Last month I let you know about the speeding ticket my husband got while we were driving from Las Tablas to Chitre.
We drove around a sweeping curve and saw the policeman right away — talking with another driver by the side of the road. He never turned around to face us until after he pulled us over.
We believed the cop couldn’t possibly have clocked us, no matter what speed we were going, because he had his back to us the entire time he was within our line of sight. Nevertheless, he ticketed us for speeding.
My husband decided to fight the ticket. He called a lawyer, who helped him to file a protest. She warned him he was unlikely to prevail, but he wanted to do it anyway.
Once he filed the protest he was given a sheaf of papers to carry in the car, in case he got stopped again. He was supposed to go back to the office exactly 30 days later to find out the decision.
During the last month, as we’ve recounted the story to various friends, people have asked, “so what’s the fine?”
“We don’t know,” was our answer. “It wasn’t on the ticket.”
It’s supposed to be in this little booklet that all drivers are required to carry in their cars. We bought the booklet, and we’ve looked through it. Found a $50 fine listed, but no indication as to how much more it would be for the speed he was supposedly going.
You know, in the US we’re used to a fine of so much for 10 mph over the limit, more if you’re driving more than 15 mph over the limit, and something enormous if you’re driving 20 or 25 mph over.
The day of reckoning was last Friday.
At 8 AM on Friday morning, my husband and the lawyer went to the office. His protest was turned down and he had to pay the fine.
It was $50.
Now we’re waiting for the lawyer’s bill.
If You’re DWG — Driving While Gringo
We’ve learned several lessons from this whole experience. Understand, I’m not advocating law-breaking, but if you’re sober and driving reasonably you might avoid what we went through if you do these things.
- When you see a cop at the side of the road here, don’t slow down unless he specifically motions you to do so. My husband, being polite, slows down whenever he sees an officer because he’s anticipating a possible stop. (There are lots of routine roadblocks here.) Don’t do that — it looks suspicious to them. Just drive on by unless they make it totally clear that you are to pull over.
- The whole thing might have been avoided if there had been a $5 or $10 bill stuck in the passport. That’s a risk, and we’ve decided we’re not going to pay bribes, but many people do.
- If you are stopped, don’t speak any Spanish or indicate you understand any.
- Ask, repeatedly and in English, for an English-speaking officer. Eventually the cop who pulled you over is likely to give up and let you go on your way.
There’s a lot of drunk driving here, which they’re beginning to crack down on. There are also a lot of routine roadblocks and traffic stops. We’ve never had a problem with those. But hopefully if you are singled out and pulled over you can have a better outcome than we did.
Oh, and in case you were wondering — the photo is of a Devil mask in the small museum in Guarare, Panama. I took the picture when we visited in 2011. I thought it described how we felt — the helpless little lizard in the maw of the great beast.
Last week we had an encounter with the federales east of Chitre at a checkpoint, The officer looked as us (my blond wife was driving our rental car) and motioned us to the side of the road. He proceeded to lecture her in espanol about the dangers of speeding and how much trouble she could be in. She has never had a ticket in her life, and he sure wasn’t running radar, but I could see where this was going. Twenty bucks later we were on our way. Profiling? Could be.
I notice the locals speed past us as we try to stick to the 60 kph limit in many places. While we plod along, I wonder what they know and why they aren’t worried about getting nabbed?