The Thing I Like Most About Driving in Mexico

When my wife and I moved to Mexico full time back in 2015, one of the things that I had to get used to was a completely different style of driving. I learned quickly that the lines on a road were merely suggestions and that a two-lane road quickly could turn into a three or four lane road. That’s not something that I necessarily like, but I really don’t mind it either.

The thing I like most is that drivers, as a rule, are very patient with one another. In fact, I have never seen a single incident of road rage in five years of driving in Mexico.

By road rage, I’m referring to all of the those discourteous ways that drivers in the United States typically express displeasure to their fellow motorists: tailgating, slamming on their brakes, 3-5 second horn blasts, making rude hand gestures, screaming profanities, and/or trying to get the other driver to engage in a physical confrontation.

I’ve never seen any of those things happen here. Not in urban areas or rural. Not in bumper to bumper traffic or even when someone gets cut off. It’s really been a nice change from what I was accustomed to back in the States.

Putting the Theory to the Test in Baja California

We recently flew into the Mexican city of Tijuana and rented a car to drive to Valle de Guadalupe. That was my first time in Tijuana and I was not familiar with the roads at all. To make matters worse, the sun was setting and traffic was fairly heavy.

We put our faith in the GPS to lead us safely to our destination but quickly discovered that it wasn’t very accurate when it came to roundabouts with multiple roads coming out of them.

“Take the next right” isn’t very helpful when there are potentially half a dozen possible rights. I chose incorrectly a few times only to hear the GPS version of a game show buzzer – “recalculating.”

During this time, I was darting across numerous busy lanes of traffic to make turns, and on one occasion, I even backed up on a one-way road weaving through the slow moving traffic. Not one person ever blew a horn or even appeared to be annoyed at all. Everyone adjusted their driving to accommodate me including coming to a complete stop, if necessary, to let me by.

After we made it to the main toll road that would lead us down the coast toward Valle de Guadalupe, I looked at Linda and asked, “Can you imagine how people would have reacted if I had driven like that in the States?”

“Very differently.” She answered with a smile.

Let’s Wrap This Up

Just to be clear here. I’m not saying that everyone follows the traffic rules here, far from it, people pass on blind curves, make left hand turns from the extreme right lane across multiple lanes of traffic, speed, pass on the shoulder, ignore stop signs etc. — but the thing that is lacking is the anger and the aggressive driving for the sole purpose of exacting revenge against another driver.

That’s why people were so patient with me when I was in Tijuana. My driving that day was actual normal by Mexican standards.

My advice for anyone driving in Mexico for the first time is to keep your head on a swivel, expect the unexpected, be patient, and always be prepared to “adjust” your driving in response to the traffic around you.

Oh, and for goodness sake, stay out of the left hand lane on the highway unless you’re passing. That’s for the high speed folks and you don’t want to get in their way.

Well, that’s it for today. Happy motoring!

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About the Author

Qroo Paul
Paul Kurtzweil (Q-Roo Paul) was a deputy sheriff in Florida for 25 years before retiring at the rank of lieutenant in 2015. He and his wife moved to Mexico looking to maximize their retirement income. They later started a blog called Two Expats Mexico (qroo.us) to share their experiences as well as information about the logistical and legal aspects of retiring south of the border.

32 Comments on "The Thing I Like Most About Driving in Mexico"

  1. Ha great post! My wife and I are always amazed how few accidents we see considering what would happen in the States. Road rage is pretty non-existent and somehow everything just sort of works. The only caveats are when the light turns green and the taxi behind you instantly beeps or having a collectivo racing behind you.

  2. Douglas Scott Parham | March 2, 2020 at 2:54 pm | Reply

    more than that, I have only seen one fender bender here in Mex and that was a low velocity accident where no one was hurt and very little body damage. People are defensive drivers here in Mex…viva la solidaridad!

  3. Excellent advice. There a few taxi drivers in Puerto Vallarta that do love to use their horn though. Most do not!

  4. We noticed that when we were walking in San Miguel de Allende, drivers would stop and wait for us to cross the street instead of expecting us to wait for them to pass by. So courteous! So much to love about Mexico!!!

