If you have a traffic accident in Costa Rica, leave the vehicles where they are and call both the Transito (Traffic Police, at 222-9330 or 222-9245) and the INS known as the insurance investigator at 800-800-8000. Both of these officials will come, eventually, to the accident scene upon notification and file their reports. Only after they do so can you legally move your vehicle.
This may cause great traffic back-ups but drivers are used to this type of obstacle and will find a way to get around you. I’ve seen traffic up on sidewalks and driving at the edge of a very scary drop-off to get around an accident. So don’t worry about blocking the road. Stick to the rules or the alternative will make you crazy. Remember my radio story?
When given directions, you will no doubt hear the word ‘Semaforo’ several times. This means traffic light.
Be prepared to lose that game of chicken, but take care not to lose your life. Every day the newspapers report on the previous night’s wrecks and on the pedestrians who’ve been aplastados (flattened or run over). Most of the country’s roads are atrocious, and as for walking…there is a public service announcement on TV that urges pedestrians to wear white, and to step off into the dirt whenever they see a car coming. No mention is made of the fact that the country could use a few more sidewalks, and that drivers should be on the lookout for “obstacles,” especially in rural areas where cars share the road with horses, oxcarts and whole families walking to weddings, baptisms and funerals.
In Costa Rica, the car is the patron and the pedestrian the peon. The culture here is that cars stop for NOTHING…not an old woman limping across the street, not a stalled car, not a group of school kids trying to get to class on time. In many cultures, people are taught to drive defensively. In Costa Rica, parents teach their children to walk defensively. Costa Ricans on foot know to treat cars as the unpredictable animals they are. Follow their lead and don’t expect cars to stop just because there is a stop sign or a red light.
If you can avoid driving at night, do so. Eighty percent of insurance claims come from night-time accidents. In rural areas, be on the lookout for cows or dogs lying in the road, or for people who consider the bank of a highway a good place to hang out and socialize.
Erin Van Rheenen – Living Abroad in Costa Rica