Motorbike Confiscation! Yes, it really does happen and yes it CAN be really expensive!
Updated: Jan 28
That’s a lot of motorbikes
Let’s start with some rules of the road for motorbikes. Regardless of what you see other people doing, by Mexican law, you MUST wear a helmet and at least one person (the one on the back) MUST wear a reflective safety vest (or at least carry it with you). You MUST also carry a copy of your TIP, Mexican Insurance and Title/Registration and ID. If you don’t have these, they WILL confiscate and impound your motorbike. We know, because it happened to us and about 30 other people (mostly the locals). Keep in mind, these rules are not regularly enforced. You will often see people wearing helmets, loosely or not at all and almost never, a safety vest. However, if you get pulled over and are found without them it could cost you a substantial amount of money. Especially as a tourist.
The fine we were able to knock down from $1800 pesos ($90 USD) to $507 pesos ($25 USD). The process to recover your vehicle is tedious and by US standards, disorganized, just like the DMV. It literally takes you all day. First you have to go to the Recaudadora Estatal (essentially the DMV) to pay the ticket. Then you have to go the government office in a location 6 or so blocks away to show proof of all paperwork; the TIP, Mexican insurance, registration/Title, ID and proof of payment to the Recaudadora Estatal). From there, you have to go to another office (not really in walking distance) to pay the impound fee and get a receipt (our fee was an additional $750 pesos or $37 USD). Then you have to take a cab to the impound lot to recover your vehicle. Keep in mind, this cost is only for motorbikes. Other vehicles are significantly more expensive. Usually about half of the cost of your entire vehicle to get it out of impound from what the locals say. If it were our ambulance we would have ended up paying almost $25000.00 because they calculate cost differently on the fines for vehicles.
We were lucky enough to befriend a wonderful lady in Chapala named Adriana who spent the entire day arguing with people to get our fines reduced. She actually called the chief of Police the night it happened to complain about the high fee and told him that we, as her friends, shouldn’t have to pay it and that we were visiting her from the USA. He was able to lower the fine to the lowest bracket that the local’s pay even though we had more moving violations than other people since there were three of us.
We had been riding around town on side streets going pretty slow (I know it’s no excuse) and didn’t see anyone wearing helmets, so we didn’t really think about wearing ours (though we always make Kaden wear his, regardless). I had just had my hair bleached and dyed bright electric blue/purple. We were on our way to dinner when everyone kept yelling to us from the street. Riding the motorbike, you can’t hear very much when the wind is in your ears, so we couldn’t hear what they were saying. We thought they were probably noticing my hair, since we hadn’t seen anyone with any wacky hair colors thus far on the trip. We were stopped in traffic, when a nice man in a vehicle next to us began to explain that we needed to drive on the right side (in the bike lane, which is illegal unless you’re on a bicycle) or we would get pulled over just up ahead.
We thought it was weird that the man was telling us to break that law (even though, yes, we were breaking a few others that were way more dangerous), so we continued driving in the traffic lane. Then we saw it… The police check point. They motioned for us to pull over and then it hit me. He wasn’t telling us to ride in the bike lane or we would get pulled over, he was telling us that the police were in the bike lane up ahead pulling motor bikes over! Well shit. I guess things really do get lost in translation. My translation at least.
Everyone on motorbikes in violation of something were pulled over and given tickets and their bikes confiscated and impounded. Most of them being helmet and safety vest violations. The local Policía Vidal (traffic police) didn’t care that there were three of us on a 125cc scooter, they cared that Bronson and I weren’t wearing our helmets and I didn’t have my safety vest on. We also didn’t have a copy of our TIP or any of that paperwork because Bronson wanted to take it out for taking up too much space in the storage compartment.
Note *****Be sure to carry copies of all of your paperwork in every vehicle listed on your TIP!!!
We were forced to find a ride back to the house we rented where I told our new friend about our evening excursion. The following day, she took us to all of the places we needed to go in order to get our scooter back. Literally, she spent the entire day shuffling us from place to place and sweet-talking people to get us moved to the front of the line.
The entire day took us 9 hours and Bronson barely made it to the impound lot to pick up the scooter. If we didn’t get it that day (Friday) we would have had to wait until Monday, and we had planned on leaving Saturday. The most impressive thing? Adriana didn’t ask us for anything in return. We offered to cook dinner, buy groceries, pay her for her trouble. She wouldn’t accept anything from us. She even invited us over to have dinner with her family. How many people do you know that would give up an entire day to help non-native speaking, foreign people shuffle through an entire day of the nightmare that is the DMV? I don’t know any. Add this to the list of reasons that we LOVE Mexico!
Impound lot where we recovered our scooter