Driving in Mexico


Mexican Stop Sign

Driving in México has been my greatest, and perhaps most dangerous, accomplishment ever. I almost didn’t drive there after my cousin warned me that no driver obeys the rules of the road. However, I was due for an adventure since I do live a very boring life. As soon as I entered México, I noticed the driving difference immediately. In Nuevo Laredo, the streets were narrower and street venders were at every major intersection peddling their wares. Most lane markings were nonexistent. All the drivers accelerated quickly and stopped even faster when necessary. In Monterrey, I was fascinated by the different configuration of traffic signals. The green light flashes three times before it turns yellow. Then, there are two, count them, two red lights side by side. I honestly thought this meant that I should stop at the red light. Boy, was I wrong! All the cars behind me beeped at me until I drove through the red light.

As I was driving on the highway, I was fascinated by the road signs so much that I began to write them down as I drove. Of course, this made me swerve several times and once I almost drove off the edge of a cliff. I liked the fact that these white rectangular signs appeared on both sides of the road. In the U.S., whenever I need to read an important road sign, I usually can’t read it because it’s obstructed by a passing semi. Here are some of the signs that I saw while driving in México.

PONGASE VIVO
USE EL CINTURON
DE SEGURIDAD

In México, it’s the law for front-seat passengers to wear seatbelts. I always wear my seatbelt anyway since I believe it has previously saved me from serious injury in my previous accidents.

GUARDE SU DISTANCIA
Don’t tailgate. However, if you’re in the fast lane and you’re not driving way over the speed limit, drivers will rapidly approach your rear bumper flashing their left turn signal (that means they want to pass you) and you better move into the right lane!

DISMINUYA SU VELOCIDAD
Reduce speed. This sign appears whenever approaching a town or tollbooth. However, no one actually slows down.

RESPETE LIMITE DE VELOCIDAD
Obey the speed limit. I’m not sure why someone posted this sign along all the highways. No one obeys the speed limit and traffic enforcement is virtually nonexistent.

RESPETE EL SEÑALAMIENTO
Obey road signs. Once again, I’m not sure why these signs are posted. I see these signs more as suggestions than anything else.

CUANDO TOME
NO MANAJE

If you drink, don’t drive. In general, everone was afraid to drink and drive because of the consequences if arrested for drinking and driving. Besides, no driver can survive the driving habits of other Mexican drivers even if they’re only slightly impaired.

MANEJE CON PRECAUCION
Drive cautiously. That’s just a given for every driver. No one gets behind the wheel in México without dreading pulling into traffic. In fact, there are many Mexicans who don’t have a driver’s license simply because they’re afraid of the Mexican traffic.

OBEDEZCA LAS SEÑALES
Obey signals. I think this another one of those signs that is more of a recommendation than anything else.

NO DEJE PIEDRAS
SOBRE EL PAVIMIENTO

Do not leave rocks on pavement. I really didn’t understand this sign at all. As I drove, I attempted to decode this mysterious sign to no avail. I finally asked one of my cousins who told me that sometimes drivers use rocks to prevent the car from rolling when changing a flat tire and then leave the rocks on the shoulder.

TRANSITO LENTO
CARRIL DERECHO

Slower traffic, keep right. But be careful because the right lane sometimes contains traffic that is inexplicably at a complete standstill.

CARRIL IZQUIERDO
SOLO PARA REBAZAR

Left lane for passing only. Even if you’re passing another vehicle and a faster vehicle comes along, you better get out of the way!

LO MEJOR DE TUS VACACIONES
REGRESAR A TU CASA

The best thing about your vacation, returning home. Of course, they don’t mention what condition your mental state will be in after driving among countless reckless drivers, in the Mexican mountains, on roads with little or no road markings, no median protection, or the complete lack of guardrails on the edges of cliffs with precipitous drops.

PISO MOJADO
Wet pavement. Luckily, the streets were dry the whole time I was in México. Driving was challenging enough without complicating things with wet pavement.

UTILICE EL CINTURON DE SEGURIDAD
Use your seatbelt. Most people put on their seatbelt willingly due to the driving conditions and risks involved rather than fear of the law.

CON NIEBLA
DISMINUYA SU VELOCIDAD

Slow down in fog. I didn’t actually see any fog, but I’m sure drivers will slow down with zero visibility. At least, I hope so.

