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driving and traffic in Puerto Vallarta Mexico

Driving in Puerto Vallarta
can be a thrill-ride!


It’s not that people drive ‘crazy’ here in Puerto Vallarta, it’s merely that nearly everybody drives rather aggressively.

You might think that this would result in a large number of accidents, but actually, the reverse seems to be true. Whereas drivers in Mexico’s neighbors to the north are a mix of cautious and aggressive and everything in-between (which is the root cause of a lot of accidents, these conflicting driving habits), here everybody’s driving style is the same…everybody knows to look out for everybody else, and conflicts are fewer.


On the other hand, it could be that nobody wants the authorities involved if they can help it, so in the case of a minor fender-bender where the driver at fault admits, usually the parties drive their dented cars around the corner and negotiate a mutually-agreeable settlement. If the police become involved, EVERYBODY gets hauled off to jail until the matter is successfully settled either by negotiation, presentation of valid insurance papers, or in front of a judge. So you see, there is motivation to settle issues like this in a friendly and civilized manner.


Whatever the reason for this seeming lack of accidents, it’s important to realize some important Mexican driving rules, some of which are unique to Puerto Vallarta:


Rule #1: The Biggest Vehicle has the Right of Way. It really doesn’t matter whether you’re right or wrong, within the regulations or breaking the law. Semi Truck trumps Cement Mixer; Cement Mixer trumps Bus; Bus trumps Cargo Truck; Cargo Truck trumps Van, etc. It’s a smart way of thinking about driving, in that it doesn’t matter that you have the legal ‘right-of-way’ when your ‘opponent’ out-weighs you by several tons.


Rule #2: Stop signs should be considered as only “a suggestion”, not a law. This is not to say that you should ignore stop signs. Rather, it is to advise you that many OTHER drivers will likely ignore them, so be on the lookout before driving across the intersection…just because that other car approaching the intersection is supposed to stop doesn’t mean it will.


Rule #3: LOOK before advancing when the light turns green. Being aggressive, many drivers will press their luck to get through an intersection before their light turns red…or rather, before it’s been red for very long. By the way, there are 4 signals on Mexican traffic signals: Green (go), Flashing Green (a warning that yellow is coming), Yellow (but usually for a much shorter time than you are familiar with back home), and Red (means ‘stop’, unless you are a big vehicle and in a hurry – see rules 1 and 2, above).


Rule #4: Puerto Vallarta has a unique system of dealing with left-turns on the main road through town, Francisco Medina Ascencio (also commonly called ‘Las Palmas’, ‘The main Drag’, or ‘The Main Road’). From the south end of the road (about 1 kilometer north of Downtown Puerto Vallarta) to beyond the airport, there are 8 lanes of traffic, 4 in each direction, divided by 3 boulevards. To turn left, you must first get in the right set of lanes, then turn left with the arrow at the stop light. This takes a little getting used to, but once familiar with it, you’ll realize that it keeps the thoroughfare lanes clear. It also makes it easy to make a u-turn into any of the 4 lanes in the opposite direction. On all other roads besides the Main Road, left turns are handled the same way you’re used to. (See illustration.)


Rule #5: Make plentiful use of your horn. Mexicans love to make noise, and utilizing the car horn is just another form of communication. Many drivers equip their cars with multiple noise-making devices for the purpose of drawing the attention of attractive females, announcing their arrival, signaling their friends, etc. You’ll often hear a rhythmic “beep, beep, beep-beep-beep” (“Let’s Go, Mex-I-Co!”) after successes by the nation’s soccer team, or general bleating of horns for the purpose of celebrating almost anything.


Rule #6: Avoid driving outside of the city after dark. Mexicans and visitors alike are not targets of banditos, but more likely the cow who has found a hole in his fence and decides the sun-warmed asphalt is a cozy place to lie down for a while.


Buses being the most plentiful kings of the road here, you are well advised to give them wide berth and let them have their way through traffic. They always seem to be on a tight schedule and have nearly perfected the simultaneous use of accelerator and brake while swerving around perceived obstacles.


If you're driving anywhere except the main highway through town, be on the lookout for "topes" or "turtles", which are speed bumps intended to slow traffic. They are quite often not marked with signs in advance, and you'll get quite a jolt if you drive at 'normal' speed over these. If you're driving outside of Vallarta, be aware of these at the entrance to and in the middle of smaller towns or villages.


The traffic police (‘transitos’) in Puerto Vallarta seem to always be on the lookout for cars with USA and Canadian plates to target for the friendly traffic stop. While police corruption is rumored to be on the decline, car-owning gringos will tell you that a minor infraction can be overlooked for about 50 pesos (depending on your negotiating skills and how much money he sees you have in your wallet) given discreetly to the officer ‘for a refreshment’. The Mexican Breathalyzer test is hysterical…the officer will cup his hands together and ask you to blow into them…he then holds it to his nose and sniffs for alcohol (we are NOT making this up). If you are stopped by a transito, be courteous and polite, deny all charges but apologize, and suggest that perhaps you could pay your fine then and there. It’s all done with a knowing wink.


Finally, if you are ticketed for a parking transaction, the police will remove your license plate, and you will need to visit the transito office the following day to pay your ticket and retrieve your plate. Don’t think that installing your plates with non-reversible screws will prevent this from happening…they WILL take your entire bumper if they can’t easily remove your plates. (Again, we are NOT making this up.)


Don’t be afraid to drive in Puerto Vallarta just because things are a bit different here. The city is easy to navigate as long as you know where you are going; you just need to get in the flow and go.

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