Driving in Mexico - Casual Attitude RequiredI love driving in Mexico. The country's laid back attitude is evident in the citizens' casual driving habits and the driving patterns are extremely logical - the residents have devised ways to keep traffic moving that would be illegal in the U.S., but make perfect sense. I do avoid big metropolises like Mexico City -- that city's roads get a bad rap, though: driving there is no worse than dealing with Denver, Colorado, at rush hour -- and Boston, Mass, is worse.
Areas to avoid do exist, like the Toluca Highway (Carretera Nacional 134 in Guarerro, locally known as carretera de la muerte - the Highway of Death). You're more likely to get held up in downtown Detroit than on a Mexican back road -- however, that's not to say you shouldn't follow the same safety rules when driving in Mexico that you do when driving back home. Start learning about actually driving in Mexico with a few Mexico rules of the road.
Driving in Mexico - Rules of the Road
- Rule number one: avoid driving at night. I can't cite the source for this statistic, but I remember reading that road fatalities are three times higher at night in Mexico than by day. There are a lot of animals, alive and dead, pedestrians and plenty of vehicles without taillights on the road at night.
There are very, very few overhead lights on most Mexican roads, meaning you can't see broken glass, potholes or topes (frequent speed bumps - sometimes signs warn of them, sometimes not). And if you break down in a remote area, you're probably stuck for the night -- in the dark dark.
Speaking of breaking down - if you do have car trouble during the day, the Los Angeles Verdes (the Green Angels) will come to your rescue, seemingly by magic.
The Green Angels are a fleet of green trucks with government-paid bilingual crews cruising the roads every day carrying tools and spare parts, looking for motorists in trouble. They'll even go to an auto supply store to buy a part for you if necessary. If you need them, call "060" (Mexico's version of 911) or pull over (if you can - many road have no shoulders to speak of) and put your car's hood up. They then seem to appear just like angels - can't see them unless you need them.
The very first time I was pulled off the road in Mexico (reading a map), the Green Angels appeared in under a few minutes. The jovial crew ascertained that all was well and went on their mission of mercy way. By the way, they won't be offended if offered a tip, but they won't take it.
- Rule number two: stick to the main roads if you're alone. As said, bandidos are few and far between, but road conditions can be very iffy off the beaten track. If you're adventurous or with a group, by all means, hit those back roads! That's where you'll see the real country -- really local cafes, kids flagging you down to sell you Chiclets (buy them) and traffic adventures: no shoulders, sharp curves and roads that gradually become little more than goat tracks.
Mexico toll roads, or cuota roads, kept in excellent condition, do exist, but are expensive. You'll speed right along but, just as happens in the US on a freeway, you'll miss some lovely country.
- Rule number three: turn signals are not what they seem. Generally, a left turn signal is an invitation for you to pass, not an indication of the driver's intention to turn left... if you don't see a road ahead to the left, then it's a signal for you to pass. I love this example of Mexico's inherently courteous people's ways.
- Rule number four: if you're on a road with a shoulder with an oncoming vehicle in the other lane, and another oncoming vehicle appears in your lane, you're expected to drive on the shoulder while they pass. You can also pass cars on the right shoulder; just make it snappy. Mexico drivers use every inch of the roadbed in order to keep moving.
- Rule number five: don't drive drunk or drugged. Ever. You don't want to make friends in a sweaty jail cell.
- Rule number six: do not offer to bribe a policeman if pulled over. If you're pulled over and think you're being asked for a bribe, ask to be taken to the jefe (chief) - if the officer just wants money from you, he will probably back off at that request. If you do try to bribe a cop, keep in mind that many Mexican policeman are honest, and you may get in hot water for offering a bribe.
Pay traffic fines at the local police station.
Please go on to the next page to read about customs and crossing the border into the US from Mexico.