David is feeling fairly confident about driving in Mexico, but, as with most first-time visitors, he's nervous about encountering policemen. Most policemen are honest, of course, but there are always a few who give the rest a bad name. And, of course, all the guidebooks talk about bribes (mordidas - literally “little death”) that sometimes have to be paid to policemen who stop drivers on trumped up charges. Although the government has largely curtailed this practice, a policeman may still try to extort money from you. I told David to remember these points to avoid having to pay mordida.
When a policeman stops you, even though you’ve broken no law, he may ask for your driver’s license. A favorite way of getting mordida is to say he will keep your license until you pay for the “ticket” right then and there. If he asks to see your license, show it to him, but do not let him take it. If he does so anyway, get out your notepad and ask for his name and badge number. (Su nombre, por favor? Su numero?) Then get out of your car to walk around and get his license plate number.
This will almost always stop any further action on the policeman’s part, and he will return your license and tell you to go on. The reason is because the policeman knows he is doing something illegal (keeping your license) on trumped up charges, and he realizes you’re savvy enough to report him. He would rather let you drive on than lose his job.
Sometimes you may have committed an infraction and should receive a ticket, but the policeman will try to extract a bribe rather than give you the standard fine. This happened to me in October, 2003. My companion ran a red light in Saltillo. He was tired from an eleven-hour drive and was struggling to find the hotel in the dark. The light turned red as we drove through the intersection, and we were pulled over almost immediately.
The policeman asked for Cliff's driver’s license and said the fine was 700 pesos. He would have to pay the next day to get the license back. The policeman undoubtedly knew we were on our way to the States and didn’t have an extra day to waste at the courthouse. He was hoping we’d give him the 700 pesos (an exorbitant fee, by the way) to avoid the delay.
I got out of the car, walked around to write down the cruiser’s license plate number, and politely asked the officer for his name and badge number. He responded by handing me my friend’s driver’s license and waving us on.
I finished up by telling David that if he does commit a violation and the policeman does not try to get mordida, he should accept the ticket with good grace and not be alarmed by the size of the fine. We would pay the fine within five days which reduces the price to half the amount written on the ticket. And one of the advantages of getting a ticket in Mexico, as opposed to the United States, is that there are no insurance penalties for tickets so your driving license is not affected in any way.
After we finished talking, David looked relieved. I don't know what he'll worry about in the future, but at least he is now a lot less nervous about driving.