The Traffic Policeman

Traffic policeman

I don’t really like driving in Bangkok that much. Apart from the traffic jams, it can get a bit confusing at times. They have these lanes that switch at certain times. There are also lanes which only buses can use. Twice now I was stuck behind a bus at an intersection and I followed him across once the lights turned green. However, as soon as I got to the other side I suddenly realised that only buses could go straight across. Everyone else had to turn left and go around the block. That was when I got my first ticket in Bangkok. After that I was a little paranoid. I no longer followed closely behind buses. Also, I tried my best not to be at the front for the traffic lights when they turned green. You see, there aren’t always obvious signs that tell you that you cannot go straight across. In situations like these I tend to panic and just turn left or right if there is any doubt. For my second ticket I was pretty sure it was OK to go straight across the lights. After all, two other cars in front of me just did the same thing. But, in Bangkok, there isn’t such a thing as safety in numbers. The traffic policeman was waiting for us at the far end of the road.

Today I was in Bangkok doing some research for some more travel blogs. I went through a red light which, if you have driven in Bangkok, you would know that everybody does this. But, this one was a strange one as it was almost a double set of  lights with a railway track in the middle. I went through the red light and over the tracks. I then hesitated. I was in a kind of no-man’s land with more red lights in front of me. There was no white line to tell me where to stop. Another car in the next lane also hesitated. We were like rabbits caught in the headlights. Then I spotted that the cars to our right and left were about to go. In perfect synch, we both decided to dash across the intersection. A mistake. I later found out that we should have stayed in no-man’s-land. About 500 metres down the road a traffic policeman caught up with us on his motorcycle. There was no use arguing with him. I had clearly made a mistake and was prepared to pay the fine.

This is actually the fourth time I have been stopped by traffic policemen. No, actually the fifth time. There was one time a few years back that I swerved a little because I couldn’t make up my mind about which lane took me up to the expressway. The road signs in Thailand are so confusing. Sometimes too early and sometimes too late. Anyway, I crossed the solid white line which is a traffic violation. The policeman caught up with me at the tollgates. This was my third time so I knew what to do. I had a plan. Just pretend I didn’t speak Thai. We went around in circles for a while until finally he decided that I was too much like hard work and he let me go. That is exactly the method I used today but it didn’t work! He spoke English!

Anyway, my first occasion, the guy asked for the bribe up front. He said to me that he could save me the bother of going to the police station to pay the fine. He said that all I had to do was hand over 300 baht and then I could go on. I was a bit dumb in those days and didn’t realize that he was asking for a bribe. So, I said fine, but can you give me a receipt? Of course he couldn’t, but I didn’t understand why. Eventually a pedestrian came to my rescue. He asked me how much the bribe was. I told him 300 baht and he then said don’t give him more than 100 baht! However, by this time, the policeman was fed up with me and wrote me a ticket. He also took my license. I had to go to the local police station the next day to pay the fine and pick it up! Obviously it would have been easier to just bribe the guy.

I don’t really believe in paying bribes. The last thing the nation needs is people bankrolling a corrupt police force. However, the fouth time I was stopped by the police was literally in the middle of no-where. I was on my way to Koh Samet in Rayong to write another travel blog. Coming to the crest of a hill I spotted a couple of police landcruisers in the distance. They were pulling people over. Of course my natural reaction was to slow down. It didn’t work. They pulled us over too. I was told that I was speeding though I believe I wasn’t. He didn’t have a speed gun so I have no idea how he had come to that conclusion. Obviously this was the modern version of highway robbery. They were pulling people over at random. Now, this time I didn’t want to get a proper ticket. It would have spoiled our holiday and he knew that. He saw our out-of-town number plates. So, I just gave him a 100 baht banknote in order that we could continue.

Today I was really surprised that for the very first time the traffic policeman didn’t actually ask for a bribe. He was also very polite and chatty. It was actually quite a good experience. If I was pulled over in America I think I would have been terrified. He explained to me that I had gone through a red light. I said yes I knew and smiled back at him. He then wrote out a ticket for 400 baht. He asked me where I was going next. I told him and he gave me directions. He said that after I had finished I should go to the local police station to pay the fine and pick up my driver’s license. Which is what I did. Luckily it is a different police station each time so I don’t get recognized. I’ll be in bangkok again next week to take more pictures for these blogs. Maybe I should park near the outskirts and take a taxi into Bangkok!

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