The rice paddies on the hills in southern Sumatra were beautiful at that time of the day. The sun, low on the horizon, cast it’s evening rays on the water brimmed terraces that reflected a yellow glow everywhere. A picture perfect moment I thought as I rode through the fields and considered a stop to make use of my Nikon camera. Just one more turn ahead on the narrow road and for sure there would be a good photo opportunity waiting for me I thought. What I found around that last bend however, was far from the perfect opportunity I envisioned. Actually, it made my heart sink straight away.
Getting pulled over by the cops is rarely a welcome event. I’ve been stopped, or signalled to do so, by law enforcement officers in almost every country I crossed on my overland trip through Asia. Rarely however, did this ever turn out to be totally negative experience although some firmness at times was required. In fact, some encounters with the law ended in laughter, hand shakes and selfies. Most of all though, there was negligible or no monetary upset whatsoever.
Here are a few rules of thumb I developed on my travels. They’re my very own personal approach to the issue of being flagged down by the what looks like a cop and, commendable or not, it’s what works for me.
This can sound controversial but I think it’s justifiable in scenarios in which:
A) The would be “enforcement officer” is not wearing a uniform, or a fully recognisable outfit.
Of course you should use your good judgement in instances such as this but at the same time you should not feel intimidated by appearances. Twisting the throttle and riding away is safer than dealing with time wasting scammers eager for your cash. Also worth remembering is that in some countries a flashing blue light on an unmarked vehicle is absolutely no guarantee of the presence of the law so, BEWARE!
B) No clear and safe area is available to pull over without risking an accident.
This is a very real issue in countries like Iran, Pakistan and India where traffic can be fast paced and simply insane especially after dark in urban areas. If you’re putting yourself at risk by trying to pull over for the police then don’t even think about it and ride on.
C) You are waved down simply to be looked at, just out of curiosity (it happens often).
You develop a feeling for this sort of scenario. A solo traveller on an exotic machine stands out from the crowd and attracts curiosity. It’s a welcome distraction for some officers and a break the day’s boredom. In these cases I reccomend slowing down, smiling, waving to the uniformed cop and then moving on without stopping.
Have I ever been chased for refusing to stop? No, never.
You’ve been pulled over
It’s hard to argue any traffic violation if proof is caught on camera but there’s always space for a little negotiation. For example, I discovered that insisting on a receipt before paying any cash can work magic sometimes.
Stiff upper lipped officers occasionally change attitude when comments and banter is strung up on topics such as fishing, football, motorcycles, cars, girlfriends, wifes, family or even local food. I guess some might call this the “bro factor”. Once you connect with the person wearing the uniform things get easier and with a bit of luck will you get off the hook for minor offences. I’ve been “forgiven” for speeding, failing to produce an insurance document, riding in lanes reserved for public transport, using highways closed to motorcycle traffic. Furthermore I’ve received help from the police to find accommodation, money changers, good fishing spots, safe wild camping areas and decent eateries. Most of all the cops I encountered were genuinely generous cool guys but that’s not to say that all of them are.
Got a Go Pro?
I noticed that an action cam attached to my helmet discouraged officers from engaging with me longer than necessary. Their doubts about whether the camera was on or off had them send me on my way as soon as possible.
Using an open face helmet, sun glasses and riding a white bike confused for a bike cop myself once or twice with some funny reactions from my would be colleagues. For a few minutes I found myself flagged along as part of a motorcade in down town Jakarta.
Finally, I never handed my driving licence, vehicle registration documents, or my passport to the police. I carried high quality laminated colour copies of these for inspection by the side of the road all of which worked just as well.
So, in the end that late afternoon in Indonesia I rode into a police road block, but of course things went just fine. There was a photograph opportunity after all as you can see above, it just was not the kind I was expecting. Still, I think a hint of that yellow evening glow was caught all the same.
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