No passing zones in Costa Rica are more dangerous than you think

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IVO HENFLING | JANUARY 9, 2015

No passing zones in Costa Rica are more dangerous than you think

I have written quite a few blogs about driving in Costa Rica and strange and funny things you might find on the roads of Costa Rica and show you that driving in Costa Rica can be a challenge. Today’s turn is for the no-passing zone and the lack of it.

Como, qué dice? A no-passing zone? What’s that?

Ticos don’t think that pavement markings are important, or what they are there for. They just don’t exist, even if they do. Or nobody pays any attention to them.

In Escazu, they have re-paved quite a few roads about a year ago and they are still without markings, I imagine because they ran out of money. Or maybe they don’t know we need them. Today, I was waiting in front of a traffic light and when I pulled up when it turned green, it turned out we were 4 lines of cars waiting in what normally are 2 lanes. Since there are no pavement markings, drivers just keep making new lines until they’re covering even the sidewalk.

Watch out on the Freeways

On the freeways and highways, mostly one lane on each side, we have a lot of no-passing zone pavement markings. But when there is no traffic coming from the other side, those markings don’t make any sense, do they? In Costa Rica, we have lots of traffic accidents because of reckless driving. 

If you see a no passing zone, do not trust the drivers coming from the other side to stay in their own lane. ALWAYS keep an eye open, so you have a chance to get out of the way.

On the road where I live, we have a no-passing zone and some lanes here and there to make a left turn. Motorcycle riders in Costa Rica live by a different law though, their own. Everything is allowed. 

Chances are that if someone in line is being nice and allows you to get across, you will hit a motorcycle who thinks he has the right to pass the line of cars by using the double no passing zone marking (yes, a double yellow line is about 4 feet wide, enough for a motorcycle) at a high speed. Below is a photo that shows what happened to the poor sucker who thought he could get across when leaving the gas station but got hit by Speedy Gonzales. Who is the poor sucker here, the driver  or the rider?

The problem is that when this happens to you, you will have to take it to court to get paid for your damage. Nine out of ten motorcycle riders don’t have insurance and the judge might tell you that that double yellow line is there also for you. You were not allowed to turn left coming out of the gas station and get across the lane, even though traffic allowed you to do so.

Motorcycle riders in Costa Rica live by a different law though, their own.

Mountain roads

On some of the mountain roads of Costa Rica, you might find part of the road has gone down the hill. If you see two yellow double solid no-passing lines and a big hole in the road, pay double attention as the drivers coming from the other side may decide to move over to your lane. Because their lane has disappeared in space, this gives them automatically the right to invade your lane, they think.

Watch out for the yellow double solid no-passing line on mountain roads

Turn lanes and plastic barriers

In Lindora de Santa Ana, a high traffic area, the Ministry of Transport and Public Works created a center turning lane to make a left turn. There are many strip malls on both sides of the road and this “turning” lane gives you the opportunity to get across and have a lane for yourself and move into the traffic lane slowly. But of course, smart drivers use the center lane as a passing lane, driving much faster than the regular traffic and this creates accidents every day.  

The Ministry uses plastic barriers as shown in the photos to make turning lanes short and make it difficult for drivers to use the center lane as a passing lane. Those barriers are hollow and supposed to be filled with water or sand, but it seems they haven’t figured that out yet, except for the fast drivers who just push them out of the way to get through, like what happened to the white barrier in the photo below.

A red plastic barrier in a center turning lane in Lindora de Santa Ana

A red plastic barrier in a center turning lane in Lindora de Santa Ana

The fast drivers who just push them out of the way to get through

The fast drivers who just push them out of the way to get through

Oh and by the way, the yellow no passing pavement markings are not always yellow in Costa Rica, sometimes they’re white because they ran out of yellow paint.

What am I trying to prove in this blog?

1. Driving in Costa Rica is different.

2. Drivers in Costa Rica are different.

3. Having a driver’s license doesn’t necessarily mean that you can drive.

4. When you drive in Costa Rica use your eyes, your mirrors and concentrate on what you do. 

5. Watch out for Speedy Gonzales.

Watch out for a motor rider popping out of nowhere

Watch out for a motor rider popping out of nowhere

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