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An accident reveals the anomalies in Puerto Escondido’s traffic rules

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An accident reveals the anomalies in Puerto Escondido’s traffic rules
The intersection where a visiting driver had an unfortunate encounter with traffic cops.

A traffic accident last week in Puerto Escondido was an eye-opener.

The wary driver in this town keeps an eye out for impatient drivers of taxis and small motorcycles, who zip in and out of traffic seemingly without regard for the safety of themselves or anyone else. Potholes and topes are other, typically Mexican hazards.

But after a collision between a car and a motorcycle at the intersection of Hidalgo and 3a Poniente by the Agencia Municipal, I would be wary of the transit police, or Policía Vial as they are now known, particularly if you’re a foreigner with limited Spanish.

It was the operator of the motorcycle who appears to have been to blame rather than the hapless visitor, but he was the one who had to pay damages to the former, a fine, a charge for a totally unnecessary tow and impound fees.

Justin, as we shall call him, was heading east on Hidalgo and crossing 3a Poniente. He slowed and looked both ways but didn’t see the motorcycle approaching fast from his left. His vehicle struck the bike in the middle of the intersection.

The motorcyclist claimed she presumed Justin was going to stop and simply plowed on through, passing in front of him. Or at least trying to.

But the details were of no concern to the cops. Justin was not questioned about the accident nor was he invited to give his version of events. 

My initial reaction was that he was at fault. I have always believed that traffic coming down 3a Poniente had the right of way over that on Hidalgo, or any other cross street. But that’s not really the case, as a traffic cop pointed out.

road signs in puerto escondido
First you then me: the traffic regulation that few drivers heed. Note the arrow indicating that the street is in fact one way below the highway, as it is above it.

Intersections that do not have traffic signals are governed by the Primero Tu Después Yo rule. First you then me. Essentially a four-way stop. You get there first, you go.

Which is how Justin approached the intersection. He was there first (he didn’t even see the bike because it was still out of sight.)

If the cops had bothered to investigate they would not have fined him 1,200 pesos or insisted he reach an accord with the so-called victim and pay her x-ray cost and loss of a week’s wages, a total of 3,300 pesos.

Nor was it necessary that a fully drivable car be towed (damages were minor to both vehicles, as were the bruises sustained by the rider of the motorcycle). But no, Justin had to pay 2,800 pesos for the tow and impound fees.

Making matters worse was the lack of information given Justin. He walked back to his accommodation with a single document from the tow truck driver confirming the car had been towed. 

His understanding was he had to go to the impound lot and pay to get it out. So I said I’d take him there.

But where is the lot? Someone said it was near the Nissan dealership. Nope, not there. Someone else said it was in Chila. Part way there I thought this can’t be right. Seeing some municipal police I stopped and asked. 

It’s in Colonia Aeropuerto by the Oxxo, they said. Off we went. The guy at Grúa San Miguel asked for the “liberation document.” He explained we had to go to the transit police office to get it.

Well that makes sense but who knew?

So we arrived at their office, located in the tourist bus terminal on Avenida Oaxaca, and found the procedure was not going to be a simple one. The cops called the victim and said Justin had to reach an agreement with her over paying for damages or the case would be escalated legally. It seemed a whole lot easier to pay the damages.

With that out of the way it was time to gather the usual raft of paperwork, such as proof of residence. But Justin isn’t a resident. Doesn’t matter. Just get his hotel’s most recent electricity bill. (Basically anyone’s CFE bill will do.)

Then came the kicker, the car’s factura. The invoice showing who sold it and for how much. But it’s a rental car, there’s no factura in the glove box. Well in that case a representative of the rental company will have to come and prove it’s their car, we were told.

Having gone through this kind of thing many times before I wasn’t pulling my hair out by now. Just another day in Puerto.

Luckily there was indeed a rental company representative in Puerto Escondido and they took over from there. But it still took another day to get the car out of the impound lot.

Puerto’s transit police are a rare breed in that you rarely see them. Traffic violations are a way of life but a transit cop is never there do do anything about them.

The last time I remember seeing them in action was several years ago when they turned out in force to hand out tickets to drivers going the wrong way on 1a, 2a and 3a Poniente below the highway.

They took everyone by surprise because, although the signs indicate they are indeed one-way streets, no one in my memory has ever treated them that away. 

So the eager cops spent several hours handing out fines and then disappeared. A few days later, two-way traffic on those streets resumed.

Just another day in Puerto!

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