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Larry Landwehr

Driving is very different in Mexico. The only rule is that the bigger vehicle always has the right of way no matter what. Buses in town change lanes when they want, and stop whenever and wherever they want. Part of the reason for this is that bus drivers are not paid by the hour. Instead, they pay the bus company for the right to have a route. Then it is up to them to make as much money as possible, and as fast as possible. Consequently they will stop anywhere to pick up someone who is waving for a ride. Then they go like bat out of hell trying to drive their route as fast as possible. In fact, I have often seen buses leapfrog each other, competing to pick up riders before the other guy gets there first.

Besides having buses threatening to crush you, there are other hazards. Trees and bushes often hide traffic signs ­ if there are any. Right of way is often a matter of local custom. Potholes are numerous and deep. Once we saw an intersection where a manhole cover was gone. Drivers weaved their way around it for two weeks before it was fixed. After you’ve driven a street enough times, you memorize where the potholes are and avoid them in advance.

Intersections with traffic lights often have a sign, which consists of a circle with a curved arrow in it. This means you are not allowed to turn left on a green light. Instead you have to remain stationary until a second light shows a green arrow. Then you can make your left turn. This often jams up the cars behind the left turner if traffic is busy and they can’t change lanes, but even worse is when someone decides to turn left at an intersection without a light. The driver simply comes to a stop, with or without a flashing turn signal, and waits for a break in traffic. This really screws things up in heavy traffic.

Another neat road hazard is big trees growing near the side of the street. Sometimes the roots of the trees grow under the road and raise it up. The road department simply paves over them, which can result in your car getting tossed about. Another problem is trees whose roots bulge into the roadway. Mexicans simply pave around the roots, or even put a cement curb around the roots. It’s loads of fun to be driving along, and then suddenly encounter a cement and wood incursion into your lane of traffic.

Driving in the far right lane is not a smart thing to do either, because that’s where all the drainage grates are. I’ve learned to stay in the middle lane whenever possible.

Sometimes the hazards are visual distractions, like the time Mary and I saw girls in parkas when the temperature was near eighty degrees. We found out they were giving out free samples of Halls cough drops.

Other distractions are the people who jaywalk across streets anywhere they please. Sometimes they misjudge traffic and have to run for it. I have a fond memory of a well-endowed woman holding her boobs down as she ran for the side of the street.

Another thing to watch out for is pizza drivers on motorcycles. They cut through traffic any way they can. A pizza company in the US had a major lawsuit over their policy of delivering in thirty minutes or less (people were getting killed in traffic accidents). They still have that policy in Mexico.

When you park in Mexico, you often have to use a locking device like “The Club” to keep your car from being stolen. Only if there are parking lot attendants present can you just use your ordinary car locks. Besides guarding your car, these attendants stand near empty spots, so you can find a parking spot more easily. When you’re ready to leave, they stand behind your car, blocking traffic so that you can back out of your slot. You are expected to tip them two or three pesos for their help as you leave. Another thing they do is to transfer your packages from your shopping cart to your car. You get a lot of service for a small amount of money.

If you park on the street, you can often get your car washed by hand by eager young men as you shop or dine. The going price is about fifteen pesos.

When you come back from your shopping, don’t be surprised to find flyers under your windshield wipers. This is a major way of advertising in Mexico. In fact, flyers are often handed out at stoplights as well.

Quite often you will encounter the following situation: There will be two one-way streets running parallel to each other (see following figure). Each will have three lanes. In addition, there will be two more one-way streets acting as frontage roads. Each will have two lanes. All these roads are separated by medians.

----------------------------------<----------------------------------- |
----------------------------------<----------------------------------- | frontage road #1

----------------------------------<----------------------------------- |
----------------------------------<----------------------------------- | main road #1
----------------------------------<----------------------------------- |

---------------------------------->----------------------------------- |
---------------------------------->----------------------------------- | main road #2
---------------------------------->----------------------------------- |

---------------------------------->----------------------------------- |
---------------------------------->----------------------------------- | frontage road #2

Now imagine you are on frontage road #2 and want to get onto main road #2. If you’re Mexican, you often just climb the curb and drive across the grassy median. But sometimes there are trees blocking you from doing this, so you have to drive to an intersection with a cross street. There you find a green-arrow light. So you get in the left hand lane, stop at the light and wait for the arrow, right?

Wrong. The people in that lane actually want to turn onto the cross street. You, on the other hand, just want to do a little zigzag to get onto main road #2. So what you do, is to stop at the light alongside the cars that are actually turning onto the cross street. In effect, your form a new line of waiting cars, and completely block all traffic on the frontage road. But do not worry. Mexicans are a patient people. They will not haul you out of your car and club you to death like you so richly deserve.

If you try to do it the “right way” by joining the line waiting to turn onto the cross street, intending to abort your turn halfway through, and turn right onto the main road, you will be unable to do so because the clods who form the second lane will be in your way. If you hesitate, like I did, the first time I encountered this, because I didn’t want to go onto the cross street, you will block the people behind you and you will indeed hear honking horns. My advice is to do what everybody else does and just stop alongside those actually turning onto the cross street.

One final bit of advice for driving in Mexico: Take roadmaps with a grain of salt. Sometimes the map will show a road where there is no road. Other times there you will be driving on a road, which does not exist according to the map. Also, no street map can show you the third dimension, which is sometimes necessary when the street goes underground beneath some glorieta, and splits in three different directions. The only reliable roadmap is the one that forms in your head from experience.

Good luck while driving in Mexico. You’ll need it.

Published or Updated on: January 1, 2001 by Larry Landwehr © 2008
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