First of all, I’m not guaranteeing you’ll survive driving in Mexico if you follow my tips, and in fact at the end of this blog you’ll find a waiver that you should print out and sign before reading further (take your time, I’ll wait – you can email it to me later).
Secondly, I’m not
complaining speaking about the driving conditions in the ENTIRE country of Mexico. My tips and opinions are from what I’ve learned driving about in my small area of it. So there’s another disclaimer for you. But scary driving conditions are scary no matter where you live and no matter what language the other drivers are screaming at you in.
Thirdly, I am becoming more comfortable driving here (it’s a little disconcerting) but that also means that I now have some good advice to bestow. I’m now getting criticism from passengers in my car (for example, a recent friend complained to my hubby that I drive with a “lead” foot. I find that ironically hysterical and I’ll explain why in Tip #7). Here’s my first response to that: you either learn to swim or you get eaten by the sharks. I’m tired of treading water, so rather than being scared all the time behind the wheel of my car, I’m putting my energy into something else: keeping calm and trying to set a good example. That’s my new motto. And while I’m hoping that as I’m setting a gold standard in vehicular manners: the other cars won’t rear end me [again] when I actually stop at red lights; won’t honk at me when I stop and allow little-old-ladies to cross the road; and maybe I can bring an understanding as to just what those blinking lights on the corners of cars are really for.
So, let’s get to my 10 Tips Of Driving In Mexico: for safety, for freedom and for sanity:
Tip #1: Don’t Take It Personally That other car that just ran you off the road? They aren’t trying to hurt you, personally. That taxi that just almost side-swiped you to simply make it to the red light one car-length ahead of you: He’s not out to get you. In fact, I’m pretty sure 90% of the people who have put me and my passengers in mortal danger are very nice people (in fact, the guy who rear-ended me a few months ago was super-friendly – we stay in touch). My first couple of weeks of driving here – my feelings were constantly hurt – but you just can’t take it personally. In our area there are basically no traffic police to enforce any laws – so human nature being what it is, it’s mayhem sometimes. We’ve all got places to go, and in the cases of taxis and buses, a living to make involving getting to places quickly. So don’t take any of it personally.
Tip #2: Rubberneck Constantly Be hyper-aware of the cars around you – at all times. Don’t look at your dashboard – it doesn’t matter what your speed is and you should have checked your gas level before you put the car into drive. Don’t look at anyone in your car – there’s no need to look at any passengers while you are talking – if they are in your car, good chances are you already know what they look like – no eye contact is necessary. You need to see and know where the cars are around you – in front, behind and to the left and right – and all four corners. When you turn (and it doesn’t matter if you are turning right or left, onto a side street or going through a major intersection) look ALL AROUND you before doing so. Chances are someone is trying to pass you, even if they have to cross over into oncoming traffic to do so, or risk t-boning you in the process. Cars will come at you where you don’t expect them to, so do some neck stretches before any drive so you’ll be limber enough, like an owl, to turn every which way to stay alert.
Tip #3: DO NOT Get Attached To Your Vehicle If you are one of those people who are concerned about the outside appearance of their car, who is always washing and waxing the paint to a shine, who parks way-out in parking lots so as not to park next to other cars: then you are doomed to a miserable existence here. I don’t know why, but the the roads around us are dusty and dirty, and I can tell you that for the first couple of weeks I didn’t even know what color our rental car was (they washed it when we renewed the contract – and it turned out to be white). The car that rear-ended me put a big black dent in the back, and the pole I hit in a parking lot added a splash of amarillo – so the added color notwithstanding, the dents also add some personality to the car (thank goodness for insurance). Here’s my point: don’t care what your car looks like, you will not be able to keep it pretty and undamaged, so don’t stress yourself out by even trying.
Tip #4: Stay Loose It’s a scientific fact that the looser your body is in an accident, the less likely you are to incur injuries – so just keep things loose and light and relaxed – all the time. Find whatever type of music that you like and calms you, and have that blaring the entire trip. Maybe put a scented candle on the dashboard – I don’t care what you need to do to zen it out – but stay cool and collected the entire ride.
