The innovative ways that drivers hope to beat some of the strictest traffic laws on Earth

Steering clear of the dreaded traffic ticket.
Steering clear of the dreaded traffic ticket.
Image: Reuters/Daniel Aguilar
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Mexico City is rolling out its new traffic rulebook, a 124-page document (pdf, link in Spanish) with the ambitious goal of taming the megalopolis’s unruly drivers.

Starting Dec. 15, residents in the car-centric city are subject to strict new standards that give priority to pedestrians and cyclists, and heavily penalize drivers who break the rules. Traffic fines went up significantly—some are now more than 30 times the daily minimum wage.

In addition to punishing common traffic offenses, the city also is now fining uncivil driving behavior. Laying on the horn costs up to 700 pesos (around $40); yelling obscenities out the window, more than 2,000 pesos.

More than 10,000 cameras and radars (Spanish) have been installed throughout the city to enforce the new rules. But Mexico City’s ever-inventive residents are already finding ways to cheat the system. And this has spawned a market for tools to obscure license plates.

Placa Fantasma (Spanish), or phantom plate, offers night and daytime solutions, which it sells for 700 pesos each under the motto “Live without rush. Live calmly.” The company says a few applications of its spray on a license plate will cause traffic-camera pictures taken with a flash to be overexposed. A transparent plastic cover that’s installed over the plate blurs the numbers for the camera, but not to the human eye, it says.

A company salesperson told Mexican newspaper Milenio there’s been a surge in demand (Spanish) for its products as the city implements the new system. On its website, the firm says deliveries will take more than a week to fulfill due to the high volume of orders.

Other drivers are obscuring their plates with a 349-peso slatted cover, or with special stickers that go over plate’s letters and numbers, rendering them unreadable for cameras; those sell for 300 pesos.

There’s also a remote-controlled plate holder that lowers a black shield, completely blocking the plate numbers from the camera’s view. But at nearly $2,700, that’s a luxury only a few drivers can afford.

The head of the city’s government, Miguel Angel Mancera, has warned those who try to cheat the system that they will be tracked down and punished. That’s a tall order, considering the city’s has more than 4.5 million registered cars.