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 ended with mordida (a bribe) or a ticket but it was suggested.
Bribery, Mordida, Chorizo – The Bite
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 (everyone speeds up when they see the officer is busy). 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 never suggested a bribe and let me off with a warning.
Bribing the Meter Maid
I have paid one bribe. To a meter maid in front of a pastry shop in Heredia. I was picking up some goodies to take to coffee at the Rodriguez’s house and there was a spot right in front of the bakery. It had a yellow number painted on it and I knew that meant I was supposed to walk around a few blocks searching for the parking attendant to pay the $0.25 fee for parking and get a little ticket to put in my dash. The attendant was nowhere in sight, so I just went inside.
I knew what I wanted and was in and out of the bakery in five minutes but that was long enough for the attendant to spot the car and bring over his partner in crime the parking enforcement officer. I knew what was coming next as well.
The ticket would have to be paid in person at a national bank, then the bank receipt delivered to the police office where I’d exchange it for a police receipt…and probably another parking ticket while waiting in line. Of course if I preferred “for a small ‘convenience fee’ the officer could drop off the payment for me…” It cost me $10 split between the cop and the attendant.
Tips to Avoid & Deal with Traffic Stops
Don’t speed. It’s difficult and can be dangerous to drive that slowly but strictly adhering to the law will help you avoid trafico encounters. Maybe “go with the flow” is better advice.
Don’t drive first in line.
Don’t drive a big new SUV or sporty car.
If you do get pulled over it’s best to 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 your rental agency. Don’t be too surprised if you actually get a ticket.
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.
Take a second to remember that it’s a crime and you’re not a criminal.