Should You Rent A Car Here?

Sure, what’s the worst that can happen? No, don’t think like that

So, you’re thinking of renting a car while on vacation here. Is it safe to drive in Los Cabos? Sure, but you know the old adage, ‘The worst drivers in the world are from the city you’re currently driving in”. Yeah, that applies in Mexico too. Here are a few observations on the nuances of driving in Cabo that might help you better understand your upcoming motoring experience and may keep you a little safer to boot.

We still drink and drive like it’s the 60’s. It’s nothing to be proud of, but it’s what happens when your local constabulary considers a working pen an advanced investigative tool. There are only a few breathalyzer machines and realistic laws against Impaired driving are probably 50 years away. Therefore, keep your head on a swivel, especially at night.

Child safety seats are for wussies. Keeping with the retro theme, our attitude towards child safety in cars is firmly rooted in the 1970’s. Mom nursing in the front seat? Check. Kids bouncing around unrestrained in the back seat? Check. Hey…we survived it, it can’t be all bad, right? Be aware and be cautious.

Traffic engineers, unicorns and tooth fairies. Mythical creatures that don’t exist in Cabo. Okay, maybe traffic engineers exist, but remember, in every engineering program, there’s always going to be the kid who graduates dead last in his class. These kids apparently end up in Los Cabos designing our roads. Here are three major engineering features that new drivers to Cabo should be aware of:

Lack of impact attenuation devices.  Also known as crash cushions, these are engineering safety features that lessen the severity of crashing (or being cut-off) into an immovable object, like a concrete bridge pillar. In Cabo, if you’re unlucky enough to find yourself driving head-on into a concrete post, well, good luck with that. No water filled barrels for you!

Merge lanes. Merge lanes are a safety element that are hit or miss in Cabo. Nothing gets the heart rate pumping faster than watching a driver enter onto the fourlane by Walmart from a dead stop, with cars travelling at 100 km/hour frantically trying to slow down or change lanes to avoid a collision.

The highway side road. In theory, the side roads paralleling the fourlane make sense, but gosh help the poor Gringo not paying attention. There are numerous quirky areas, like the exit ramp from the fourlane onto the side road near Hotel Los Patios. Like clockwork, every week or so, some poor sucker, usually a Gringo, finds himself high centered or overturned after failing to execute. It’s as if the engineering design team was in cahoots with the local body shops?

Where’d you get your license? A Cracker Jack box?” Uh…almost. In Los Cabos, the requirement for a driver’s license is a blood test, a picture, and payment of a small fee. Neither a written quiz, vision test nor a driver’s exam are usually required, although they sometimes are. Either you get lucky here or you don’t. So, if you feel the need to yell at that bone-headed-numbskull who just cut you off, be kind. They just might not know any better. People around here were taught by their dad who probably came from a one stop light town.

All intersections are a four-way stop. Well, not really, however, many are missing their stop signs, and even if they exist, many drivers don’t acknowledge them. So, even if you’re sure you have the right of way, always cover the brake, and be prepared to give way.

Insurance? Yes Please! If a car is anything but new, or near new, there’s a strong chance it’s uninsured. Sure, it’s illegal, but that would only matter if we had a competent police force that didn’t accept bribes. Almost as bad, the liability on many policies is $50,000 or less. That would barely cover an air ambulance. Always load up on any and all insurance that’s on offer.

Driving while Gringo is a thing. You might be pulled over just for being you. Cops down here are paid peanuts and that’s one of our major shortcomings. Therefore, cops will often engage in ‘select traffic enforcement’. That means pulling over folks that likely have money, in order to solicit a payoff. Gringos driving a new car or a rental car are prime targets. Therefore, wear your seatbelt, use your turn signals, don’t talk on your phone and always have your valid documents in the car. Never give them a reason.

Rule #1 in an accident – The Gringo is always at fault (unless they speak Spanish). Sad, but true. Even if you’re rear-ended at a stop light, some unethical drivers will try to bribe the cop to blame the Gringo, taking advantage of the Gringo’s lack of understanding of the language and the process. It’s best to always have a Spanish speaker on speed-dial, and/or ready access to the insurance claim number. A cell phone is a must.

Don’t be afraid to block traffic. Speaking of accidents, the accepted norm in Los Cabos following an accident is to come to an immediate stop exactly where the accident occurred. Minor fender-bender? Doesn’t matter. Rush hour traffic? Let them wait. Apparently, the cops and insurance adjusters down here have the ability for modern, CSI-style, accident reconstruction (Snork!!). Therefore, just chill out with the other driver and ignore the glares of your fellow motorists while waiting for authorities.

BEWARE THE AIRPORT TOLL ROAD! As you’re returning home from your fun-filled Cabo adventure, remember about the driving whilst Gringo thing. The Federales patrol the toll road and put the local Keystone Cops to shame when soliciting bribes. They’re smart enough to know that you have a flight to catch and will hit you up with an offer of either impounding your rental car or coughing up a few hundred bucks. It’s a crappy way to end your vacation, but just keep telling them to give you a ticket. They won’t. And don’t panic when they take your license. They know that panics you. They don’t want it and can do nothing with it. Take their picture. That scares the bijeebies out of them and they will usually let you go right then.

OK. The above pointers might seem harsh, but you’ll do just fine with a little bit of defensive driving and common sense. The vast majority of folks rent cars down here with no issues. Just keep in mind, this ain’t Kansas, Toto.