If you plan to visit Mexico in your car, you’re going to want to plan ahead. Foreign driving will expose you to risks with which you might not be familiar. This could pose a risk to your own safety and your vehicle’s integrity.
You need to carry a Mexican auto insurance policy if you enter the country. It is the law for most drivers, including American tourists. However, even if you get Mexican auto insurance, that doesn’t exempt you from the rules and hazards of the road.
Hazards to Expect on Mexican Roadways
Mexican roads have their fair share of hazards. Often, they will be similar to the hazards you might expect on any roadway in the U.S. You should always adhere to the same (if not more) safety precautions than you would back home.
Nevertheless, unique hazards might cause confusion for foreign drivers. Therefore, it’s best to know what you might encounter whenever you hit the road south of the border.
1. Unfamiliar road signs
Mexico, unlike the U.S. uses the metric system to measure distances and set speed limits. Therefore, you will likely encounter measurements unfamiliar to you. Pay attention to your speed at all times. Your car will often include metric measurements on the speedometer.
Most road signs will be in Spanish, and might appear unfamiliar to American drivers. Most Americans can locate a translation guide easily. They can help drivers familiarize themselves with common Spanish driving directions and signage.
2. Poor Visibility
Driving in poor visibility is bad no matter where you go. Slow down and use your headlights when driving after dark or in inclement weather.
Other visibility hazards might exist in Mexico that pose extra risks. For example, hazardous rural roads might pose risks if you can’t see how to navigate them. Certain roads might not have appropriate lighting. In places, particularly risky local drivers do not use their headlights at night.
3. Poorly-maintained roads
In Mexico, you might encounter unpaved roads, particularly in rural areas. Other paved roads, again in rural areas, might frequently go without maintenance. Drive carefully on these roads.
4. Toll roads
Many of Mexico’s roadways are toll roads. Always carry spare pesos in your vehicle. The good news about toll roads is that they are often very well-maintained and offer a lot of convenience.
Foreign drivers might encounter police or military checkpoints while driving. Usually, these checkpoint function like customs booths. The authorities are primarily looking for drugs, firearms or illegal foods. Don’t be afraid of these checkpoints.
Always be patient, friendly and approachable to the authorities. You should have your identification and insurance proof on hand. Consent to a vehicle search, if asked. Keep in mind, it is best to speak a few words of Spanish with the authorities. It will make understanding each other easier.
6. Police Corruption
Unfortunately, isolated police corruption does exist in Mexico. For example, you might encounter police who ignore driving charges in exchange for a bribe. You should only approach these situations with caution. Do not assume that the police are looking for bribes when they stop you. You might encounter more trouble if you attempt to bribe a police officer.
7. Different Driving Habits
Mexican drivers often drive differently than American drivers. For example, they might use their turn signals to let other drivers know that it is okay to pass them. Such practices are uncommon for Americans. Therefore, always drive with the utmost caution.
8. Roadside Bandits
Banditry is a threat on Mexican roads, particularly in areas where corruption exists. Robbers often try to flag down drivers under the pretense of car trouble. Foreign drivers should not attempt to stop for anyone who is not a uniformed police officer. Still, you will find that this threat is often only a passing thought as long as you exercise caution.
Many pedestrians do not use marked walkways when crossing the street. Sidewalks might not exist, and pedestrians frequently congregate or walk in roadways. Drivers should look out for pedestrians, as pedestrians usually have the right of way. Drive slowly, and use your lights and horns as necessary.
10. Loose Animals
In both rural and urban areas, feral animals might stray onto roadways. These are common hazards that could lead to significant vehicle damage.
11. Inexperienced Mechanics
Most Mexican mechanics can make excellent repairs, even at a lower cost than their American counterparts. However, American drivers might encounter inexperienced mechanics who don’t have familiarity with certain makes and models of American cars. If you feel you need repairs, always seek a mechanic who will be able to diagnose your problem and service your car fairly.
If you experience any accidents or other problems, contact the local authorities. You should also have your Mexican auto insurance ready and with you at all times on the road.