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Can The Traffic Police Force You To Get Out Of Your Vehicle?

Wednesday morning in Alajuela, apparently a driver was demanded to get out of his vehicle by officials of the Policia de Transito (Traffic Police). As the man refused, he was taken by Transito to the local police station – sitting in his car while being towed.

The driver was released before the end of the day.

Given the situation, the question being asked around the proverbial water coolers, is it valid for a Transito (traffic official) to force you to get out of your vehicle?

According to a report by Crhoy.com and the words of Homer Alfaro, deputy secretary general of the Policia de Transito union, in this country, there is a principle of freedom that allows a person to do anything that is not expressly prohibited.

“From my perspective, what happened today (Wednesday) in Alajuela should not have happened. The only thing that can make a police officer arrest someone is for probable cause,” he said.

According to Alfaro, “the officer can ask to the driver to get out of the car, produce documents and open the trunk (…) Therefore, if there is no probable cause, the Constitutional Court (Sala IV) can proceed against of the officials, because there Court has defended privacy in a very broad aspect.”

“As an officer, if there is probable cause, he/she must call the prosecutor for a directive and who decides if there is a need for an order from a judge (…) Also, what a person says before an official does not have value in a Court, even if it is said before witnesses. This is because it could be discarded and the burden falls on the accuser,” explained Alfaro.

In the opinion of Homer Alfaro, the official is responsible for proving that a fault (breach of law) has been committed. With respect to public transport that was modernized by leaps and bounds, such as the Uber ride app, “now without even saying a word, two people can agree and nobody realizes the service was provided.” Alfaro was emphatic that, “a person (driver and passenger) does not have an obligation to answer questions. The Constitution says that the person keeping the silence is not guilty.”

Alfaro stressed the obligation of the driver is to present documents, which is the marchamo (circulation permit), license, riteve (vehicular inspection), ownership and cedula (identification).

According to union leader, the risk of an improper procedure by an official can result in a charge of abuse of authority, which carries a penalty of 2 to 3 years in prison if convicted.

Despite all this, Alfaro assures the Alajuela situation is repeated often because this type of action come from orders from the top. “I understand there is an order, I have not seen the document, but I have heard that they (officials) are required to carry out the procedure at least twice a day (…) they are being sent to war without any protection,” commented Alfaro.

Recommendations for Uber drivers

Given the battle between the Policia de Transito and Uber drivers, the international drive app company has given their drivers a series of recommendations in the event they are stopped by traffic officials (presumably for providing illegal transport). In Costa Rica, Uber drivers are deemed to be providing an illegal service.

  • Stay calm and act respectfully. Heed to the officer’s request to provide identification and vehicle papers
  • You are not obligated to hand over any goods or that of the user, ie. vehicle, cellular phone
  • You are not obligated to answer questions regarding the trip, the passenger or destination, among others
  • Neither you or your passenger(s) are required to get out of the vehicle
  • You can request to call a third party, ie lawyer
  • In the event a ticket is issued, make sure all the facts are reported correctly in the document. If your version is not included, at the signature line you can comment that the official denied to log your version or you can refuse to sign
  • In the event the decision is made to impound the vehicle, you must review the ticket thoroughly. It is vitally important that you review in detail the notes made by the official on the condition of your vehicle
  • Report the situation as soon as possible in the (Uber) application

The preceding applies equally to all other drivers facing a similar situation, save for the reporting the situation to the Uber app.