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What to Do if You Are Pulled Over by the Police or Have a Car Accident

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Is there anything worse than glancing in your rearview mirror only to be surprised by flashing blue and red lights? Actually yes, there is something worse. Imagine the exact same scenario but with one slight difference: that rearview mirror is on the windshield of a rental car while you’re on vacation in Mexico! Gulp. So what should you do if you’re pulled over by the cops here in Los Cabos?

First, don’t panic. Nothing bad is going to happen to you. Despite what you might think, you’re not going to have to pay the dreaded mordida (literally “bite”, meaning a bribe). The policeman is probably just doing his job. Did he have a good reason to pull you over? Were you driving over the speed limit, blocking traffic or driving erratically? Did you run a stop sign or ignore a traffic light? If you have broken a traffic regulation, expect to get a ticket just like you would back home.

You will be asked to provide your driver’s license, the vehicle registration and the rental documentation, which also serves as proof of insurance (if you bought it). Some local cops may speak a little English, but not all. If you don’t speak Spanish don’t worry, just be polite and produce your documents. If you were stopped for a traffic violation, the officer will probably write you a ticket. The only difference is that in Mexico you will have to surrender your driver’s license. It’s normal procedure; the police officer is not looking for a bribe. Surrendering your license ensures that you show up to pay the ticket. You will usually be able to follow the officer to the police station, pay your fine and get your license back right away.

If you did commit the offense, take your ticket and pay your fine. If you really think it’s wise to try to talk your way out of it then go for it, but whatever you do please do not offer a bribe. It might actually work, but is just as likely to get you in more trouble. And know that if your bribery attempt is actually successful, you are part of the problem. You are perpetuating the very thing that makes a tourist nervous in the first place: la mordida. Believe it or not, exponentially more bribes are offered by offenders than are ever solicited by the police.

If despite all that you are unlucky enough to cross paths with a cop that relies on fear to shake you down for a bribe, know what to do. Whether or not you did anything wrong, the procedure is the same: ask for your ticket. Do it politely but with confidence. Bribery isn’t what it used to be in the Mexican police force. Remember, the cop will have to take you and your license to the police station and explain to his commanding officer why you’re there. That makes it official, which is not okay. He won’t want to do that and will almost certainly let you off with a “warning.” However, if the infraction was real, he may honor your request and write up the ticket. Though at this point, if he was already unsuccessful in suggesting a bribe, he may let you go to avoid the problem altogether. Regardless, you are always better off not paying a bribe. Don’t inspire or reinforce corruption; help put an end to bribery.

Finally, what do you do in case of an accident? The biggest reason to buy the insurance at the rental car counter – you know, the insurance you don’t want to buy because it’s so expensive – is the phone number you can call if you are unlucky enough to have an accident. Here in Cabo, if it is during business hours the insurance adjustor will actually show up and help you through it. That is all you need to do. Know that Mexican law requires that you prove the financial ability to pay for any damages. If someone involved in the accident doesn’t have insurance, they can be held until the ability to pay for damages is proven. A rental contract with insurance is that proof. Most credit cards do not provide the same insurance coverage on accidents out of the country as they do within U.S. or Canadian borders.

Last but not least, please don’t drive drunk. That’s not okay anywhere, including Cabo. This article won’t even begin to explain what can happen to you if you injure someone while driving under the influence, but at that point you would probably deserve it. There are plenty of taxis to take you home.

There countless places to explore and sights to see in Los Cabos and surrounding areas, so go ahead and rent that car. Just remember to bring a camera. Happy driving!

By Brian Florky

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