Costa Rican road safety


As I recently wrote in part one of this lengthy post, I have just returned from my third trip to Costa Rica. Of the many impressions of this beautiful country that have stayed with me, perhaps the most deeply entrenched, is the notion of transportation, primarily driving.

Downtown San Jose traffic including a ubiquitous motorcycle or two

Many people who travel to Britain from just about anywhere, have a difficult time adjusting to driving on the left side of the road. The habit of driving on the right is deeply ingrained in drivers’ minds, and going against that trend can be very tricky and, potentially, dangerous. Some tourists use their heads and just rely on public transport rather than attempting to reverse their brain patterns. While folks in Costa Rica drive on the right, I would still suggest visitors forego the idea of driving themselves. There are many alternatives, including a vast number of inexpensive taxis which are easy to spot as they are all red.

While folks in Costa Rica drive on the right, I would still suggest visitors forego the idea of driving themselves

There are numerous highways in Costa Rica, but the majority of roads are based on old farm cart paths. The country is very hilly and the roads tend to be winding, narrow affairs. In addition, Costa Rica, given its geography, experiences a lot of rain. Heavy rainfall coupled with hills leads to significant water accumulation in low-lying areas. Wisely, to combat this, most roads in Costa Rica, whether in towns or more rural areas, have deep gutters, what North Americans might refer to as storm sewers, along both sides of the road to collect excessive rainwater.

Arrow indicates storm sewer

… narrow, hilly, winding, often unlit, roads, bordered by small unmarked canyons. What could possibly go wrong?

Getting out of a car requires a quick check to see if you will drop into this chasm. So we have narrow, hilly, winding, often unlit, roads, bordered by small unmarked canyons. What could possibly go wrong? Well, factor in a plethora of motorcyclists who appear to follow a set of road rules that defy logic, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Motorcyclist passing on the right on one lane road

As a Canadian driver, in the prince of Quebec, where it is illegal to pass on the right, I am often astounded by the haphazard and seemingly dangerous driving habits of Costa Rican motorcyclists. However, in Costa Rica, as of 2010, according to Article 108 g of the traffic code, it is allowed to overtake while driving a motorcycle between two lines of vehicles, as long as one is not going faster than 25km/h (just over 15 mp/h). Having witnessed this, I seriously doubt the 25 km/h concept is being observed! There is plenty of both flora and fauna in this lovely country, evidently including bi-wheeled motorized bats out of hell.

There is plenty of both flora and fauna in this lovely country, evidently including bi-wheeled motorized bats out of hell

While on the topic of driving and road safety, let’s consider the remote possibility that a motorcyclist zooming along the middle white line is, in fact, not a dangerous thing. I mean, it’s not like there are people standing on those lines, is it? Well, actually… One of the mainstays of Costa Rican roadways is heavy traffic. Motorists stopped in these tie-ups make a perfect clientele for Buhoneros, hawkers, who are vendors of everything from fruit to plantain chips; religious artifacts to fridge magnets and cashews. If you can think of it, someone is selling it on the roads of Costa Rica; in fact, right in the middle of the road. Sometimes referred to as Walking Walmarts, up and down they ply their trade, often being narrowly missed by passing cars and trucks (did I mention motorcycles?). Perhaps the only braver (foolish?) people than Costa Rican motorcyclists are Costa Rican Buhoneros.

I hope you all have an opportunity to visit this lovely country at some time, but please leave the driving to the locals!

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