CON NIEBLA
ENCIENDA SUS LUCES

Turn on lights in fog. I’ve driven in fog in California and I know that if you turn on your headlights you still can’t see what lies ahead. And if you turn on your high beams, you will be blinded. However, other drivers may see your taillights and avoid rear-ending you. At least, I always hoped so.

CONCEDA CAMBIO DE LUCES
Dim your lights if someone flashes their brights at you. Okay, their was enough traffic on both sides of the highway after dark that it was impossible to use your brights. Oh, yes, those drivers who want to pass you will flash their brights at you at night if you’re in the left lane and not going at least 40 KPH over the speed limit.

NO MALTRATE LAS SEÑALES
Do not damage the signs. All the road signs I saw were in good condition, unlike in America where some signs have shotgun pellet markings caused by some good ol’ boy.

NO DAÑE LAS SEÑALES
Do not damage the signs. Again, but with different wording. These signs must work because all the road signs I saw were intact.

NO PRENDA FUEGO
SOBRE EL PAVIMIENTO

Do not light fires on pavement. I’m not sure what this sign means, since I didn’t actually see any fires on the road, I did, however, see people living on the side of the highway in makeshift shelters with fires in front and people tirelessly waving down drivers for money. Some drivers actually stopped and contributed.

NO CIRCULAR POR
EL ACOTAMIENTO

Do not drive on the shoulder. I find this sign incredibly amazing because on many sections of the highway there is no shoulder at all!

NO TIRE BASURA
Do not litter. In general, drivers didn’t litter. There are plenty of garbage cans along the highway that are well-marked in advance for you to stop in time and dispose of your garbage. I only wished that the gas stations were also marked as well. I missed one gas station because no signs announced its location and I didn’t see it because it was behind the side of a mountain.

NO MANEJE CANSADO
Do not drive tired. This sign is totally useless. If you drive for more than an hour in México, you will be tired. Most drivers were always alert.

TRAMO SINUOSO
Winding road. This stretch of road was actually fun to drive if you didn’t look over the edge of the cliff for too long and imagine your horrific death.

CURVAS PELIGROSAS
Dangerous curves. Take this sign seriously. They really do mean dangerous curves, especially since chances there won’t be any shoulder or guardrails to save you if you veer off the road.

FRENE CON MOTOR
Brake with motor. In the U.S., the roads signs prohibit engine braking, but in México if you don’t, you’ll probably wear out your brakes before you get to your final destination.

VEHICULO SIN FRENOS
SIGA LA LINEA ROJA

Vehicles without brakes, follow the red line. So I’m driving in the lane with the red line go down a very steep incline and I’m constantly looking in the rearview mirror for runaway vehicles with no brakes. I felt safer when I drove in the other lane. The red line eventually leads the vehicle off the main highway to an adjacent road that rises sharply, presumably to slow the vehicle down, and ends with a steep cliff at the end. Pretty scary!

VIAJE CON SEGURIDAD
Drive safely. You must multi-task while driving. The only way to drive safely in México is to drive defensively AND offensively simultaneously.

CEDA EL PASO
Yield. You must always be prepared to yield–at any moment, on any stretch of the road. I thought I was about to run over a bicyclist who made a u-turn in front of me as I was driving 120 KPH. This only happened to me once since bicycles are prohibited on the highway.

NO CIRCULAR POR FAJA
SEPARADORA CENTRAL

Do not drive on the median strip. This sign is totally unnecessary. If anyone is foolish enough to drive on the median strip, they will total their car and/or kill themselves.

TUNEL PROXIMO
ENCIENDA LUCES

Approaching tunnel, turn on lights. And you better turn on your lights because the tunnel is very, very long if they actually post this sign. And, there are no lights in the tunnel other than your own!

To me the scariest part of driving through México was this godforsaken stretch of highway in the state of San Luis Potosí where not one single FM radio station was broadcast. The horror, the horror! In summary, you will never forget driving in México, even if just as a passenger. On the one hand, Mexican drivers are reckless and don’t respect the driving laws. On the other hand, I didn’t witness even one accident the whole time I was in México.

Click here if you would like to see more driving vocabulary in Spanish:

http://davidrodriguez.us/glosarios/trafico.html

¿Por qué paraste? ¿El semáforo está rojo? ¿Y qué?

Published by

David Diego Rodríguez, Ph.D.

I write about whatever comes to mind. También enseño español y escribo acerca de los mexicanos y la enseñanza del español.