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I've just had an interesting experience with Arizona Police in Yuma who were insistent that I could not travel on UK plates in America and that no foreign bike had ever done it before.
It took a very long time and a lot of him shouting and fingering his gun nervously before he agreed not to take my number plate off the bike.
He clearly had a big attitude for a tiny mind, but his superiors told him at the base that he was right and it was illegal to use any vehicle on the road in the USA if it didn't have US plates.
He'd been in the job 25 years and he knew all of the laws there were to know.
It was only when he accepted that I could never then leave the US with my bike if he took its identity away, that he let me keep it.
It was a while longer before he tore up the $600 fine.
My explaining the carnet system and the idea of just passing through the US led to him shouting
"Don't you feed bullshit to a bullshitter son".
I felt it best to not point out what he had just said.
Anyway, just though I'd let you all know, there are some nutters in uniform out there
..... but his superiors told him at the base that he was right and it was illegal to use any vehicle on the road in the USA if it didn't have US plates.....
Shoot, Canadians do it all the time. So do Mexicans.
Whenever I get frustrated by petty, inefficient, corrupt, pigheaded or otherwise incomprehensible officialdom in the developing world, I think about what it's like to encounter American officialdom as an outsider. This calms me right down.
There are some genuine psychos as well as a great many developmental misfits in uniform in America (as elsewhere). Glad you got out of there with all your funds and your bike intact. Got a good story to tell in the bargain, too.
In the seventies I and three other longhaired friends, drove from Alabama to California in an old battered Rambler and was stopped by police in Arizona. they stopped in front of us and both got out with their guns, straight hats, toothpicks and big grins on their faces and started walking towards our car.
When I saw this, I took out a ( biggish) camera to keep this sight for posterity but when they saw the camera, they threw away the toothpicks, the grins dissapeared and only one walked up to the car and asked very politely where we came from etc. and finished asking if we were jounalists ))
Bearing Easyrider in mind, I still think that camera saved us a lot trouble that day.
In Egypt I was sitting with my big Canon camera, in a restaurant writing in my diary and the maitre d'Hotel came up and offered me cake and tea. I'm sure he thought I was an undercover foodjournalist.
Most people in authority have a healthy respect for the media, which could be used to our advantage.
In 2006 I was stopped in New York by a policeman insisting that I could not drive with foreign numbers. It took some time to let me go, and after he radio someone, he finally told me "technically I can take your motorcycle away but you look like a straight up guy so I would let you go this time". That was the only time I was stopped by police in USA in a two months trip and it was at the second day of the trip.
Did you happen to get the name of this "officer"? Which police dept. did he work for? City of Yuma, county sheriff's dept., or what? I'd like to know.
Incidentally, the "officer" must have been too brain-dead to notice that southern Arizona is over-run with Canadians driving Canadian registered vehicles every winter for the last several decades. Or perhaps he thinks Canada is part of the US?
Ignorance, that's all I can say. My little experience occured in 84 when the then girlfriend ( now good wife ) and I spent a year in North America, 8 months of it touring around on a Harley. Although it was legitimatley registered and insured in California. We carried international driving licences. The officer who pulled us over, in up state New York, looked at this document with a mixture of confusion, wanderment and disbelief. It was clearly written in English ( the Queens variety, not the US's interpretation ), clearly indicating that it was issued in Australia. He looked up at me, then uttered the line. "Excuse me sir do you speak english". After explaining that that yes indeed I do speak english and Australia was a part of the english speaking world, he then proceeded to ask Katrina the same question. You couldn't fault his politeness, it was just that he had gaping holes in his general knowledge. Your've got to remember that Paul Hogan and Crocodile Dundee had just swept around the world like a Typhoon and Air Supply were topping the charts in the US. ( OH dear, sorry about that one ). We did give you AC/DC though! After being held for an hour on the side of the road, with said officer, returning to his squad car to get directions from his superiors back at base, he allowed us to proceed with an official warning, for the initial infringement. I guess my advice is be patient and usually it will sort itself out.
Most people in authority have a healthy respect for the media, which could be used to our advantage.
It depends where you are, and who you're dealing with.
In 2006 I was stopped at a checkpoint outside a closed city close to Murmansk. There'd been no indication whatsoever that non-Russians weren't allowed on the road. Indeed, it was marked on the crappy map supplied by the tourist board as being of special interest to tourists.
Most of the 26 (!!) men in uniform who were involved in questioning me, checking documents, faxing Moscow, admiring the bike and generally wanting to be seen to be concerned, were friendly in the end. Their time was being wasted as much as mine, as Sunday afternoon became Sunday evening, their dinners were being ruined and their vodka being drunk by someone else.
But one verrry scary man in a long black overcoat kept asking questions, and spent a long time looking at my helmet-cam attachment. Velcro isn't very James Bond, but he was deeply suspicious. If I'd had any paperwork that day indicating that I've worked as a journalist*, I'm convinced he would have had me arrested.
