Spanish for Police Officers: Phrases for Traffic Violations

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I bet you have stopped a Spanish-speaker a few times and wished you knew a few more words than the Spanish greetings you learned in high school. Read on to learn some “survival phrases” to make this situation a bit easier. To practice these handy words, make sure you bookmark this Quizlet Flashcard set of the vocabulary presented here, where you can study, practice with games, hear audio, and quiz yourself. (The following is an excerpt from Lesson 10: Describing Vehicles and Traffic Violations from my online Spanish for Law Enforcement course.)

Under the Influence

Today we’re hitting the road again, as we explore all sorts of Spanish words for describing vehicles and traffic violations. By the end of the lesson, you’ll know how to talk about everything from red-light running to illegal U-turns en español. First, however, we’re going to take a quick look at some words you can use when the people you pull over turn out to be borrachos (drunks) or drogadictos (drug addicts). We’ll start by looking at how you can find out if a person took drugs and how you can identify the drugs in question. Here’s a quick list of useful words for getting the information you need:

¿Qué ha consumido? What did he/she/you take?
cocaína cocaine
heroína heroin
esteroides steroids
marihuana marijuana

One caution here, however: When you’re talking with a Spanish speaker about drugs, it’s very important to use the right words. In English, we use the word drugs to refer to both legal drugs like aspirin and illegal drugs like cocaine. In Spanish, however, the word drogas always refers to illegal drugs. You’ll never say drogas when you’re talking about over-the-counter or prescription medicine; instead, you’ll say medicinas.

Now, let’s switch gears and move from drugs to alcohol. We’ll start with three questions you can ask a weaving driver who’s clearly had too many: 

¿Ha estado tomando? Have you been drinking?
¿Qué tomó? What did you drink?
¿Cuánto? How much?

Next, let’s talk about different types and serving sizes of alcohol. If you ever visit Mexican restaurants or bars, you’re probably familiar with the word cerveza—which means beer in Spanish. You can also order whisky or vino (wine) or ron (rum) from a Spanish-speaking bartender. Here are additional words you can use when you’re ordering a drink—and you can use these same words at a crime scene or a traffic stop to ask people how much alcohol they’ve had. 

un vaso (de cerveza) a glass (of beer)
una copa (de vino) a (wine) glass
un chupito (de whisky) a shot (of whiskey)
una botella a bottle

These handy palabras should be a big help when you come across borrachos and drogadictos during your shift. And as a bonus, you’ll know how to order una copa de vino or una botella de cerveza the next time you’re having dinner at a Mexican restaurant. But it’s time to leave the drinks and drogas behind, as we move on to our main topic for today: the words you’ll use when you’re handling traffic violations.

Describing Vehicles

It’s a quiet day, but that’s about to change. As you’re cruising down the street, you get a call about a hit-and-run a few blocks away. You quickly reach the scene, where you find a peatón (pedestrian) with a broken leg. You need to know who hit him—but how can you find out?

You already know how to determine what color the hit-and-run driver’s car is from a previous lesson. For instance, you’ll understand if a witness says it’s blanco, rojo, negro, azul, verde, or amarillo. But that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know. Before you can start your hunt, you’ll also need to get some details about what type of vehicle it is. Here’s what you’ll ask:

¿Qué tipo de vehículo es? What type of vehicle is it?

Most likely, you’ll hear one of these answers:

Es un . . . It is a . . .
carro (Mexico)/coche car
troca (Mexico)/camión truck
furgoneta/camioneta van
todoterreno/4×4 (cuatro por cuatro) SUV/4×4 (four by four)
bicicleta bicycle
motocicleta motorcycle

Once you discover the type and color of vehicle you’re looking for, you can start asking people if they’ve seen it. Remember that when you describe the color of a vehicle to a Spanish-speaking person, you’ll put the adjective after the noun in your sentence. For example, to describe a man in a red car, you’ll say, un hombre en un carro rojo. To talk about a woman in a blue van, you’ll say una mujer en una furgoneta azul.

Let’s say that when you follow the clues you’ve collected, you’re able to locate the vehicle involved in the hit-and-run—un carro blanco. At this point, you’ll probably want to ask your suspect one of these questions:

¿Es este su carro? Is this your car?
¿De quién es el carro? Whose car is it?

Of course, you could also say ¿Es su coche? Or ¿De quién es el coche? But if most of your community residents are from Mexico, they’re more likely to use the word carro

Traffic Violations

Whether you work in a big city or a small town, it’s amazing how hair-raising rush hour can be. And if you’re assigned to traffic, there you are—right in the middle of it all.

Trying to stop speeders, stoplight-runners, and tailgaters from causing accidentes is a tough job, and it’s even harder if the people you pull over don’t speak English. To make your job easier, we’ll focus on words you can use to describe some common traffic violations en español.The first phrase we’ll look at is handy when you’re not sure a driver knows what he or she did wrong:

¿Sabe lo que hizo? Do you know what you did?

Next, you’ll want to tell the driver what offense you spotted. As you practice these phrases, be aware that most of the verbs are in the past tense (which we aren’t covering in this course). So don’t try to figure out the conjugation—just see if you can memorize the words. Here are three phrases to get you started:

Cruzó la línea. You crossed the line.
Hizo un giro ilegal. You made an illegal turn.
Manejó a 80 millas por hora. You drove at 80 mph.

