Tips for Driving Safely in Mexico
People travel to Mexico annually to enjoy its culture, deep history, tasty food, and abundant sunshine. Many of them drive within the country but find themselves unprepared. While you drive on the same side of the street as in the United States, not much else is the same. You can use the following tips to navigate roads and manage traffic in Mexico safer.
Driving Safely in Mexico: Road Signs
Since all road signs are in Spanish, look up the words online before traveling. Keep in mind that Mexico uses the metric system, so speed limit signs are in kilometers. Take care that you don’t accidentally speed. With a ratio of 0.62 miles to a kilometer, signs marked 40 km/h or 40 kph translate to approximately 24 miles per hour.
Many Mexican drivers navigate roads differently than their U.S. counterparts. For example, they usually don’t use blinkers, so be aware when turning and changing lanes. However, they tend to respect stop signs more than drivers from other countries. You will also find many uncontrolled intersections. Even busy junctions often miss traffic lights, so you have to brush up on your right-of-way etiquette. In Tijuana, for example you will find roundabouts.
Driving Safely in Mexico: Road Conditions
Road conditions vary greatly in Mexico. Some are smooth while others have grooves and potholes that can take out axles. Mexican roads often have random speed bumps called topes. Ideally, you should bring four-wheel-drive trucks for better navigation, but prepared drivers can certainly manage with regular 2-wheel-drive vehicles. Since many routes lack proper drainage, expect them to flood when it rains. Storms can turn dirt roads into mud pits quickly.
Driving Safely in Mexico: at Night?
Be especially careful when driving at night, or avoid it altogether because many highways don’t have lights. These conditions make it especially difficult to spot holes and debris. Additionally, animals freely wander onto roadways and create extra hazards.
In the United States, you can find many gas stations with assorted pricing, but Pemex is King in Mexico. Since they mostly have the same price, you won’t have to worry about shopping for the best rates. You can find the gas price on the pumps. Attendants distribute the gas and also wash windshields. Upon request, they will check the oil and other fluid levels.
It’s customary to tip the helpers up to 10 pesos but beware of scams. The best way to prevent getting cheated is to pay close attention and to watch the attendants’ hands closely. Common scams include switching of banknotes and not rolling pumps back to zero before pumping gas.
While many of the stations accept credit cards, it’s still safer to pay in exact cash by using smaller banknotes. That way, you won’t get cheated on change, and they can’t switch larger bills to smaller ones. If you are traveling with other people, have someone watch to make sure the attendant uses the pump you paid for. It’s also a good idea to check your own fluids, away from the gas stations.
Mexico has military checkpoints, so don’t be alarmed. Soldiers might ask you simple questions, including point of origin and destination. It’s customary to roll down all windows so that they have unobstructed views of the seats, especially the rear ones.
Driving Safely in Mexico: Toll Roads (cuota) vs Free (libre)
Mexico has an assortment of free (libre) and pay (quota) roads. Libre roads are dotted with intriguing restaurants and unique shops, but the streets lack maintenance. Toll roads move faster because they are smoother but have a less local flair. For the best experience, mix and match both types.
While these factoids seem like a lot to take in, don’t let them deter you from driving in Mexico. Use them to gain an understanding, and enjoy the experience. Exploring Mexico by car gives you a whole new perspective that you can’t get by other means.