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Tips for Driving in Mexico

Driving around the Riviera Maya is generally very easy. The main access route is the 2-lane Highway 307 (the Carretera Federal) which runs north and south parallel to the Caribbean Coast from Cancun all the way down to the Belize border. Almost all of the towns in the Riviera Maya are located directly off this highway so it is really easy to find everything.

As you would do in your own country, please observe the traffic laws in Mexico. Drinking and driving is illegal, as is speeding and driving without a seatbelt. Remember that many drivers in Mexico do not routinely use their turn signals and some vehicles will not have functioning brake lights. Avoid accidents by keeping your distance, using your turn signals and being aware.

Along the way you may see military or police check points (there is one just south of Cancun, and another just south of Playa del Carmen, and in Tulum, and at busy times of year the military set up random vehicle check points along the roads). These guys do a fantastic job of keeping the Riviera Maya safe by deterring bad guys, and they are generally polite and courteous. If you are asked to stop, don’t worry. If they ask you any questions at all, usually it’s just where you are going, and where you have come from. Normally they just want to take a quick look inside the vehicle and make sure that all is well. It takes no more than a couple of minutes and then they will thank you and wave you on your way.

What to do if you have been stopped by a federal or municipal police officer? If you have broken the law, then the chances are that they will write you a ticket which you will have to go to the police station and pay, just like in your own country. You can plead with the officer and promise that it will not happen again, and sometimes they let you off with a warning depending on the offense.

If you believe that you have not broken the law, then suggest that you both go to the police station and contest the charge. Realistically the hassle involved in fining tourists makes it unattractive for the officer to take you to the station so they will normally let you off with a warning.

Now, while the vast majority of cops in Mexico are helpful, polite and honest (and you should always approach them as such), there are always a few exceptions that request/accept bribes. Please know that this is illegal in Mexico. If a cop asks you for money, tell him in a polite and calm way that it is illegal to do that in your country and that you have been told that it is the same in Mexico. If he persists, write down his name "nombre" and badge number "numero," and ask that he write you a written ticket "multa escrito." The tickets are usually way less than a bribe would be anyway so it’s worth your while just taking the ticket if you have broken the law. If he has asked you for a bribe, then he is unlikely to want to give you his name, badge number or a ticket so you will normally find that he will give up and let you go on your way. Please do report him though. The hotline number to report bad cops in Mexico is toll free 91-800-00148 or in Mexico City 604-1240. The Mexican Government is cracking down really hard on this kind of thing.

Keep photocopies of your IDs in the vehicle and hand them over as proof of identification. If they ask for the originals, tell them that you have left them in the hotel safe. You can always "find" them again if need be. I have been told by cops that a photocopy of your ID is acceptable, but you always need to have some sort of ID with you.

Don’t get yourself angry and worked up, as generally the police are just doing their job. Nobody is there to do you any harm, in the absolute worst case scenario a bad cop is just looking for some extra pocket money, and once he sees that you know your rights he will probably give up. If you do not speak Spanish, speak to them clearly in English. Most cops have a little understanding of English, and if you throw a couple of the Spanish words mentioned above into the mix you will certainly get your point across.

Don’t bribe cops as, other than it being illegal in Mexico to bribe a police officer, it just encourages this sort of behavior.

Obey the law and observe the constantly changing speed limits along the highway, especially when heading to the airport to catch your departing flight.

In the event of an accident Mexican authorities will not accept foreign auto insurance policies. Having Mexican auto insurance means that someone is looking out for you. This is very important and should put your mind at ease. In the event of an accident you may not be allowed to move your vehicle and could be detained by police until fault can be established. This is especially true in cases where someone is injured. Mexican insurance companies are professionals at dealing with these situations. A claims adjuster and an attorney may meet you at the scene or police station. In most cases once you have presented your proof of Mexican insurance you will be free to go. Rental car agencies will often send a client representative to translate if needed and generally walk you through the process.

The Green Angels patrol Mexico’s highways and provide FREE roadside assistance should you break down or be involved in an accident. They can also provide guidance and information about tourist attractions and destinations and services, mechanical assistance and emergency radio support, and assistance to the general public in case of disasters. You will know them by the bright green truck. They can be seen regularly on Highway 307 between Cancun and Tulum and also traveling the highways between the coast and Merida. You can call the Green Angels for assistance by dialing 078 from a cell phone or Telmex phone booth.

Keep an eye out for speed bumps or "topes" as they are numerous in this region and often not very well marked, giving you a lift off experience that only a "Dukes of Hazzard" style horn blast would complete. Don't park next to a sidewalk that is painted yellow as this is a no parking zone (it is usually, but not always, accompanied by a sign). They will either tow your car or they will take your license plates to the police station and you will have to pay the parking fine to get them back.

Be a courteous road user just as you would anywhere else and you will have a safe and happy motoring experience in Mexico!