Instead, the remainder of the 26 eventually conceded that a) I wasn't going to pay a bribe to get away and b) I had done nothing wrong, so they let me go.. though they didn't let me take their photo as a souvenir. That was a shame. We'd become good friends.
*Ex-football journalist. But try telling that to the KGB!
PaddyT, I am upset and deeply ashamed. The Yuma Officer was very very wrong to treat you the way he did. Maybe this will help you and others... Here are several personal observations regarding the police. This was posted long ago, but I believe relevant here and now.
My thoughts regarding the existence of bad, corrupt
police that not only instigate crime but commit crimes
themselves mirror my thoughts regarding
humanity in general.
Now, in order to understand the police one must
understand the main function of the police, which is
to prevent or stop things from happening. .
Therefore, after a while as a police officer who is
repetitively preventing or stopping things, surrounded
by other police officers who are stopping things too,
he or she if not already having been selected by the
police application procedures as a stopper, becomes a
Society needs, as part of its control responsibily,
I have successfully avoided several speeding tickets
by simply sitting in the car, or on my bike, with bowed head and
saying to the police officer now standing beside me...,
"we really need to stop speeders, don't we"
Immediately their was such affinity and apparent
sharing of reality the officer would not or could
not give me a ticket. I have passed this on to many
others and all who have tried it, have confirmed my
Unfortunately, some police, (cultures designated
stoppers) have also been involved in situations where
their very life depended on their ability of stopping
something from happening. This confirms the fact to
them that their very life depends on their ability to
I believe, and this is validated by actual statistics
of police corruption, much goes unreported, that
between 5 and 6% of US police are corrupt and
committing crimes against society. This group of bad
police contaminate and recruit from the other 15% or
so of the police who do not fall into the 80% I
believe are good people doing a tough job to the best
of their ability.
Unfortunately, the best "stoppers" are the ones who
get promoted and assume the leadership over large
groups of other police. Now remember, police in
general are not starters nor changers, just look at
the stats on any activity started and run by police
like Project DARE which has, by carefully weighted
scientific statistics created more drug use than what
would have been expected if the program did not exist.
This is fact. Or the comical failures of almost every
police run community event, they can't even have their
own athletic leagues or police balls (social events)
picnics etc...because they are all trying to stop
these things from happening. I am not inventing this,
several reputable books have been written on this very
I am not sure we can even expect our police to be the
innovative starters and changers of societal behavior,
but if there is anything, even things beneficial
starting or even beneficial changings occuring in a
community you can expect the police to be right on
the scene to stop it. The court systems also operate as stoppers of behavior, not starters of good behavior nor changers of society for the better.
So to directly answer your question for both North
America and South America I believe about 5% of the police
are corrupt and committing crimes against society and
that about 15% are in some way involved by the crime
of omission (not reporting the bad police) or minimal
participation in the commission of crimes against
society, and 80% are good men and woman trying to do
what is right.
One might say 80% really want to help others survive.
I am, in the final analysis a starter of projects and
a changer and yes, if I have to I can stop things too,
so by nature I have very little in common with the
police, and represent a threat to them once they get
to know me.
This might be a good time to point out that I do agree
that every culture needs stoppers, This is an
unfortunate reality that has been created by a
relatively few really bad people. And, look what
happened to Senator Robert Kennedy because, as United
States Attorney General, he was prosecuting the
mafia/police connections in various cities throughout
North America. There is a wealth of documentation
about this existing corrupt connection available, I
have no need to be creative here.
Contrary to what some have posted, events like the one you describe happen all over the world and it is just a part of traveling. I have had several similar experiences at some border crossings:
1. The Canadian border official that was sure that I had a weapon just because my birthplace was Texas in my passport. After hours of searching he finally admitted there were no weapons on the bike. Talk about xenophobic. (Pigeon River Border Crossing, Minnesota/Ontario)
2. The Canadian border official that made me empty my earplug container because I surely have mace hidden in there. After examining my earplugs and the container I was finally allowed to pass. (Tolstoi Border Crossing, Minnesota/Manitoba)
3. The German official that told me I must have a German driver's license to operate a bike in Germany. Then I was told that to receive a German license I must be angemeldet (registered as a resident) in Germany. A real Catch-22. (somewhere on the autobahn in Rhineland/Pfalz)
4. The British official that required I give them my entire professional resume (including colleges and degrees) so that the British government could make sure I did not seek employment while touring the country. (Harwich ferry port)
These are just the ones that stick out. There have been many others in my travels.
Folks that blame this kind of behavior on the US government, people, etc. have probably never traveled outside the country. Do what I do with my "officialdom stories". Relax, open a brew, and make the story a little more dramatic each time you tell it around a campfire.