Tip #5: Learn Your Car’s Physical Limitations Quickly learn the limitations of your car, and by that I mean learn to maneuver in very tight spaces. I’ve had taxis and buses pass me with probably only millimeters between our cars – in fact I think sometimes their flaking paint scrapes off onto my car. Understand the exact physical perimeter of your car so you can maneuver with razor-thin precision in and around all the other cars and obstacles. If you don’t yet have these types of driving skills, consider setting up a driving course in which to practice (think of the course set up by Mark Walhberg and Jason Statham in the Italian Job). This precision driving will also help you avoid the many pits and crevices in the poorly maintained roads (I refuse to call these holes “potholes” because that word doesn’t describe just how big and deep some of these holes are). Ironically even though I’m getting more comfortable driving here I still seem to steer directly into those suckers.
Tip 6: Regardless Of The Immediate Horn Honking, NEVER Proceed Immediately When a Light Changes Green You will notice immediately that if you are the first in line at a red light, and the light turns green that if you don’t start moving that MILLISECOND – you will have several cars behind you honking. Ignore the honking and take a moment before you move because nine times out of ten there are at least 2 taxes and 1 bus that will completely blow through their red light. Stay vigilant going through intersections because many cars and most taxis/buses will not even slow down for a red light. Even if you have had a green light for some time, cars at the red light still to blow through it – be extra careful.
Tip #7: Drive With A Lead Foot Usually I’m the first car in line waiting at red lights – because I frankly refuse to run them (in fact the reason I was rear ended was because I was coming to a stop at newly-turned red). When the light goes green, and you see it’s safe to cross – slam on the gas. I mean stomp it like you’ve got the green flag in a NASCAR race – go Go GO. The point of this speed is simple: get away from the other cars. Put on some speed and get away, and hopefully you can create some free space around yourself and travel some distance without any other cars around you. Once you are free – ease up a bit, but maintain a really good distance from any other moving vehicles on the road, if possible. That’s probably your #1 priority in driving here: try to stay away from the other vehicles as much as possible.
Tip #8: Be Careful Yielding To Emergency Vehicles Because No One Else Does Unfortunately, you don’t need to worry about getting out of the way of ambulances or other emergency vehicles (like firetrucks). I can honestly say I haven’t seen a firetruck here with its lights flashing, but I’ve seen several ambulances, and those vans with their lights flashing apparently have to fight through traffic like the rest of us. I recently asked and was told that it’s a law here (like in the U.S.), that you need to get out of the way – but no one does. I do – which sometimes creates it’s own hazard because I’m the only one and the other cars around don’t seem to understand what I’m doing, or want to provide any type of courtesy in allowing me to move over. Pick your battles here.
Tip #9: What’s With Those Blinking Lights On The Back Of That Car? It is a rare sight to see someone actually utilize their turn signal – and in fact, back lights on many cars don’t work – so don’t wait for brake lights to inform you the car in front of you is coming to an abrupt stop. I’ve even seen a car going forward, with their reverse lights activated. You will not be afforded any type of signal from the other cars around you, so stay vigilant. I worry I’m causing a distraction to my fellow drivers by actually using my turning signals (hey? what’s that blinking light on that car? what’s that crazy gringo lady doing?) Funny: people not using turn signals used to drive me crazy back in the U.S. (get it, get it: “drive” me crazy…?!).
Tip #10: Speed Bumps They are EVERYWHERE here: small bumps camouflaged into the road so you don’t even see them until you are air-borne; long grooved bumps that no matter how slow I go over them I still scrape something; double lines of metal-dots that everyone tries to navigate their tires exactly between to try and skip them entirely: – every speed bump I’ve ever imagined of is here and they are all over the place. You’ll need to quickly learn the lay-of-the-land, especially for those that are hard to spot. You just have to remember the location of the worst ones and ignore any passengers’ complaints that their heads are hitting the roof of the car.
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Well, there you have it, my tips for driving in Mexico. I wish someone had told me all of this before I came here, I might not have spent so much time being appalled and more time accepting it. All kidding aside, be careful no matter where in this world you drive – wear seat belts, please follow the guidelines and use proper child-safety gear, and if you ever find yourself driving in Mexico: keep calm and drive carefully and please don’t rear-end me while you are here.