You have your Mexican vehicle insurance, your trip is planned, and you’re really excited about driving in Mexico. To make your trip even more enjoyable, it’s crucial you understand that driving etiquette in Mexico is significantly different to that of driving in the US. We’ve put together some important points to help you feel safe and secure on your trip. By paying attention to our practical advice you can be relaxed in the knowledge that your trip will run as smoothly as possible.
1. Stay safe
This may seem obvious, but try and keep you and your companions safe. Firstly, road conditions are a challenge in Mexico. Some roads are well-maintained, while others have potholes that can flatten a tire or break an axle! The further you travel from the main towns, the trickier the roads become. It’s recommended to drive a four-wheel-drive vehicle with high ground clearance, especially if you do plan to visit off-the-beaten-path locations.
Secondly, be mindful of the police. Corruption amongst police is commonplace and tourists are often taken advantage of because they do not speak Spanish nor do they understand the rules. Don’t assume they want a bribe, be polite and respectful and follow their orders.
And finally, watch the behavior of the vehicles around you carefully, but don’t necessarily follow their lead. Drunk driving in Mexico is very common, especially at night. And remember, you should never drink and drive!
2. Stick to the toll roads
If you haven’t driven in Mexico before, and especially if you are not very fluent in Spanish, stick to the toll roads. These privately owned modern “Cuota” toll roads are generally much faster than the free “Libre” roads; these roads will slow you down considerably as you travel through small towns and villages. Though, it must be said, these roads are much more interesting.
Toll roads can be tricky. However, when driving in Mexico it’s advised you do use them but they can be expensive. And even with the price, some might not reach the desired standard. Remember, insurance is included in the price of the toll so make sure you keep your receipt, because you must report damage caused to your car by the toll road at the next immediate tollbooth.
Driving on the toll roads is good. There are clean bathrooms and snack shops, pure luxury!
Although you’re probably aware of this (especially if you’ve browsed our great site already) you must purchase Mexican auto insurance if you plan on driving your own vehicle into Mexico. If a driver from the US has a traffic accident in Mexico, they must have the means to settle any damages or injuries they’re responsible for. We aren’t trying to scare you, but if you are in an accident and someone is injured or killed, you may end up in jail, no matter whose “fault” it is. So, be sensible, get the right Mexican vehicle insurance.
4. Driving in Mexico at night
Driving at night can be particularly challenging. Many guidebooks and travelers advise against this. When driving the “Libre” roads at night you are likely to encounter pedestrian traffic, animals, slow moving traffic, road hazards and the occasional person who has fallen asleep or is simply sitting on the road. So, watch out! Driving on toll roads is safer, though the roads may have poor lighting and sometimes may be used by pedestrians.
5. Learn some basic Spanish
Mexico is a big country, it’s recommended you check route maps before you travel – there are lots of good resources out there. But also, spend some time studying road signs and other directions in Spanish. You can simply Google signs such as ALTO (STOP) or CURVE PELIGROSA (DANGEROUS CURVE). But we recommend you brush up on as many signs as possible before you start driving in Mexico. Apart from keeping you safe, it’s also fun to learn a new language!
6. Stick to local speed limits
The maximum speed limit in the city is 40km/h, outside of the city its 80km/h, and on the highways its 100km/h. It’s advisable to drive at or below the speed limit, to make sure you aren’t violating any local laws.
7. Top up your gas whenever you can
Along major roadways you will find PEMEX gas stations at various intervals. However, once you leave the toll roads, gas stations may not be so conveniently located so always top up your tank once the indicator falls below half a tank. Don’t be caught short!
8. Be aware of “Topes” aka speed bumps
If you see a yellow highway sign with a thick horizontal black line with circular bumps, slow right down! Topes are Mexican speed bumps, and they mean business! Do not hit these at full speed. They vary in height size so always approach them slowly, if they are very high you may have to bring the vehicle to a stop.
9. Pay attention to your environment
In the rainy season keep your ears and eyes open for landslides or, especially in the mountains, falling rocks. During rainstorms, you can expect flooding on the roads due to a lack of proper drainage, and dirt roads will often turn into mud roads. Rain in Mexico can be very different to rain in the US.
10. Driving in the Mexico mountains
Being in the mountains of Mexico is a rewarding experience but there are certain rules to be aware of. When on steep, narrow or single lane roads, uphill traffic has the right of way over downhill traffic. If you are driving downhill and you see oncoming traffic, pull over to the side of the road, and either slow down or stop. If you are going uphill, use caution as other drivers may not know the rules. Always keep your cool when driving in the mountains. Don’t try to pass big trucks on blind curves. Be patient, eventually there will be a pull-out or slightly wider section where it will be safe to pass.
11. Military checkpoints
Yes, you can expect checkpoints along most major and minor roads manned by the Mexican military, and they will mostly be armed. You will be asked for your driver’s license and driver information, and your vehicle will be searched. They do not accept bribes of any sort, don’t even try. They are looking for drugs or weapons, so stay calm as you won’t have those on you!
There you have it! 11 handy tips to safely guide you when driving in Mexico. You may feel like this is a lot to take in but use your common sense and your trip will be full of the rewards that traveling through Mexico can bring. To get a great quote for your Mexican auto insurance, click here.