Mexico Life
Expect the unexpected when you're driving on Mexico's roadways. Expect the unexpected when you're driving on Mexico's roadways. Valentín Zavala

Mexico’s unwritten driving rules not unlike those for supermarket shopping

Weaving in and out, cutting in front of vehicles, or stopping to greet a friend are to be expected

There’s only one rule for driving in Mexico: there are no rules.

Well, I guess to be correct there are rules, but there aren’t any you must follow if you really don’t feel like it.

And you can change which ones you feel like following daily, hourly or on the spur of the moment. Pretty much just for the hell of it.

At the same time, Mexican drivers expect everyone else on the road to follow both the spirit and the letter of each and every rule because, after all, isn’t that simply being courteous?

It took me a couple of trips to Mexico before I realized that there is actually a flow to traffic here. Maybe “flow” isn’t the right word; “swirling eddies” is probably more accurate. Let’s see if I can explain what I mean.

Mexicans apparently treat driving a car like, say, pushing a shopping cart in a supermarket. That may be because they’ll drive their cars into supermarkets if they have to, but that’s another matter.

What I mean is, you know how when you’re pushing a shopping cart down an aisle and someone’s blocking it with their cart, you simply go around? Or how people shuffle along, moving from one side of the aisle to another, cutting in front of or behind each other, passing people on either the left or right side?

There aren’t any “rules” per se. Do people yell and get into fights if someone cuts in front of them in a supermarket, stops dead in the middle of an aisle or passes them on the right? No.

And I think that’s the way Mexicans view driving. To them it’s simply like being in a supermarket. When driving, they think it’s perfectly normal to weave in and out, cut in front of other vehicles or even stop if they see a friend. One major difference, of course, is that, unlike Mexican drivers, Mexican shoppers don’t lay on a horn for every minor or perceived infraction.

There is one thing that Mexicans do that really scares the hell out of me. You know how in the United States it’s perfectly legal to make a right turn on red? Well, in Mexico, you can make a left on red. Or, if the spirit moves you — and you’re in a rush — you can go straight on red.

I’m pretty sure these are both illegal, but they happen so often that they may not be.

I’ve been in cars, taxis, buses, all kinds of vehicles where the driver waits a few moments at a red light and then, tiring of the wait, drives right through or hangs a left; often it’s in front of an oncoming vehicle, which causes me to rethink my aversion to religion and the possibility that there really is a hereafter.

But what’s really strange is that, given the lunacy of the driving here, it’s rare to see an accident. I’ve seen exactly one fender-bender in Mexico City.

Oh, there are plenty of crosses marking places where someone died in an accident on highways, and I have seen a few burned-out vehicles on the slopes of mountain roads. But in cities, given the way people drive, you’d expect a veritable trail of crosses and a convoy of smashed-up vehicles.

Then again, that would be bad for the tourist trade, wouldn’t it? Maybe Mexico’s just really good at cleaning things up.

Joseph Sorrentino, a writer, photographer and author of the book San Gregorio Atlapulco: Cosmvisiones and of Stinky Island Tales: Some Stories from an Italian-American Childhood, is a regular contributor to Mexico News Daily. More examples of his photographs and links to other articles may be found at www.sorrentinophotography.com  He currently lives in Chipilo, Puebla.

Reader forum

The forum is available to logged-in subscribers only.