    • I also noticed that in SMA. However, don’t count on it in Oaxaca! Safest place to cross the street is in the middle of the block, because hardly anyone stops for pedestrians at intersections, and in the middle of the block, at least you can see them coming. 😉

  5. I would bet that you haven´t driven in Chiapas during end of work evenings, talk about rude horn blowing, and patience does not exist. I will agree with you about some parts of Mexico, but once in one of the border towns a favorite of the locals was to tap your rear bumper when stopped at a light. At times you seriously consider getting out and checking for damage, can you imagine if your wife was driving. A glorietta was recently installed in the town where we live with five incoming lanes, the rule of traffic in the glorietta has the right-of-way has never been heard of and no signs to indicate a rule, especially by combee and taxi drivers. The pizza delivering moto riders are equally annoying. But as you say, it´s amazing how few accidents we have. Sometimes I wonder if it´s not better without rules and signs, therefore too much is not assumed and you learn to drive defensively. I hope your luck holds.

  6. JoAnn Jackson, RN, BSN | March 2, 2020 at 3:28 pm | Reply

    Paul….I am so glad that you had a good driving experience while in Tijuana and driving to the Valle de Guadalupe. I have lived down here for 9 years and can tell you that that is not the norm. It has been my experience that you have to always drive defensively in order to survive the plethora of driver’s who will cross over two lanes to turn in front of you…No signal or any indication that they are about to do so. Many have no license and no insurance. I am a former ICU nurse and am astounded at the number of fatal, rollover accidents I have seen as well as bodies in the road that have been hit and killed. The norm down here is to not stop for a pedestrian accident, so hit and run is frequent and very sad.

  7. Sergio Sanchez | March 2, 2020 at 3:29 pm | Reply

    Being of the Southern California area I would asked a taxi driver why was it so quiet on the streets. He stated that if you honk you are liable to get shot. Don’t know if that is true or not.

  8. Great article, it directly mirrors what we have experienced here in Mexico – the patience and courteous attitude of Mexican drivers, no matter the situation, is amazing. Where we are living we have some awful traffic congestion on the carretera because of traffic having outgrown the existing infrastructure – however we constantly see people letting people in from the side streets and even lanes both way stopping to allow someone to turn round to go back in the direction that they came from. Yes, the GPS is often very unreliable in cities – we have even been directed to leave the main road and cross under through a culvert – but the forgiving attitude of Mexican drivers makes it all work. In Saltillo we were in a situation where we needed to enter the highway and immediately exit the other side across 4 lanes of traffic – it worked!

  9. I know, right?? We moved to TJ in June and I love driving here! The laws are suggestions, and common sense as well as looking out for other people is the common law. It’s so nice to be trusted to use your common sense! My favorite thing? U-turns can take place ANYWHERE. We were new and I misunderstood a left turn, so went down the wrong way. I went over a raised median (my vehicle has higher clearance) when I realized the traffic was coming at me. In one very busy part of the city there is communal horn-blowing when someone creates a traffic jam, but it is somehow still good natured.

  10. Here in Oaxaca the traffic is usually very heavy and bumper to bumper. Old cities are like that with narrow streets and double parked cars everywhere creating choke points. It takes a great deal of patience to navigate the congestion. But most drivers here are very courteous and will accommodate you if you need to merge or cross a street. Here “uno y uno” is the norm except for traffic lighted intersections on major roads. Oh my! But the taxis! They make their own rules and will cut you off in a heartbeat. And I am pretty sure they have to replace their car horn often for the excessive long blasts in stopped traffic. Like the long blaring blast from the horn is going to magically make the traffic move.

    One last note. I’m not sure if “motocycletas” are as numerous in other places but these crazy cyclist in Oaxaca can zip past you on both sides of your car weaving through traffic in the most carefree manner.

