If you plan on spending much time in the Dominican Republic you will no doubt at some point take a shot at driving here. Driving in the DR definitely poses additional problems then driving in other countries like the US. Poor roads, drivers that don’t obey safety or other traffic laws and just poor driving conditions make many decide not to own their own car here. Whether you own a car or just rent on occasion when you get behind the wheel you know you are taking a chance.
One thing people don’t often expect is to have to deal with police shaking down drivers for money. Unfortunately here that problem is pretty common. A report was written today in the Dominican online newspaper Dominican Today warning travelers of this problem in the Samana Area. Unfortunately police stopping people and asking for money is not a new problem and is something that seems to pretty much be accepted by the Dominican Government.
I am in contact with quite a few foreigners that drive at times in the DR and all of them have their own stories of being pulled over. Personally I usually get stopped while heading in and out of some of the small towns near La Vega although I have also been stopped outside of Samana as was talked about in the Dominican Today article. Only once was I given an excuse for being pulled over, most of the time they just cut to the chase and ask for money directly.
These incidents emphasize the need to always have some small bills available to hand to the officers when you get pulled over. It is best not to pull out your wallet and fish around for a small bill, and let me assure you they will not give you change for a large bill! Usually you can get away with as low as 50 pesos which converts to about $1.50 USD. Sometimes you might have to give them a 100 peso bill or about $3.00.
At this point you have a choice, try to talk your way out of paying and end up getting a ticket on a made up excuse or pay your $1.50 USD and be on your way having a good laugh. While it might seem that you are paying a bribe, a bribe is when you are paying someone to get out of something you did wrong and not really when you are paying someone to keep from being harassed, or at least from my point of view.