If you have driven in Mexico for any length of time, this story is not for you. You will say it’s just the “same-old”. For those here on a short trip or those planning a drive into Mexico without past experience, here are a few things that may seem a bit strange to USA drivers.
The first thing you cannot help but notice are the topes (lane-wide speed bumps). Sure, you will find these north of the border as well (though not as many as you will find in Mexico), but they can be anywhere. They may or may not be at the entrance to town, on an approach to or leaving an intersection or curve in the road, probably in front of a school or government building, and they certainly will be located almost anywhere that you see someone standing in the middle of the road selling something or asking for spare coins (you have to slow down = opportunity).
If there is a speed limit change or sign, keep your eyes on the pavement. They are NOT well marked (paint worn off long ago) and some of these topes can launch your vehicle unless you are driving at crawling speed. Many a catalytic converter has ended up on the road because of some tope encounter.
Until you get used to the town and the lay of the land, the best way to watch for topes (or potholes, etc.) is to keep an eye on the traffic ahead of you to see if everyone slows way down at the same place and/or watch for other telltale signs such as speed limit signs, schools, etc. If you’re driving a vehicle that it very low to the ground, you may even have to approach some of them at an angle to avoid scraping the bottom of your car. But, take heart, before long, you know where they are and can even avoid most of them if you so desire by taking alternate routes.
So, about that left turn signal…
If, while driving in the US, you come up behind a vehicle with the left-hand turn signal on, it likely indicates to you that the driver wishes to turn left at the next intersection or change lanes – or that someone has forgotten to turn off their turn signal.
Here in Mexico, it’s the same but different. In Mexico, if that left blinker is going, it becomes a bit of a logic puzzle. You see, there are many more ways in which it may be interpreted and it’s up to you to figure out which is correct. You have to take into account such things as surrounding terrain, upcoming intersections, age of vehicle and driver, and license plate. Using all the information, you MAY be able to make a semi-educated guess at what that driver intends to do.
While conventional wisdom would say that any coherent person would have his left-turn signal on because he’s planning on turning left at some point within the foreseeable future, conventional wisdom doesn’t prevail here. Mexican wisdom prevails, and rightly so. In which case, you’ve got to consider all the factors stated above, plus the Mexican mindset. Not an easy puzzle.
Here are some of the things that a blinking left-turn signal on a vehicle can mean:
(1) I am going to change lanes or turn left at the next street/entrance on the left (quite rare)
(2) It’s okay to pass me now, no on-coming traffic (at least that I can see)
(3) I’m going very slow, it’s just that only my left blinker works when I turn on my flashers
(4) I want to turn left but there’s on-coming traffic so I’ll be pulling over to the right shoulder/turnout to wait until it clears and then I’ll make my left turn
(5) The vehicle(s) in front of me is (are) going REALLY slowly and I’m advising you to slow way down too, but only the left side of my blinkers work (see #3 above)
(6) I’m old and I forgot to turn off my left blinker miles ago
(7) I’m double-parked and this is the way I indicate that you should just go around me.
Any of those reasons can be combined with others. Deciding what a left-turn signal means here in Mexico is a crap shoot (or, to put it more tastefully, a logic puzzle, as I said above). It’s just one of the many things that make driving here what might be referred to as “adventure driving”.
Seat Belts and Riding in the Back of the Pickup:
Riding in the back of a pickup truck is something most of us lived through while growing up. For some reason, Mexicans riding in the back of a pickup seem to have the need to sit on the tailgate or edge of the box, and never in the bed. Tie this with topes and passing procedures and one really has to wonder how often this leads to disaster. It’s rather interesting to pass a Cinturon Obligatorio (seat belts are mandatory) sign, while seeing a bunch of guys standing in the bed of the pickup, so the sign apparently means nothing to the Transito police. I guess that sign was meant for someone else.
Is Stopping at an ALTO Sign Optional?
While it may seem that this rule isn’t followed by everyone, the short answer is, NO, not Optional. You must stop. At least that would be my recommendation these days. I did a story a couple years ago in which I pointed out that I regularly ran 3 or 4 stop signs on my way into work every day. Since that time, they have dramatically increased the fines (around $700 Pesos) and started enforcing them much more aggressively. I do stop at them now (well, there still may be a few that don’t count), and I encourage everyone to do the same. All that said, you will undoubtedly find that this rule doesn’t seem to apply to taxi cab drivers and some other local vehicles. Drive defensively because you really don’t know if someone is going to stop or not.
This article is brought to you by the Sonoran Resorts Sales Group, www.sonoranresorts.mx, Jim Ringquist, Director of Sales and Marketing.