Getting Rear-Ended

I don’t have a car. I gave mine up when I moved to Mexico. I, in fact, have only driven once here at Lakeside, that being a two-mile jaunt helping a neighbor. There are several reasons why I don’t drive here. Mexican traffic laws are one of them. They are puzzling, contradictory, and quite different from those North of the Border (NOB).

To begin with, if one has an accident, it is possible that (s)he will be taken directly to jail until police determine who is at fault. If one doesn’t have insurance, and it is not mandatory in most of Mexico, (s)he will have to pay for the damages out of pocket at that time or remain in jail. That in itself would discourage me from driving here. But there are other reasons.

It is not uncommon for police to stop cars for minor or made-up infractions in order to finagle a mordida, or bribe, out of the driver. This occurs more regularly if one has US or Canadian license plates, is driving a rental car, or the driver appears to be non-Mexican. It isn’t the amount of the bribe that is the problem. It is, from what I hear, rarely more than $25 USD. For me, the stress and time wasted by the intimidation tactic is what is offensive.

But situations involving police are not the only issues one has to deal with while driving. Other drivers present problems, too. People frequently pass on the shoulder, often racing past numerous cars, and then crowd in to the stream of traffic. They also pass on the left, in the oncoming lane, in clearly risky situations. This is often unnecessary because many slow drivers, particularly big-rig truckers will signal with their left blinkers when it is safe to pass. They then will move slightly to the right to give the passing vehicle extra room.

It is also commonplace when you are waiting at an intersection with a left-turn blinker flashing and a chain of cars backed-up behind you, to have an on-coming driver stop and let you make a left turn  even though his lane is moving at a normal rate of speed. While the intent is kind, it can be a surprise, confusing, and unsafe because of the aforementioned passers. If you do not react quickly, the driver allowing the left turn will shrug and make a gesture as if he were saying, “What are you waiting for, Moron?!”

Another frequent situation drivers face here are traffic speed bumps, or topes (pronounced toe-pays). They are everywhere and are as common as stop signs or traffic lights NOB. Driving too fast over them certainly is hard on cars. And on human spines and stomachs, too. But they are an effective method of curtailing reckless speeding.

As a regular walker, I am aware how customary driving practices impact pedestrians, especially when walking on roadway shoulders or unfinished sidewalks. Cars speed by close enough to pedestrians for the walker to smell perfume or cigarette breath emanating from the passenger seat. Side-view mirrors have brushed pedestrians. Sleeves have been ripped. Forearm tattoos have been removed from arms. Wristwatches have been reset. Liposuction has been performed.

Mexican law in general, and that includes traffic laws, are based on the Napoleonic Code, meaning one is guilty until proven innocent. It also means one is not guaranteed a trial by any jury, let alone a jury of one’s peers. These conditions are contrary to laws in the US and lead me to be very cautious when dealing with legalities.

A prime example of a law contradicting what American and Canadian drivers expect involves rear-ending—ah, now you understand the title of this post. What? You thought it was about…Well, shame on you, you dirty-minded perv! Rear-end accidents are a common occurrence here. In the event a driver rear-ends another vehicle, it is not the fault of the driver following. It is the fault of the lead vehicle; apparently slamming on your brakes to avoid hitting another car, a human being, dog, or hallucination is not an excuse. The concept of safe following distances is not a part of traffic law in Mexico.

I also have observed that many laws or traffic rules— one-way streets or “No Left Turn” signs, for example—are not rigorously enforced. They seem to be mere suggestions. That, and the above-mentioned situations, makes driving in Mexico risky, dangerous, unpredictable, and more heart-stopping than a Disneyland E ticket ride. Therefore, I suggest if Americans or Canadians wish to drive in Mexico they become well-versed in local customs, expectations, and laws. And then, I suggest, they walk, take a bus, hire a cab or Uber, or never EVER leave the house.

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