There is one fundamental rule for driving in Mexico: EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED vs. what you are accustomed to. Most accidents involving visitors to Mexico are a result of the visitor not expecting or anticipating an unaccustomed, sudden change in traffic or road conditions.
For tourists, the single biggest cause of motor vehicle accidents on the highway is the narrow roadway with almost no shoulder. The drop-off from pavement to shoulder is usually several inches, so if a right side wheel drops off the pavement, it will almost certainly result in an accident.
This type of accident often results in the vehicle rolling over with significant damage to the vehicle and injuries to its occupants.
Is this type of accident avoidable? Sure it is.
Driver attention is enormously more important in Mexico because the roadways are much less forgiving than the wide, four lane highways we are spoiled with in Canada and the US.
Besides driver attention, here are a few other pointers that may make your trip safer:
- Be positive your vehicle is in top mechanical condition, especially the suspension and tires.
- Understand the width of your vehicle vs. the width of the highway you are traveling. This is even more important if you are towing a trailer that is wider than your tow vehicle.
- Don’t drive as fast on two lane highways in Mexico as you would on "two-laners" at home.
- Slow down when you enter small towns, being watchful for pedestrians, dogs, buses, carts.
- Watch for "Topes," the famous Mexican speed bumps. They are frequently unmarked.
- Avoid driving at night, but if necessary, wait outside a town for one of the many highway buses to go by, and then follow it at a safe distance of 50 yards or so. Let the bus run interference, and allow sufficient room to stop if necessary.
- If you don’t have a turning lane, don’t make left turns off major highways if traffic is coming up behind you. If you are hit from behind, it is your fault.
- Be especially vigilant for very slow moving vehicles, at any time.
- At night, don’t be surprised to overtake a slow moving vehicle with no lights showing from the rear.
- Don’t rely on brake lights on the vehicle in front of you as the only warning it is slowing down.
- If you have a choice, take toll roads vs. the free (“Libre”) roads. Toll roads are much safer.
- Understand one-way street markings. Some helpful hints:
- The one-way signs are usually attached to buildings 10 feet or so above ground level
- The signs are only about five-inches high x two-feet long and easy to miss
- Streets going in the direction of the GREEN → arrow have the right-of-way
- Streets going in the direction of the RED → arrow must yield the right-of-way
- When in doubt, it’s always safer (and smarter) to yield
- Know your route; if you get lost, don’t wander. Pull over and get oriented.
- If you can’t get oriented, consider hiring a taxi and follow it to where you want to go (paying the taxi when you arrive).
- Watch for pedestrians, hand carts, bicycles
- Understand the flow in traffic circles
Vehicle theft is as much a problem in Mexico as in Canada and the US. The difference is that a stolen car at home isn’t nearly as disruptive as it is while traveling in another country. Here are some tips that may protect your vehicle, and save a lot of aggravation on your trip:
- If your vehicle is equipped with a burglar alarm, USE IT!
- Tourist vehicles are targets, and are easily identifiable from local vehicles.
- Avoid on-street parking if at all possible.
- The bigger the city, the greater the risk.
- The large border cities are especially problematic.
- If you must park on-street, try to keep your vehicle in sight or check on it frequently.
- Stay in hotels and motels that offer 24-hour security in the parking area.
- If you park in a pay parking lot, don’t leave the parking ticket in your vehicle.
Logically, most people leave their Mexican auto insurance policy in their vehicle. But what if your vehicle is stolen? On a separate piece of paper, write down your Mexican auto insurance policy number and the telephone number of your Mexican insurance company to report claims. Keep this information in a wallet or purse so you will have it in case your vehicle is stolen.
Reporting a Claim
If you have an accident or claim in Mexico, you must report it to your Mexican insurance company before you leave Mexico. Failure to do so may result in your claim not being covered.
Your claim will be attended by an adjuster dispatched by your Mexican insurance company. The adjuster will make a written report and will detail any damage to your vehicle. You will be asked to sign the report, so to avoid discrepancies later, be sure you understand what you are signing.
Make sure all damaged parts of your vehicle are noted on the adjuster’s report. If your vehicle left the highway during the accident, check for damage underneath it and make sure it is noted in the report.
Be sure you receive a copy of the claim adjuster’s report.
- Use common sense.
- Remember you are a visitor and things may be done a little differently than at home.
- A smile and a friendly attitude go a long way toward gaining cooperation and friendship.
- If speaking English to a non-native-English speaker, speak slowing and clearly and avoid using slang.
- If you have questions or need help, perhaps we can help. Call (888) INS-4-MEX in the U.S.
Have a safe trip and be sure to enjoy all the natural, historical and cultural beauties Mexico has to offer.
A special thanks to Alan Kohl for all of his experience and help compiling the information provided on this page.