People Drive Like Maniacs in Baja California Norte
All the good drivers seem to stay in Sonora, MX.
You only need to cross the border into Baja to recognize that people drive like lunatics on this side of Mexico. When I took my mom to Ensenada for the first time, she realized this without me saying a word. This was a stark contrast to Rocky Point, where only the seasonal Arizonans drive like maniacs.
PS: If you’re wondering, that’s the USA-Mexican border wall behind Samson (the FJ Cruiser) in Tecate. Tecate has a Californian and Mexican side. Both towns share the same name. This photo was taken on the Mexican side.
The 4 Types of Baja Drivers
When you drive in Baja Norte, you’ll encounter three types of drivers that make you want to pull your hair out. Hopefully, you’re the fourth:
The Slow Poke: You most commonly experience this when passing through smaller communities on the highway. People in these areas often do not drive at highway speed and will crawl at 15 mph to get to their next stop while traffic backs up behind them. More often than not, there’s an old man behind the wheel.
The Rally Driver: Next, you have the people who go everywhere at top speeds. These people will never stay behind you in traffic and will even try to overtake you at some daring points of the road, such as around a curve with limited visibility. More often than not, there’s a young man behind the wheel, and they’re usually driving a truck, not a car.
The Unmoved Driver: I don’t know what else to call them, but you have some drivers who will never move out of your way. They will be the only vehicle on the highway stopping you from pulling out, and instead of moving into the other lane, they will sit right there. If you see them at a light, they pretend they don’t see you and block your way out from a side road. This is usually a woman.
Everyone Else: The rest of us fall somewhere in the middle, but I feel like there are fewer of us than the others. If you don’t swear, I promise you, you will learn within the first half an hour of driving in Baja Norte. If you stay as long as I have, you eventually get used to them, but you should never let your guard down.
Drunk Driving Is Common
Drunk driving is a problem in Mexico. I haven’t personally encountered drunk drivers, but I have heard stories and seen the crashes on the highway. I have also passed several checkpoints erected to find them.
Officers check every vehicle at these checkpoints. They shine a flashlight into the vehicle and check your eyes. If your pupils stay dilated, you’re likely in for some trouble.
Sometimes, they will ask where you’re coming from or where you’re headed, and every so often, they might ask the driver for ID. In my experience, they are always polite, and I have never felt threatened or concerned. Not even while passing through one at 2 a.m. on my way home one Friday night.
Tips for Driving in Baja Norte
When I crossed the border into Baja for the first time, I had my 22-foot trailer in tow on the mountain-road highways. The Mexicans behind me were ridiculously happy that I was well-versed in Mexican driving culture and knew how to let them know they could pass.
I am really annoyed when the U.S. plate drivers get stuck behind trucks. The truck driver will signal for miles that they can pass, but they don’t know, so we all get stuck waiting for them to figure it out or feel safe enough to pass on their own.
I learned these signals before visiting Mexico in 2021, thanks to poking around some forums. If you’re a paid subscriber, you’ll get some of the tips I’ve learned while driving in Sonora and Baja California next week.
Here’s some of what I’ll cover:
How to use soft-shoulders on Mexican roads
How to understand when someone is signaling that you can pass (and how to offer that same courtesy to others)
How to avoid other people’s dangerous behaviors on mountain roads
Typical hazards to look out for on the road
Recommended maintenance on your car (and RV!) before driving in Mexico
Alexis Chateau | Free Ramen is a reader-supported publication. Consider becoming a paid subscriber to support my work and help me pay for grad school.
See you next week!