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Driving in Mexico: Top Ten Tips

January 5, 2012

The most surprising thing about the roads in Mexico, to those of us from the so called Western World who have been fed on a constant diet of anti-Mexican propaganda, is that Mexican drivers are pretty good actually. They don’t have a test – Americans barely have a test so its not much different. I’d happily say that Mexican drivers are better than Californian drivers – and definitely more courteous.

However driving in Mexico is not like driving at home so here are ten tips to help you survive the roads here.

1)      Beware of TOPES: Speed Bumps to the unitiated. If you speak to anyone you meet in Mexico a good icebreaker is to talk about the TOPES. Everyone hates them. They can be well signposted and easy to drive over or they can be hidden in shadow, the same colour as the road and for no apparent reason but you don’t slow down and they’ll rip out your suspension. Keep your eyes peeled and slow down for them.

2)      BUS DRIVERS: The exception to the good driving is the bus drivers. They must be on some sort of speed related bonus because they drive as fast as they can regardless of the road. It doesn’t matter if there’s a blind corner or a stream of ongoing traffic they’ll still try to overtake you. So give them space and let them do their thing – if they want to kill themselves don’t let them take you with them. – of course it’s a different matter if you’re a passenger.

3)      DON’T DRIVE AT NIGHT: No street lights, Topes, random animals on the road, missing manhole covers – its just not worth it. Night is also the time when the Banditos come out (Allegedly) – don’t take the risk.

4)      WATCH OUT FOR ANIMALS: There are plenty of animals grazing at the side of the road – they can wander in front of you at anytime. Slow down and give them space. A cow will make a pretty sizeable dent in even the biggest truck.

5)      TOPES: Gotta say it again. You’ll learn to hate these things.

6)      KEEP TO THE SPEED LIMIT: It doesn’t matter if everyone else is driving at 100km/h in a 60 zone – if the cops spot a foreign plate its you they’ll pull over. Don’t give them the excuse.

7)      NO MORDIDA Today: Mordida is the little death – its what dodgy cops will try to get out of you for infractions whether real or imagined. Don’t pay. There are loads of techniques to avoid paying but the most important thing is don’t follow them to a location where you can’t be seen by everyone passing by – you do and your theirs.

8)      BEWARE YOUR GPS: We’ve got GPS maps for Mexico and you know what they’re pretty good. There is a big but though – They can be a nightmare in towns. The GPS doesn’t know how big you are and it doesn’t tend to know which roads are one way. The routes it tends to pick through towns don’t stick to the main roads and you can end up in tiny back alleys completely lost. Your GPS is a guide don’t let it stop you using common sense. Before you commit to turning down a road look to check it isn’t blocked or too tight.

9)      TOLL ROAD CHARGES: Always check the rate that they are charging you because they don’t always get it right. No Duals and not towing then you should pay the car rate – even if you are an 8 tonne truck.

10)   HOY NO CIRCULA:  The rules for this anti-pollution scheme in Mexico City and Mexico State are really complicated. Read up on them and try not to infringe. The closer you get to Mexico City the worse the cops are. Don’t make yourself a target. Be aware though that the scheme is suspended for December into January for foreigners in a program called “Programa Paisano” – I’m not sure If the cops know this though.

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