Tickets-Bribery-Mordida (The Bite)

It's not common, but it does happen. In ten thousand kilometers of driving I've been pulled over twice — once "legitimately" and once fraudulently. Neither stop cost me mordida or a ticket (I did once get a bite taken out of my wallet by a meter maid in front of a pastry shop in Heredia - but that's a whole other story).
Police Station in Heredia

Police Station in Heredia (More Photos)


The first stop was on the Pan American highway near Limonal. It was a pure shakedown. I saw the reading on the speed gun as the officer walked up and had apparently been going 63 kph in a 60 zone. As we chatted and he suggested maybe we could just take care of it he was subtly continuing to trigger the radar at oncoming traffic while holding the gun under his arm.

I insisted that I was only going about 60 and he swung the gun around to show me the reading of 79 that he'd just gotten off of a passing truck. I said I didn't think that was my speed, but he should write me a ticket. With no bribe forthcoming he sent me on my way with a warning.

Ten minutes later after crossing the Tempisque bridge I was amazed when another officer stepped out from the shade of a tree and waved me over again. Of course having just been pulled over I was driving extremely cautiously, cars and trucks were backed up behind me and had been passing like crazy.

The officer informed me that even though the sign 50 meters back read "Velocidad Maxima 80 kph" I was approaching an intersection and the speed limit was 40. He wasn't interested in a bribe and was getting ready to write a ticket despite my protests that apparently no one knew the limit there because obviously everyone passing by was traveling much faster. I mumbled something like what a lousy trip, and he asked why. When I showed him the police report I'd just filed that morning because my car had been broken into and told him about the extortion attempt a few minutes earlier he decided not to make my day any worse and let me off with another warning.

Tips to Avoid or Deal with Traffic Stops

Don't speed. Technically this is nearly impossible. It's also a psychological struggle demanding immense self control to crawl past schools at barely over a walking pace and to resist taking off like a rocket when you finally get around that sugar cane road train.

Don't drive first in line

Speak Spanish

Stay calm and politely request a citation stating that you'll be happy to pay it at the end of your trip through the legitimate channel at your rental agency. Don't be surprised if you actually get a ticket-even the most corrupt officer has to write citations as cover.

Do not offer a bribe or put money in your passport. The last thing you want to do is to escalate a minor traffic infraction (real or fabricated) into the serious crime of offering a bribe to an official. No matter how well it works for locals or wily travel veterans, no matter how normal or expected it seems or how comfortable the officer is take a second to remember that it's a crime and you're not a criminal.


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