But I agree with the warning about journalists above - lots of countries have a very keen dislike of journalists. That can even get you in trouble in parts of Malaysia, which is otherwise a pretty easy place to travel in - they hate 'eco / green' type stories making them look bad, and those journalists will try to look like tourists. Plus, in many countries, you declared your occupation on an immigration form - if you later make it look like you lied to immigration you could be inviting a world of trouble.....
Us Brits can have a rather soft and cuddly view of the police, and that can lead you to underestimate foreign cops. American cops won't hesitate to get very physical if you piss them off, whereas you would have to be pretty stupid to get a reaction like that in the UK. Be careful !
What the Yuma cop did was totally, 100% illegal. This violation of rights may give some of you a reality check of just how tough it can be for the millions
of illegal Mexican workers trying to survive in the USA. The Mexicans are treated like criminals ....
People who are in the United States illegally are criminals, and should be treated as such. That said, I am sorry the original poster had this problem. I've talked to lots of travelers from Europe who've traveled with foriegn plates without a problem. I think you ran into one bad apple, and hopefully that was the worse thing that happened on your trip here.
Max, more than 12 million Mexicans residing in the United States are considered illegal, but I do not believe these Mexicans should be treated as criminals.
Perhaps you would change your point of view if you have read about the Mission San Antonio de Velero, built by the Spanish Empire in the 1700s and used to "educate" local Native Americans after their conversion to Christianity. Around 1793, the Mission was abandoned by the Spanish and very soon thereafter became a fortress housing the Mexican Army group Second Flying Company of San Carlos de Peras. The Mexicans renamed the Mission the Alamo.
In December of 1835, The Alamo was surrendered to the Texian Army by General Martin Perfecto de Cos following the siege of Bexar (now San Antonio , Texas) which was an early campaign of the Texas Revolution against Mexico. A small force of Texian soldiers then occupied the Alamo.
Texas General Sam Houston gave a direct order to Colonel James Bowie to abandon the Alamo and destroy it, fearing that Bowie did not have sufficient manpower to hold the fort.
Colonel Bowie disobeyed General Sam Houston's order to abandon the Alamo and by March 1836, Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ann had led a large force of Mexican soldiers into "San Antonio" de Bexar and during the Battle of the Alamo, mercilessly killed almost all of the Texian defenders.
This event solidified the resolve of the Texians to further claim lands that belonged to Mexico.
After the Texas Revolution, the Texians and the Mexicans both peacefully shared the lands surrounding the Alamo and San Antonio and throughout southern Texas.
The Texas Revolution, the (Texas War of Independence from Mexico,) ended at the battle of San Jacinto, about 32 K from Houston, where General Sam Houston and the Texian Army defeated General Santa Anna.
Although, the conclusion of this war resulted in the creation of the REPUBLIC OF TEXAS, Texians and Mexicans have lived and worked together peacefully since then, and until now.
From the point of view of many Mexicans and Texians, and at least one guy from Arizona... at least the parts of Texas, that were once Mexican lands could continue to be inhabited peacefully by Mexicans and Texians. Mexicans have contributed much to the betterment of the United States and millions currently live and work in peace in the United States. I do not believe these Mexicans, even if "illegal" should be treated as criminals, I do believe our immigration services should be upgraded and Mexicans should be given priority for US citizenship.. if they want it. Meanwhile, I welcome Mexicans into my country and will not consider them criminal, until, in my opinion, they are.
Just my feelings, that have come to me after living in Mexico for more than 3 years...
First there is no way that cop was there for 25 years. The number of people that drive down there Canada in huge RVs is a bit hard to miss. The Number of Mexicans that drive up to work legaly is even larger. His boss will have known that even if he din't.
He cant take your bike away he can only impound it the Court can but be he cant.
He works for the state of Arizona (or a county or city) not the USA and cant speak of all the US import laws. Driving laws in the USA are state by state there is no ban on foreign bikes. There is no such thing as a USA plate there state plates.
$600 fine for illegal import, driving a non street legal bike and doing all this across state lines is dam cheap. And a case for the FBI he oversteped his position.
"Don't you feed bullshit to a bullshitter son"
That sums him up bout right
Dam man you got case agenst the city of Yuma and the state Arizona! $$$$$$ You just paid for your trip what with all the mental anguish you now have and damage to bike (you now need a new one) from falling off it after he maid you so jumpy of other cops. God bless the USA and its legal system!
Please tell me you got his name. He is an ass and a clear example of the stupid ugly American sory you had to run in to him.
On the other hand people that are in the USA illegally are braking the law its what the word is. To be legal they need paper work not that hard to get. Much harder to get paper work for a US citizen to live and work in Mexico than for a Mexican citizen live and work in the USA. Id like to be rid of silly paperwork my self, its gust the USA wants it tax $ from even the poorest people
As far as history who has the right to claim what go back before 1700 Norway had people here before Spain and there was Indians (First Nation) before that. Its the Europeans that seem to think only there laws history and people mater. Seems many in the USA take it to the extream.
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