How Do Costa Rican Motorcyclists Survive?


During my second trip to Costa Rica to visit in-laws over the holidays, I could not help but consider yet again how it can be possible that any motorcycle riders survive the roads and traffic. Those of us who are used to more recent urbanization, including streets set out in a grid formation, are at a loss to navigate the streets of Costa Rica. Fortunately, my Costa Rican brother-in-law, as well as his wife, are old hands at getting around this beautiful country.

During my second trip to Costa Rica … I could not help but consider yet again how it can be possible that any motorcycle riders survive the roads and traffic.

Most of the roads outside of the capital San Jose were originally built to accommodate ox-drawn carts that transported various crops, especially the world-famous coffee, from point to point. They are all winding and narrow. Other than a few modern highways, I am convinced there are no straight roads in the country.

Over the years these roadways have, of course, been paved and widened – a bit. But for the most part, two cars, one in each direction, can just about fit. However, there are also numerous little bridges and overpasses that, given their original construction, cannot be widened without a major bit of construction and inconvenience.

This brings about what I call the Costa Rican Yield. Drivers hurtling along these winding roads are regularly confronted with one of these bridges that only allow for one vehicle to pass at a time. One side of the bridge has a yield – Ceda – sign and road markings. It is incumbent upon this driver to look ahead and if there is a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction, where there is no such yield sign, come to a full stop and give the other driver the right of way.

In North America, the concept of yielding the right of way is either misunderstood or just plain ignored by many drivers. Thankfully here these situations tend not to be life and death in nature. Yet in Costa Rica, the system works just hunk-dory.

In North America, the concept of yielding the right of way is either misunderstood or just plain ignored by many drivers

So, the majority of Costa Rican roads are winding, narrow, and often hilly. Throw into that mix a great number of motorcyclists as well as roadside (and often mid-road) vendors hawking everything from produce to toys, and you have a recipe for disaster. Yet, somehow it all works.

Section C-21-1, Paragraph 321 of The Quebec Highway Code states the following: ‘on a two-way roadway with two lanes or over, the driver of a road vehicle must use the right-hand lane of the roadway’. In other words, passing on the right is verboten and likely to result in a fine, and perhaps damage to your car. This regulation would never fly in Costa Rica, where motorcyclists run rampant, darting in and out of cars, zipping along the shoulder, or passing cars in traffic by zigzagging along.

To the uninitiated North American this willy-nilly approach to driving is by stages frightening and unbelievable. How can there not be high numbers of fatalities among these motorcyclists? Well, in fact, there are, indeed, an escalating number of deaths about which the authorities are concerned. In 2015 there were 150 motorcycle-related deaths.

Even slow-moving traffic poses no problem for the two-wheeled, as they zip by

These bikers appear from out of nowhere and from all directions. Cars that are stopped in traffic are constantly being overtaken by motorcycles. Even slow-moving traffic poses no problem for the two-wheeled, as they zip by. Interestingly in the time I have spent in Costa Rica, I have often noted the lack of bicycles. Not that there are none, but when compared to the growing number of cyclists in North American and European cities they are conspicuous by their absence. Although I can’t say it surprises me, given the hectic traffic conditions and efforts to avoid delays by drivers a cyclist’s life would be in constant jeopardy.

If you’ve got a bit of Evel Knievel in you then by all means give motorcycling in Costa Rica a go. If not, I suggest you stick to safer means of transportation.

Published by DCMontreal

DCMontreal - Deegan Charles Stubbs - is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

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