By John Chalmers from the March 2016 Edition
We don’t regard driving in Mexico as dangerous, but I have always felt that one can’t be too careful and defensive driving should be practiced. I sometimes feel that a driver should spend almost as much time looking in all rear view mirrors as time spent looking through the windshield! Sometimes a car will come from behind, seemingly out of nowhere and pass at high speed, quite unexpectedly.
Just like in Canada or the U.S., a single or double solid line on a two-lane highway means no passing – unless you can get away with it! Often we will see an oncoming car passing on a solid line as it comes towards us, and caution necessitates giving it room to go by. On the other hand, slower vehicles will often pull over to let vehicles pass, even though a solid line is present.
Some practices take getting used to, as they are not seen at home. In some urban areas, the retorno lane for a left turn or a U-turn is a third, and far right lane. When cross-traffic is stopped, a left turn green arrow indicates permission to make that turn, which feels a little odd, passing across two lanes of stopped traffic on the left, facing the same way as driving in the retorno lane. On one occasion, we had the green arrow for a left turn and while one lane was stopped, a local bus ran a red light. As per my usual practice, I had made a shoulder check to ensure safety. Had I turned just when the light changed, I wouldn’t be at my keyboard writing this account!
Nevertheless, having driven extensively in Mexico on urban roads, two-lane highways and the excellent divided four-lane “cuotas”, or toll roads, we have had no misfortune. Until now.
On February 13, Linda and I were driving home in our little Nissan Platina from a day trip to Colima, the capital city of the state of Colima, in which we are located. It’s an hour and a half drive. Our condo is in a development right on the west coast, a little north of Mexico’s port city, Manzanillo. Colima is about 135 kilometers from where we spend our time when it is winter in Alberta. After leaving the urban area here, the highway is an excellent divided four-lane cuota for the entire drive.
Coming home on the 13th, a strange set of circumstances occurred that could have led to disaster. As we were driving, we saw a parachutist descending from the sky a little ahead of our position. It looked like he might be landing very close to the highway.
As we got closer, we saw a large, all-purpose vehicle had slowed down to a dangerously slow speed in our lane and had its tail lights flashing but never pulled over to the side of the road. We thought it may have been a chase vehicle for the parachutist, or maybe just a curious motorist.
It was not safe to follow that vehicle at a slow speed. I checked my mirror to see if anyone was behind me, then checked the outside mirror on the driver’s side, then made a shoulder check as I turned on my signal light to indicate I was going to pass the vehicle.
In a split second, things changed. Suddenly there was a crash as another car sped past us. We were hit, and parts went flying through the air. The passing vehicle swerved ahead of us in the other lane, straightened out and continued on to stop ahead of us.
We immediately pulled off the highway and got out to check the damage. The left outside mirror was gone. Above the left rear wheel well there was an abrasion in the paint where the other vehicle made contact. Fortunately there was no damage to the driver’s door or any windows. We could see that the other car stopped well ahead of us and four people got out to check their vehicle.
For a minute or so back in the car, we sat there rather stunned, already grateful that the accident wasn’t more serious. Then we could see the driver of the other car walking towards us. We knew we should meet him and see if anything was to be done. We drove up to the young man and put the window down.
He said something in Spanish, to which I replied, “No hablo español. ¿Habla usted Inglés?” He replied, “Yes, a little. Are you okay? Is anyone hurt?”
“No. We are okay,” I replied, “but I have lost my mirror.” To which he said, “Yes, and I lost the mirror on my car.” He had passed us so close that his outside right mirror hit our left mirror and both were knocked off.
“Is anyone hurt in your car, and are you all okay? “ I asked.
“Yes, we are all fine,” he answered. The last thing I wanted was to call the police or get involved in a discussion about damages and responsibility. “So is that all?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, “Where are you going?”
“To Manzanillo,” I answered.
“Me, too,” he said. “That’s where I live.”
Then he offered his hand. I shook it. We drove away and he walked back to his car. Soon we were up to highway speed, about 90 or 100 kilometers per hour. Two or three minutes later I looked in my main rear view mirror and saw his car approaching rapidly. It passed us at an estimated 130 kilometers per hour, was soon out of sight, and we never saw it again. In the remaining 45 minutes driving home, I kept watch for other vehicles, looking in the rear view mirror, the right door mirror, and from force of habit, at the missing left mirror, which reminded me repeatedly that it was gone.
Fortunately, there is a roadside auto wrecker less than 10 minutes away from where we live, just a kilometer from where our access road meets the highway. There I met the proprietor, Miguel, who soon found a replacement mirror in the shop, but it was one that is adjusted manually. Our car has power mirrors. So Miguel phoned to order a mirror for me, presumably a used power mirror from one of his contacts.
Meanwhile, there was only some white paint from the other car on my fender where the two vehicles made contact. A few minutes spent with a rubbing compound removed all traces of contact. There was no body damage – either to us or the car!
It took a few days for the replacement mirror to arrive. When it did, it was a new mirror, not a used one, and Miguel’s cost was considerably more than the price he originally quoted me. Miguel apologized, said it was his mistake, and we settled with him being reimbursed at his cost. One of his workers installed the mirror for me, just a small job, but appreciated.
Now we are driving more defensively than ever! What did I get out of this experience, besides escaping what could have been a very serious accident? A new mirror, a new friend, and another story about México.
Gotta love México… and drive safely!