  11. Driving in Mexico, I have experienced drivers riding right up on my bumper trying to “push” me down the 307, but it was more “I’m in a hurry, obviously you’re not but could you please a) move over; or b) speed up a little just so I could get around you … Gracias”. No slowing down to give me an evil look, I wasn’t even a thought in their rear view once they passed me. But I will say them coming out of a “Camino privado” still takes some getting used to … and don’t even let me start on the “suggested “alto” sign. But, yes, they are more courteous then the US drivers.

  12. Hiya Paul,
    In the department of lane designations being suggestions, rather than actual boundaries for driving activity, I’d like to suggest you watch the video “Fluffy goes to India”, where Fluffy analyzes this phenomenon as it concerns India. You might find, as I did, that it all bears an uncanny resemblance to driving in Mexico, but with all of the spaces for any kind of navigation or accident avoidance already overfilled, and drivers driving on the wrong side of the road to boot!
    No road rage in India, just a sense of impending doom -probably from a head-on collision (that never happens – at least to us).
    The rush-hour traffic around Vallarta looks absolutely sparse, compared to what we experienced in the relatively low-density state of Kerala. The amazing thing about the traffic over there is that it continues to move. No highway parking lots – cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians (and don’t forget tuk-tuks!) get on sidewalks, make new lanes between existing lanes, pass on the wrong side – you name it! Anything to keep moving!
    I feel that I can take a relaxing deep breath now that I’m back on the right side of the road in Mexico!
    While I don’t exactly think our drivers in Nayarit and Jalisco are exactly aggression-free, a trip to India can work wonders to put things into perspective.

  13. hello congraulations.
    we moved tomx from las vegas nv
    i can’t understand how hard it is to register a automobile from the U. S. ITS EASY IN THE U.S FOR ANYONE.

  14. Ron Stromstad | March 2, 2020 at 7:49 pm | Reply

    Agree. While I think MX drivers can be a little crazy, I’ve only been honked at twice in two winters, due to my indecision as to where to go. Once I learned that Mexican drivers don’t give you the right of way, you have to take it, no problems. I think they expect us to drive like them. No problemo.

  15. That’s hilarious we
    Lived in Cabo for six months and I
    Always said the stop signs were just a suggestion for the locals

  16. You are kidding, right?? You obviously drove in parts of Mexico I’ve never been or where I live. Here traffic lights are just suggestions. You have about a half a nanosecond after a light changes before multiple horns start honking. Motos weave in and out of traffic with 3 or 4 people on board. Both taxis and motos are regularly involved in accidents. Cars and busses pass on blind corners. No one follows any speed limits. There are no requirements to get a driver’s license, just money. You have to drive defensively at all times. And that’s the reality here. Be careful out there.

    • Cars do pass on blind corners, drift into other lanes and drive fast, but the thing that is lacking is the anger and aggressive driving for the sole purpose of exacting some sort of revenge against other drivers, You do need to drive defensively, of course.

  17. I don’t know exactly how came upon your page, but after reading it I contacted my bank about the conversion of dollars to pesos, they said they do it all the time…..so today I made a little money.
    Thank you

    By the way I was on the job myself in New York after I got back from Nam in 69, my father was on the job for 30 years in the same Precinct in NY.
    I have lived down here on the beach for 14 years. Got down after my wife died.. I rent a big house in a gated compo and pay 250 dollars a month, totally off grid, I have solar, wifi, ac, satellite and alot more plus my weekly card game.

    Again thanks

  18. Living in Puerto Aventuras we frequently drive on the highway into Playa Del Carmen. Unfortunately we frequently see cars tailgating at high speeds, beeping at the slightest provocation, passing in an unsafe fashion often resulting in a car being cut off and the list goes on. Sadly we see many serious accidents on this stretch of highway. Compared to the driving we have experienced in other areas of Mexico, I would say the driving here can be crazy. I must say though that drivers on the highway beyond Puerto Aventuras into Akumal and Tulum seem to be much more courteous.

