QCOSTARICA – 2015 will close as being one of the most violent in the history of the Costa Rica. No only in the number of violent crimes, but, also setting a record in the highest number of deaths from traffic accidents in the last five years.
According to the Policia de Transito (traffic police), between January 1 and December 17, there were 376 road deaths. That number doesn’t include the seven deaths this weekend alone. While the total for 2014 was 355.
Without a question the figures are alarming.
To curb the carnage on the roads, the Policia de Transito insists it need an additional 1,100 traffic officials.
Currently, the police body has only 763 officials, working three shifts, around the clock, monitoring the national highways and country roads, with the majority concentrated in the Greater Metropolitan Area (GAM), leaving rural areas and communities with little to no patrols.
During the holiday season, Transito focuses on patrols of the highways for speeding and drunk driving, but clearly it does not have enough manpower.
Sonia Monge, deputy director of Transito, said that, with the new hirings, they could have more presence in the streets, and “would bring back driver respect for traffic laws”.
“If we have more presence on the roads, drivers will think twice before making unwise decisions, because they know we’re watching. This would also have an impact on reducing fatalities, from minor to serious accidents,” said Monge.
The deputy director added that more officers would mean more spot checks and preventive programs. According to Monge, currently they are mainly on Fridays and Saturdays.
However adding more traffic officials on the roads is not the complete solution, there must a consciousness on the part of drivers to improve their behaviour on the road, according to the deputy director, who says that the main causes of accidents is driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol and excessive speeding.
Glauco Quesada, president of the Cruz Roja Costarricense (Costa Rican Red Cross), one of the first responders at the scene of a traffic accident, says driver stress due to lack of infrastructure and the increased number of vehicles in the recent years adds to accidents and fatalities.
To aid in the work of traffic controls, in October the Ministerio de Seguridad Pública and the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes (MOPT) signed an agreement that allows Fuerza Publica (police) officials to issue traffic tickets. The same arrangement extents to a number of local police forces, such as in the municipality of Santa Ana.
According to Seguridad Publica minister, Gustavo Mata, the goal is to minimize road deaths. However, the training of Fuerza Publica and Municipal police officials is complicated. The lack of infrastructure (lack of transito officials) means training classes is limited to ten people at a time.
“People will not perceive it (the increased police presence) until they see 200 Fuerza Publica police officers working the streets,” said Mata.