The police checkpoint is definitely one of Mexican law enforcement’s favorite crime-fighting tools. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see permanent police checkpoints on major roadways leading in and out of cities and towns (like the one in the main photo). On any given day we might drive through four of five such checkpoints
In addition to the permanent checkpoints, the police like to establish mobile checkpoints at random locations. For example, you might be driving down a road on your way to the store and suddenly see five police vehicles and a dozen heavily-armed police officers or military personnel stopping vehicles.
By the way, it is not uncommon to see military personnel assisting local law enforcement. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon started the practice back in 2006 and in December of 2017, a new law was passed (Ley de Seguridad Interior) to expand the military’s role in combating crime inside Mexico’s borders.
In the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, the government routinely sends additional military personnel to assist police in maintaining security, especially during busy times of the year (e.g. Holy Week). So, if you see some soldiers at a checkpoint while you’re here on vacation, don’t immediately panic and think their presence means that something big is going on or that you’re in a dangerous area.
If you’re driving in Mexico and you approach a police checkpoint, here are some tips to follow:
1. Reduce your speed and turn on our hazard lights
The use of your hazards isn’t mandatory but it will help prevent another tourist from running into the back of you when you start to decelerate.
2. Don’t give them a reason to stop you
This means the driver should not be using his or her cellphone and everyone should have seatbelts on. Just like in the United States, traffic laws can vary from one jurisdiction to the other. That’s why it’s better to just play it safe and have everyone in the car put them on.
3. Don’t stop unless they tell you to
If they are actively working the checkpoint — meaning they are stopping cars for inspection at that time — there will often be one or two officers standing in the roadway watching the cars drive by. If the officer doesn’t signal you to stop, just keep driving slowly until you clear the checkpoint.
4. If they do stop you, be polite and brief in your answers
The officer may signal you to stop in travel the lane to ask you some quick questions like: Where are you headed? Where are you coming from? or Have you been drinking? The officer may also request to see your driver’s license.
If the officer is satisfied with your responses, he or she will flag you on to freedom. If not, you will likely be told to pull over into the secondary inspection area for a more extensive interview.
Let’s Wrap This Up
Don’t let the police checkpoints stress you out. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, on any given day we may pass through several of them and in almost three years here, we have only been flagged to the secondary inspection area twice. Both times it was by immigration officials who happened to be at the checkpoint at that time.
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