    • I agree that cars do drive fast and if you’re in the left lane, they will flash their lights or drive closely to get you to move over but it’s not out of anger. They don’t glance over at you once you move or make a gesture. The driving may seem a bit “crazy” compared to U.S. standards but the anger isn’t there at all.

  19. I’ve been driving from the states to Puerto Vallarta for years – sometimes crossing at Laredo – and driving through Guadalajara and other times crossing at Nogales and pretty much following inland from the coast… I’ve probably made 20 round trips! I used to travel at night – no more. I drove to Puerto Vallarta two weeks ago – crossing at Nogales. On the way down I got stopped in Navajoa and EXTORTED for $300 USD! I was stopped going through the middle of town (that’s where the highway takes you) – and was stopped by a local cop – a fat guy who DEMANDED $300 USD. He didn’t care about my papers, he didn’t ask to see my permits. I did NOT do anything wrong. It was mid afternoon on a Sunday. I tried talking to him, reasoning with him, etc. Nothing worked. He feigned that he didn’t speak English – but he could clearly say $300 U. S. dollars! And “Two Tickets”. I told him to go ahead and give me the tickets – and he wouldn’t – just kept demanding $300 USD. I got out my phone to use the translator and he MADE me put it down! After a while he said to follow him (along with the other guy in the truck) to the edge of town. I thought we were going to the Police Station – but he just stopped at the edge of town and, again, demanded $300 USD. I finally paid him. I know “they” say not to do this – but it’s easy to say when you aren’t the victim!

    On the way back, I was stopped by a federal officer of some sort (not a Federale) at one of countless checkpoints along the way – and at every state border crossing. The reason for the trip was to haul back some of our goods that we had left when we moved back to the states a year and a half ago… Anyway, my wife makes jewelry and has quite a collection of beads to make the jewelry with. I had a lot of it in the back seat – in boxes normally used as tackle boxes. One of the “officers” said that it was illegal to have or transport Chinese products. He didn’t even look to see if they were from China. Most are from the U. S. or Austria! He kept demanding this and that. I pushed back this time – as I wasn’t going to be extorted twice in one trip!. Finally, he said he’d give me a “bread” and ONLY charge me 1,000 pesos (about $55). I asked for a receipt, but he refused to give me one. The Chinese thing was BS – as Mexico now has lots of goods made in China! He just wanted a payday.

    I am so fed up with this crap. I won’t ever go back!

    PLEASE POST THIS – AS YOUR READERS NEED TO HEAR WHAT CAN HAPPEN – AND DOES HAPPEN!

    J. R.

  20. I like that when you need to make a left turn on a busy 2 lane highway you move to the right to so you don’t stop traffic, when clear you make your turn. Also when following big trucks or slow drivers they will put their left turn signal on letting you know it’s safe for you to pass them. We have driven many miles in this country and yes many one way streets and no one gets upset not even the police.

  21. I love driving in Mexico, but speaking of driving in the left lane, It really annoys me when I am the one one in the LEFT lane, with my signal light on, getting ready to turn left at a retorno, and some guy driving twice the speed limit rushed up behind me flashing his lights for me to get out of the way. This happens quite often to me, mainly because I’m not familiar with the area and do not know how quickly the retorno is coming up, so I get in the left lane sooner than I may need, so I won’t miss it.

  22. MICHAEL WIMSATT | March 3, 2020 at 4:53 pm | Reply

    Not sure it extends to taxi and colectivo drivers. I like the one was stoplights.

  23. Deane Felthauser | March 8, 2020 at 9:16 am | Reply

    You hit it on the head, exactly. The thing missing while driving does seem to be the anger. We drove everyday of a 2 week vacation, the longest day being 6.5 hours from one destination to another. Toll roads, non toll roads, side streets and some streets I would not have taken my SUV from home on. But with one exception, a gringo in an Escalade, we never saw anything like road rage or even aggressive driving. And almost no “distracted drivers” with cellphones in hand.