Sometimes, of course, people will get in trouble for things they didn’t do. To explain that a person didn’t do something, all you have to do is put the word no in front of the phrase. Here are some examples:

No . . . You didn’t . . .
obedeció la señal obey the sign
cedió el paso yield
usó los intermitentes signal/use the blinkers

Now let’s take a look at one common way drivers often endanger other people in traffic: by failing to stop when they should. When a Spanish-speaking driver fails to stop at the right time, you can use these phrases to explain the problem:

No paró por . . . You didn’t stop for . . .
el semáforo en rojo the red light

(literally means the traffic light in red)

el autobús escolar the school bus
la sirena the siren

The word paró, which we just used, is one form of the verb parar, which means to stop. Another word you’ll hear for stop is alto. So when will you use each word?

You’ll use the verb parar when you want to conjugate the verb—for instance, I stop (paro), you stop (paras), and we stop (paramos). (And just to confuse things a little, people in Mexico use one form of this verb—párese—to say stand up.) Alto, on the other hand, is only used as a command. For example, signs in the shape of a stop sign in Spanish-speaking countries will have the word ALTO on them. A police officer may also open his hand and say alto if he wants you to stop.

Here’s another very useful word you can use to tell drivers what they’ve done wrong. It’s the verb estaba, which means you were. Here are some examples:

Estaba . . . You were . . .
manejando demasiado rápido driving too fast
manejando en contra del tráfico driving against the traffic
por el carril de transporte en grupo in the car pool lane
zigzagueando swerving

Now, let’s put some of these words in context and see if we can figure out what is being said. Miguel is giving his son Ruben one of his first driving lessons. It’s going about as well as you’d expect, if you’ve ever taught a teenager to drive. In other words, it’s a disaster. Let’s listen in and see what Ruben’s doing wrong. When you’re done, check the answer key to see how you did.

Practice Dialog

Miguel: ¡Ay! No paró por el autobus escolar.

Ruben: Lo siento (I’m sorry). Voy a la autopista (highway). Voy a manejar por el carril de transporte en grupo.

Miguel: ¡No! No está preparado para manejar (ready to drive) por autopista. ¡Ay! ¿Sabe lo que hizo? Estaba manejando demasiado rápido. Y no usó los intermitentes.

Ruben: Lo siento. Voy a parar (I’m going to stop) aquí por el semáforo en rojo.

Miguel: Muy bien . . . ¡Ay! Cruzó la línea.

Ruben: Lo siento . . .


Miguel: Hey! You didn’t stop for the school bus.

Ruben: I’m sorry. I’m going to the highway. I’m going to drive in the carpool lane.

Miguel: No! You are not prepared to drive on the highway. Hey! Do you know what you did? You were driving too fast. And you didn’t use your blinkers.

Ruben: I’m sorry. I’m going to stop here for the red light.

Miguel: Very well…Hey! You crossed the line.

Ruben: I’m sorry…

Whew—I’m glad it’s Miguel who has to teach Ruben how to drive, and not me. I’m sure Ruben will be a great driver in just a few more months—but I’m also betting that Miguel will have a few more canas (gray hairs) by then.

More Traffic Violations

I know we’ve covered lots of new words today, and your head is probably spinning like the wheels on a todoterreno. But let’s tackle just a few more phrases, because these additions to your vocabulary are likely to serve you well in the future.

First, you can use the handy phrase no puede (you cannot) to stop drivers from making some dangerous mistakes on the road. Here are some examples:

No puede . . . You cannot . . .
manejar sin licencia drive without a license
aparcar allí park there
girar aquí turn here
obstruir el tráfico block traffic
hacer un giro en U make a U turn

As you can see from the chart, the Spanish verb girar means to turn—so un giro is a turn. However, you may also hear the expression darse la vuelta used to mean to turn

Before we move on to our next set of traffic violations, here’s a quick caution to file away: When you stop someone for a traffic violation, be careful not to refer to the person as a violador, because this word means rapist in Spanish. 

Next, let’s look at a half-dozen more phrases that you’re likely to need at one time or another.

Esta no es su foto. This isn’t your photo.
Su licencia ha sido cancelada. Your license has been revoked.
Su licencia ha expirado. Your license has expired.
Sus placas han expirado. Your plates have expired.
Este es aparcamiento para minusválidos. This is handicapped parking.
Manejó bajo la influencia del alcohol. You drove under the influence of alcohol. (DUI)

You might discover that these phrases are a bit easier to remember than the earlier ones. That’s because so many of the palabras sound like English words.

For instance, foto looks and sounds like photo, and you can sort of see parking in aparcamiento. Expirado sounds a lot like expired, and cancelada is close to cancelled—another word for revoked. In addition, bajo la influencia del alcohol is pretty close to what you’d say to un borracho in English.

I hope some of these words help to ease your anxiety a bit the next time you stop a Spanish-speaking driver. Don’t forget about the Quizlet flashcards (with audio, quizzes, and games) to help you practice!

For more Spanish words and phrases related to teaching and the classroom, check out ed2go’s Spanish for Law Enforcement facilitated by yours truly!

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