Keeping It On the Road in Mexico

Driving habits and sensibilities around the perceived benefits of following the rules of the road varies greatly by culture around the world. Things like adherence to traffic signals and controls, maintaining a driving lane and driver courtesy are different wherever you go. The level of attention displayed by drivers can be wildly different between individuals wherever you live, but it is still fair to say that driving conditions in general can be categorized by the country where you live.

Let’s be honest. Each of us judges the driving habits of others by our own standards. Anybody who drives much faster than we do is a ‘maniac’, while those who drive much more slowly are ‘sloths’. (I personally refer to slow drivers as ‘pylons’, but you get the idea.) Nobody actually believes they are a ‘bad’ driver. In fact, if you ask most people, they would probably describe themselves as an ‘above average’ driver, regardless of their skills.

Part of the problem with driving in many countries is the low bar that is set for new drivers. In Canada, things have changed dramatically since I took my driving test thirty-some years ago. Today, Canada has a graduated licensing system in most provinces that requires new drivers to spend time behind the wheel with reduced privileges. In other countries (like many European nations), getting licensed is a much more demanding process.

A friend was recently telling me about his experience with getting his driving license in Mexico. (Licensing is mandatory here, although anecdotal evidence would suggest that many people don’t bother with getting a license. They just slip the traffic cop a few pesos to ‘make it all better’ if they get pulled over.) The driving test is conducted on a video simulator. My friend said the test lasted all of 30 seconds. It involved him starting his virtual car and driving along a street. As he approached an intersection, the traffic light changed from green to amber. He decided to play it safe and stop (rather than running the yellow, as everyone here does). The instructor told him he did great and approved his license. That was the entire test.

Mexico is a very different driving culture than Canada. That statement alone fails to capture the awe and amazement induced by the state of driving here in Santiago de Querétaro. In Canada, driving is generally very orderly. There are specific rules of the road that apply, even when there are no posted traffic signs. For example, at an uncontrolled four way stop, drivers arriving simultaneously must yield to the driver on their right. Here in Mexico, drivers arriving simultaneously immediately push into the intersection, since whoever has their nose into the flow of traffic first has right-of-way. Hesitation by any driver just causes frustration, and amazingly, as long as everybody keeps moving (regardless of traffic signs to the contrary), things seem to work out 95% of the time. (Of course, the other 5% of the time the largely contention-based driving system here in Mexico resolves itself in damage and injury.)

The first three months of driving here in Mexico were difficult and confusing. The bizarre layout of certain intersections, strange mid-road traffic reversals and incomprehensible traffic controls made for a bumpy introduction to driving in a Latin American country. Oddly, the very things that I thought were so strange originally now seem ‘normal’! I remember being really worried about having to drive across the city for shopping. Navigation was confusing, and Google could barely keep up with the frequent exits and U-turns required to get to our destinations. Traffic was always pressing in on every side. If you dare to allow a car-length between you and the vehicle ahead of you, other drivers from both sides (including from the shoulder of the road) will jump into the gap. It was amazing to me that otherwise friendly, courteous people you meet on the street could turn into such aggressive traffic jockeys when situated behind a steering wheel!

When we first moved to Mexico in 2018, I brought with me a high-quality dash cam, as I was concerned about the driving and wanted to be sure that there was a clear record of events if I should ever find myself involved in a dispute after an accident. That camera has provided me with plenty of opportunities to capture Mexico driving at its finest. For that reason, I am pleased to share with you with my Querétaro driving compilation.

https://youtu.be/m-prxhm-j48

I hope you enjoy the video! Comment below to tell me what you liked the best.

2 Replies to “Keeping It On the Road in Mexico”

    1. Ha, yes, I guess that is a variable I did not specify. There was lots of other incidents I could have included, but I figure a 7 minute video is already plenty long!

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