  24. Extreme tailgating at breakneck speeds, flashing lights and left blinker to signal that someone wants to pass you (so get out of the way!), cutting through 2 or 3 lanes of traffic in order to make an exit at the last moment… driving in Mexico is like driving in the lawless Wild West. Plenty of times the worst drivers will be the police (when there is no emergency).

    Yes, as the article points out, you can get away with things that you wouldn’t be able to in the US, but that’s also the source of the problem. Driving here is unbelievably reckless. I’m in Querétaro. There really isn’t any law and order on the road. Granted, I’m not in an expat haven where I’d imagine it’s quite different.

    By the way, anyone else notice that people leave their blinkers (particularly the left one) on ALL THE TIME? I think that it’s the left blinker because they want to signal that they want to pass (for this reason, the left blinker is used significantly more than right blinker!). I’ll see cars everyday that have the left blinker left on for kilometers. I don’t get how people don’t hear the *click, click, click* and turn it off. I think it’s a an interesting example of the huge cultural differences between life in Mexico vs the US in the way that people are so much more carefree and careless in Mexico.

    • The first thing you mentioned is what every foreigner cites but they aren’t angry when their flashing. Mexico culturally is a country where the majority of the population adheres to the “slower traffic keep right” mentality. People will drive on the right shoulder, if there is one, if they want to go slow or until they get up to speed to enter the actual slow lane. The speed limit is not a factor in that part of the culture. the fact that you are going the speed limit in the extreme left lane, or even faster, doesn’t matter. The culture here is to flash your lights to signal that you intend to drive faster and the polite response is to move over. There isn’t any anger or road rage involved though. In the States, people like to settle into that left lane and they don’t care if traffic is backed up behind them as long as their going the posted speed limit. That doesn’t fly in Mexico. After having spent the last two weeks in the U.S. getting frustrated with slow drivers and watching people pass in the middle and on the right on the highway to get past them, i think I actually prefer the Mexico way in this regard…lol.

      • Not angry, I agree. Just reckless.

        You can be driving at a pretty fast clip (say, 120km) and also passing cars while in the left lane, and someone can come roaring down behind you at 175km. If you don’t react immediately or can’t switch lanes at that precise moment, best pray that you don’t need to break suddenly or even slow down cause you’ll be getting tailgated by mere feet.

        It’s not an instance of road rage (though I’ve seen some intense cases), but dangerous all the same.

  25. The thing I’ve noticed most after 15 years of driving here (in Mexico) is how often I get pulled over while driving back in the US now for breaking a traffic law. For example while visiting my old residential neighborhood in the US where land is flat and you can see forever, one 4-way stop after another for miles is just so ludicrous and simply difficult to take seriously after having driven in Mexico where the stop sign is really interpreted as a yield sign. Who can commute under that heavy restriction I now wonder and why can’t the US adopt a policy of “if there is no one near, then yield the sign”? Still it will never happen but it’s one reason I also love driving in Mexico.

    In a nutshell driving in Mexico most resumes schooling fish. No matter what the traffic situation, everyone seems to ebb and flow with the tides and with that, exhibits no anger with it.

    The most difficult thing I still have issues with in Mexico is staying focused on oncoming traffic. In the US, you are all but guaranteed that when you pull out in a double yellow lined road, there will be no one coming toward you in your lane. Here, ignoring that will get you killed if you don’t watch ahead to see that there may as you say be 4 cars abreast coming your way over the next hill. And any Mexican resident will graciously pull over and let them all pass with no hard feelings. Back in the US they would want revenge for having to move the steering wheel an extra inch and be offended that you had interfered with their inalienable rights and dared to invade the road space that was rightfully theirs. Additionally if from a southern state, they would likely turn around and chase you down and try to run you off the road just to show you who was boss and the rightful owner of the space you had entered without their permission.

    So I’m with you. Mexico driving really makes a lot of sense once you’ve figured it out, well of course if you discount topes, one of the largest automobile destroyers of all time. And while if you think about it they may be all that works in a country made up of optional laws, but surely the unmarked ones should be prohibited to be fair at all.

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