Driving in Mexico: What Business Travelers Need to Know
When authorities found the burned bodies of Dean Lucas and Adam Coleman in the shell of their van in the Sinaloa state, the Australian surfers were a very long way from home. Prosecutors originally theorized that while they were on their way to Guadalajara to join Adam’s girlfriend, a gang pulled their 1992 Chevy van over using a vehicle equipped with flashing lights, similar to those used by the police. And while Mexican law enforcement secured confessions implicating three in the murders, many believe that the real killers have a connection to a cartel and will never see the inside of a jail cell.
Netflix Location Scout Murdered. One of Many Unsolved Murders
It’s not just foreigners that run the risk of death while on the road in Mexico. In September 2017, El País reported the murder of Carlos Muñoz Portal, a Mexican national from Puebla, while scouting locations for the Netflix hit series, Narcos. Authorities found his body in a bullet-ridden vehicle on a remote dirt road in the municipality of Temascalapa. There are no leads in his murder.
Unfortunately, authorities may never solve the murders of Portal and the two Australians. According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), approximately 95% of murders go unsolved in Mexico. And despite efforts to dismantle the country’s drug cartels and stem the violence that takes place throughout the country, in May 2017, Mexico recorded 2,186 homicides, the highest murder rate on record in the last 20 years.
To Drive or Not? Consider Warnings from the U.S. Government
While business people and tourists often drive their own cars across the border, or rent a vehicle once they arrive, the U.S. Department of State’s travel warning for Mexico notes the following:
“U.S. citizens have been murdered in carjackings and highway robberies, most frequently at night and on isolated roads. Carjackers use a variety of techniques, including roadblocks, bumping/moving vehicles to force them to stop, and running vehicles off the road at high speeds. There are indications that criminals target newer and larger vehicles, but drivers of old sedans and buses coming from the United States are also targeted. U.S. government personnel are not permitted to drive from the U.S.-Mexico border to or from the interior parts of Mexico. U.S. government personnel are prohibited from intercity travel after dark in many areas of Mexico. U.S. citizens should use toll roads (cuotas) whenever possible. In remote areas, cell phone coverage is limited or non-existent.”
The travel warning, which the government updated in late August of 2017, also advises travelers to keep in mind that criminals wearing police and military uniforms sometimes set up unauthorized checkpoints as a means of robbing, kidnapping, and in some cases killing motorists.
Challenging Driving Conditions
In addition to the threat posed by criminal gangs, driving in Mexico presents additional challenges. If you intend to drive your own car over the border, you’ll need to purchase car insurance that covers driving in Mexico. In addition, if you need to drive outside of the “Free Zone,” sometimes referred to as the Border Zone, which extends approximately 16 miles beyond the border, or intend to stay more than 72 hours, you’ll need a Temporary Vehicle Importation Permit. While inexpensive and available online, it’s an added administrative burden.
The road conditions vary drastically, especially if your travels take you outside of major metropolitan areas. Potholes, uneven surfaces, roads prone to flooding, a lack of lighting on rural roads, and the use of large and often damaging speed bumps, or “topes” increases the chances of incurring damage to your car, a breakdown or ending up in an accident.
Here’s a Safer Option (Especially for Business Travelers)
Instead of driving your own car, or hiring a rental, it may make more sense to hire an experienced, local driver to assume the stresses and strains that come with driving. For business travelers, in particular, a private driver provides the safest and most secure option since foreigners wearing business attire can attract the attention of criminal gangs that specialize in the abductions, also known as express kidnapping. In practical terms, having a driver on hand increases a traveling executive’s productivity by allowing them to work while in transit, and ensuring their transit from meeting to meeting quickly, without the threat of becoming lost on unfamiliar roads, or worse.
Traveling anywhere comes with risks and avoiding trouble requires situational awareness and a healthy dose of common sense. Nonetheless, business travelers often attract the wrong attention in Mexico and find themselves in precarious situations. Given the potential for living-threatening events, hiring a driver seems not only prudent, it may end up making the difference between life and death.