A lot of gringos that want to drive south of the border end up asking themselves the same simple question: how safe are the roads in Mexico? The answer to this question depends on your definition of “safe,” as well as your definition of “roads.” Truthfully, the relative safety of Mexican roads depends highly on the region, and the road’s location within that region, which is true of any country. The following is a brief guide to staying safe on the roads in Mexico.
First, Mexico is not a third world country, so stop perpetuating the idea that it is one. There are some rural regions in Mexico that have third world characteristics, but economically speaking, Mexico is not so hard off. As such, Mexico has a fairly decent infrastructure and the roads in Mexico often reflect this. Urban areas, specifically Mexico City, Guadalajara, and some other cities are beautiful have very good roads that are comparable to any international metropolitan city. As you venture out into rural areas, especially in the hills or small coastal pueblos, the roads get exponentially worse. Rocky dirt roads that are impassable during storms are not uncommon. This can be said of any place.
Federales and banditos. So, for the most part, the roads themselves are fairly good. However road conditions are only a small part of Mexican driving. Stories of treacherous banditos and corrupt federales are synonymous with Mexican driving. Unfortunately, there are degrees of truth to all of these horror stories. True banditos are a bit of a rarity these days, but they do exist, especially in more remote areas. A bigger problem is the substantial increase in gang violence. Unfortunately, violence directly or indirectly related to drug wars can, and occasionally does, target tourists. This threat is most severe in the Baja peninsula and border areas near Texas.
Extortion Additionally, federales can be as threatening as banditos. There are certain roads in Mexico where, as a non-Mexican driver, you will get pulled over. These routine traffic stops are commonly used as extortion tools for the federales. Speaking fluent Spanish can be helpful, but it can be just as effective to play dumb. It’s really luck of the draw. This type of corruption is a two-way street. It can be frustrating for the honest man to be extorted by the police, but others see a silver lining as you can, quite literally, get away with murder with the right amount of money.
Drivers The final hazard on the roads in Mexico is the drivers themselves. Mexican truck drivers have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, and they seem to take great pleasure in spreading that danger around. Everyone else on the roads in Mexico seems to share the same sense of reckless abandon. Drunk driving isn’t exactly frowned upon south of the border. Put it this way, be very careful when driving around blind turns.
The reality concerning the safety of the roads in Mexico is pretty simple: it’s not America, but it’s not a war zone either. Anyone that stays alert and practices a bit of discretion should be absolutely fine. When in the Mex, do as the Mexicans do. Drive like a maniac, try to blend in, and you’ll be bribing your way out of a bogus federale ticket in no time.