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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Driving in Mexico...

Well I did it.  I got my Mexican Driver Licence a few days ago, and I must say that driving in Mexico is completely different than in Canada.  My landlord and good friend has given me the use of his extra vehicle, a 1999 Pontiac Sunfire, and after a few repairs we'll be picking it up from the Maestro today.

I was only able to get my licence for one year because that is the duration of my first Temporary Resident Card.  In September I will renew the resident card for a further three years and shortly after that I'll do the same with my driver licence.

There are basically two important driving rules to follow here.  First, don't hit anybody or another car.  Second, don't get hit by anyone else.  Sounds easy - no way.  Because everyone in Mexico follows these two basic rule and apparently none of the other ones, you are kind of on your own while driving.  Stop signs mean nothing to drivers here, and after continuing on through a couple of them, I asked my landlord why he didn't stop.

His reply was that he didn't even see it.  Stop signs are so unused that they might as well just take them all down.  They do however pay attention to traffic signal lights, basically.  A green light means go, a yellow light means go faster, and a red light is a suggestion to stop.  Also, I am living in Cuernavaca, where vehicles use their signal lights to let others know they plan on making a turn.  In Mexico City, no one uses signal lights, and if you are crazy enough to use yours, be prepared to be cut off.

One piece of equipment that all Mexicans like to use, and use frequently, is their horns.  If you cut someone off be prepared for a big blast.  If traffic isn't moving, hit your horn, and by some miracle everyone starts to move.  Also lines in the road are almost non-existant in many places, so the rule is to imagine your path ahead of you and try the best to follow it.

Parking lots in Canada and the USA may have speed bumps (here they are called topes).  Here they are everywhere and can be found in the middle of a highway -- so be very careful.  These things can take out your suspension and throw you right off the road.  Heaven help the motorcycle rider that misses one.  I counted 14 topes on a city street that was about 20 blocks long.  Oh, and some of them are marked and some aren't.

Also there are two types of highways within and between cities and towns in Mexico.  Freeways (Libre) are like country highways with lots of topes and you probably don't want to drive on them at night.  Not because of the dangerous speed bumps, holes and animals on the freeway, but because of the bandits that tend to inhabit them after dark.

The second highway is called just that, or cuota's.  Cuota's are more modern high speed highways, and the only topes they have on them are located at the many toll booths that you have to stop and pay at.  These are much safer highways, but much more costly.  For example, to travel from Cuernavaca to Acapulco (2 1/2 hours away), the cost of tolls one way is approximately 500 pesos -- around $40.00 Cdn.  Add this to your fuel costs and a short trip can become costly, but safer.  It is nice having the Federal Police with machine guns guarding the toll booths;  I feel much safer.

And don't get into an accident where anyone gets hurt.  You go directly to jail first until the police determine who was at fault.  Small fender-benders are amazing though because the insurance companies arrive within an hour or two and settle the entire matter.  However, take note, that it is who you know that can save your bacon in an accident.  A friend of mine was hit from behind by a motorcyclist when he was stopped at a traffic light.  The motorcyclist paid the judge and won the civil suit.  The insurance companies are still fighting over it.

I wonder if it was such a good idea getting my driver license.  We'll see.