Typically these – the officials who turn down a bribe – are recently graduated officials who still have that zealous drive to uphold the law. With time, unfortunately, that zeal turns into reality, a reality that means filling one’s pocket without getting caught.

In the past corrupt traffic officials in Costa Rica were as common as potholes. Anyone who has driven for some time in the country will have either been asked to pay a bribe or have offered one. In the old days it was a few “rojos” (a couple thousand colones).

Today, however, it is a different story. I am not saying there are no corrupt traffic officials, just fewer and then a bribe will not do with anything less than ¢20.000.

Facing a ticket of ¢280.000 colones and six points a corrupt official knows he or she has the upper hand. The offending driver is negotiating from a point of weakness, thus needing deeper pockets.

I personally know of drivers who, in the past would keep a “tucan” (the old ¢5.000 colones) bill tucked in the special corner of the wallet or in the glove box, mixed in with the vehicle’s papers.

Today, a careless driver (not to say driving carelessly), needs to use a different approach. One, is to establish if the traffic official pulling you over is corrupt or not. And second, if he or she is, how much to offer. And most important, the way to offer it.

Foreigners have the advantage, they can always play stupid of not knowing the rules of where to pay a traffic ticket. “Do I pay you for this?’, usually opens the pockets of corrupt officials.  Pulling out your Costa Rican driver’s license works in your favour, the corrupt official knows that all he or she really can do (unless you are drunk driving, for example), issue you a ticket which can be appealed and paid, if the appeal is rejected, in a year or more.

The best way to avoid all the foregoing is drive respectfully and obey the rules of the road.

Yeah, right, this is Costa Rica!


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