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My Review of a Mexican Traffic Stop

As with all vacations, I had mixed feelings that this one was ending.  I had a wonderful time, alternating between relaxing at the Cancun hotel with my extended family (including five young children) and taking day trips with my wife in our rental car.  But I can never fully squelch my type-A personality, and I was looking forward to getting back to my office to conquer the paper which I had left in neat piles on my desk.

My wife and I left the hotel at precisely 6:00 AM, consistent with the plan we’d made the night before.  We always allow extra time to get to the airport “just in case,” and we always comment to each other upon arrival at the airport that this “just in case” time has never really been needed.  There would be no such jokes today.

A few blocks from our hotel, we saw a police car with its flashing lights lit.  I didn’t think anything of this because, unlike in the U.S., police cars in Mexico regularly drive around with their light bars illuminated.  But, when this police car pulled up beside us, its P.A. instructed me to pull over.  (At least I think that’s what I was being instructed, as I don’t remember my high school Spanish teacher ever having taught the word for “pull over.”)

After I pulled over, the officer approached the driver’s-side window, exactly as would be expected in a U.S. traffic stop.  He said “buenos dias,” and I responded in kind.  My Spanish not being nearly good enough for much more conversation with the officer, I asked him if he spoke English.  He did and, in fact, his English was every bit as good as that of the concierge at the Ritz-Carlton.

The officer showed me his radar gun, which indicated that I was traveling 14 kilometers per hour over the posted limit.  I had a hard time believing that I was truly exceeding the speed limit by that much, as shuttle vans carrying tourists to the airport (presumably being driven by locals) were going much faster than I was.

The officer then asked for my drivers license and proof of insurance, again exactly as would be expected in a U.S. traffic stop.  Then he asked me to get out of the car.  I have very little experience with traffic stops in the U.S., my last speeding ticket having been in the 1990s.  But I knew that being asked to get out of the car is generally not a good thing.  While the “please step out of the car” made me a little nervous, I’m sure that was not the officer’s intent.

He told me that he would need to take my drivers license to the police station and that I could get my license back by going to the station and paying my fine.  I asked him if there was any other alternative, in light of me being on my way to the airport.  He responded that he could give me my license and instead take the rental car’s license plate back to the station so as to ensure that the rental car company paid my fine.  I could only imagine the delay – and the cost – if I’d brought the car back to Budget with a license plate missing.

I then asked him if it would be possible for me to pay my fine directly to him and have him deliver the payment to the police station.  He paused for a long while, as if he had never considered this.  After taking plenty time to ponder my suggestion, he responded that he would be agreeable to delivering my fine.

He advised me of the amount of my fine in pesos (the amount of which I don’t recall) and in dollars.  The dollar amount, $120, sounded a bit steep to me, as I’d always heard that the standard fine for American tourists was $100.  Although I was quite proud of some highly-successful negotiations I’d had over the past few days (including getting my group of nine people into the zoo completely free-of-charge), I decided that this was not the time for negotiating.  Because he had advised that he was going to deliver my fine directly to the station, I didn’t want to offer a smaller payment and have him perceive that I was suggesting that he was doing anything outside of official procedure.  I gave him the 100 dollar bill from my money belt and four 5 dollar bills from my wallet.

As my wife and I resumed our drive to the airport, we discussed how the officer had forgotten to ever actually write me a ticket or even to write down my name.  He must have a very good memory, allowing him to write the tickets up after sending the tourists on their way.  I was very impressed by his efficiency, as the entire traffic stop took less than five minutes.  The experience was not at all bad.