Sunday, June 24, 2018

exercising the right of way

Driving in Mexico is an art form.

And the style of that art varies depends on what part of Mexico you are visiting.

Take my little village as an example. It is a libertarian dream when it comes to traffic. Certainly there are laws. But most of the flow depends on local custom rather than some ukase from Mexico City.

The main street in my portion of town is Nueva España. It is principally a commercial street with residences mixed in. Lacking a public square in our area of town, the street fills that void. It is a plaza where vehicles are allowed passage.

It is also a great laboratory to watching driving customs.

Mexican traffic law has a very complex set of rules on right of way. Almost anyone who knows the right of way rules in another country will know the right of way rules in Mexico. But it is just as important to know local customs.

For instance, a car traveling on a main street has the right of way over vehicles entering from side streets. That is the regulation.

The custom is that drivers of vehicles entering from side streets do not bother to look if there is traffic coming on main streets. They just pull out. Especially motorcycles.

On my way to church this morning, I came close to being hit by three separate cars within a five block span. So, I watch carefully when approaching intersections and yield to traffic zipping in from the side streets.

There is almost a choreography about traffic here. It has its own rhythm. I often marvel at how pedestrians, baby strollers, motorcycles, horses, buses, trucks, dogs, bicycles, goat herds, and cars manage to share the same space simultaneously without everything ending in tears.

Usually, it just works, much as a free market libertarian would predict. But not always.,

The "not always" usually happens when tourists are entered into the mix.

We have a few stop signs in the villages here. But no one treats them as stop signs. Not even as yield signs.

There is a stop sign where the road from Barra de Navidad intersects with the main north-south highway. The local practice is to approach the intersection at full speed looking over the right shoulder to clear for traffic.

When northerners arrive, they will inevitably come to a full stop at that intersection. If one of my neighbors is following, there is a high risk of a rear-end collision because the driver of the following car is clearing traffic over his shoulder.

I have seen several accidents of that nature there. The front vehicle is almost always a Canadian or American driver.

I knew a man from Ontario who was rear-ended at the intersection. He was enraged that his insurance company would not cover the damage because he had violated local custom by coming to a full stop. I cannot vouch for the veracity of that assertion. But that is what he said.

Mexican tourists add a different mix. They bring local customs from their home towns that do not quite fit with the local traffic ballet. Sometimes, it is merely out of ignorance.

At that same intersection, I have twice come bumper to bumper with a car coming at me in my lane. The driver obviously mistook the road as a two-lane off ramp -- just like they have in big cities.

The price for fouling up the dance steps is obvious. And it usually involves at least crumpled metal. Sometimes, crumpled bodies.

Yesterday, I saw the accident pictured at the top of this essay. Based on my observations, it looks as if the pickup with the camper was leaving the main highway to enter a parallel access road. A local inter-city bus (whose drivers are well-known for their obnoxious driving habits) was simultaneously trying to enter the highway. And ran right into the side of the pickup.

I am willing to bet there were no turn signals involved. But there was a lot of "it's-my-road" going on.

No one was hurt in that accident. That is not always the case.

On our way to Manzanillo on Thursday, Julio and I saw an accident at the turn off for playa del oro. From the local news, we discovered that a wheel on the tractor had come off. The little pickup was following far too close. The result was the pickup slammed into and under the tractor's trailer.

The driver is dead. The passenger is in hospital.

I do not see a lot of accidents in Mexico. However, I daily ask myself: "How did he avoid hitting that car?" Sometimes. it happens.

One of the first pieces of driving advice my father gave me was: "Some people say you need to drive defensively. That is a lie. People who drive defensively are the people who cause accidents. If you want to avoid accidents, you need to be in charge. To drive aggressively."

It is advice that has served me well in Mexico. And it is why, other than a year driving in Greece when I was in my early 20s and where I was immune from traffic regulations in a new 240Z, I have not enjoyed driving anywhere more than I have in Mexico.

It is a target rich environment. 

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