Despite the serious attempt by transport officials to reduce drunk driving, the statistics are alarming considering that in the last three years only 153 drivers lost their license due to drunk driving.

According to records by the COSEVI, the roads safety council division of the Ministry of Transport (MOPT), of the 3,035 drivers who last year were transferred to the Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalia) for reckless driving, 2,138 were found to be above the allowed levels of alcohol.

The other 897 (30%) were for driving above 150 kilometers per hour (a criminal offense in Costa Rica), participating in road racing or driving under the influence of other drugs.

Not very high numbers considering the number of drivers out there.

But more disturbing is the low number of drivers who actually lost their license from 2017 to 2019 and in that period 77 drivers under the age of 13 were pulled over found to be driving under the influence of alcohol.

The latter were referred to the Juvenile Criminal Court (Juzgado Penal Juvenil), where they given talks and assigned to some type of work in schools or a youth center, as their penalty. Many were motorcycle drivers. These juvenile offenders, will also have to wait one more year to get their license, that is they will only be able to do so after their 19th birthday.

“Nobody goes to jail if there are no deaths or serious injuries,” said Carlos Rivas, COSEVI legal advisor, which occurs in most cases of drunk driving.

He said the Criminal Code allows alternative measures for various crimes, including reckless driving, when third parties are not injured.

Each judge defines the penalty, but the prison can be exchanged for a fine of at least three base salaries of the Judiciary, a figure that currently amounts to ¢1,350,600 colones. Similarly, a public service period can be applied by the judge if the person is not able to pay the fine.

Almost everyone takes advantage of these measures to avoid jail, the record shows. The Judiciary reported that of the 465 cases of reckless driving last year, only 70 cases received a less than 10 years in jail sentence.

The re-education classroom in Paso Ancho. Foto Alonso Tenorio

Now, given the seriousness of reckless driving, the Traffic Police (Policia de Transito) would maintain accurate studies. It does not, it can only provide certain observations and clues in the scenes of serious accidents.

Finding cans of beer, half-consumed bottles of liquor, or survivors in a drunken state, allow them to calculate that last year about 30 people died in accidents where the liquor was involved. That figure is eight more than the 22 cases in 2018.

“There needs more work on the issue,” said Attorney General (Fiscal General) Emilia Navas. She added that culture and ethical idiosyncrasies lead many to drive under the influence of liquor and drugs, as if an accident were never going to happen.

“A strict policy remains in the Attorney General’s Office and that will not change,” she said.

The highest number of cases of reckless driving are in the Judicial Circuit Courts of San José, Cartago and Alajuela, in that order.

The average age of those arrested is 28, the oldest 86.

In 2012, reforms to the Ley de Transito (Traffic Act), introduced a point system to drivers licenses.

Drivers who reach 5 points on their license are required to take a road re-education course and a pass rate of 80% in order to renew their license.

Legislator Ivonne Acuña, 39, who says she has been driving since she was 14, is one of the drivers having to attend re-education for the six points on her license for crossing the double yellow line. Foto Rafael Pacheco / La Nacion

The course is a week-long, with specific subjects based on the reasons for the points. If alcohol is involved, the talks include legal implications, consequences, and statistics.

At the training center in Paso Ancho, some 32 people a month are in classes after reaching the five points or more. The cost is ¢5,000 for the course and ¢5,000 for the manual.