“Cliff-Notes” On Mexican Turn Signals

By John Ward


handsignalsFor those of you new to Mexico and for those who have been here for a while and need a refresher course, here is a little help in understanding one aspect of Mexican driving customs and practices.

Most importantly, it is wise not to expect anyone to follow the indications of their indicators. If they do, see it as a bonus, but probably a coincidence. In other words, if you are at a red light and the on-coming car facing you has his left turn signal on, as if to turn in front of you, it is very possible that he will turn left, but equally possible that he is unaware of his signal, so when the light turns green, expect the driver to go straight, turn right, turn left across you or start reversing down the street he just came up.

Right turn signals are generally easy to deal with. If a turn signal ahead of you indicates a right turn, it is entirely possible that the vehicle ahead of you could turn right. Remember, that possibility quotient is equal to the possibility that he might continue driving straight, stop dead in the road, or go into reverse to pick up a family member who has fallen out of the truck and is running alongside trying to catch up.

You might think “a turn signal that has been on for a while suggests the driver turned it on and forgot it was on.” This is a legitimate assumption. In fact in many vehicles on the Mexican highways, the turn signal reset does not work and that right turn signal might be a vestige of a right turn the driver made the night before.

The left turn signal is the most complex signal to interpret. In most western countries it is used to indicate a desire to turn left. In Mexico it is a far more complex set of indications. If a vehicle traveling ahead of you turns on his left turn signal, it could actually be that he intends to turn left; however, the vehicle, on approaching the turn, might go to the right to turn left as it has been the custom in Mexico to go towards the right curb and wait for passing traffic on the left to ease up enough and then turn across the lanes to the left. For this reason I would caution you not to try to pass on the right when you see a left turn signal come on.

Another use of the turn signal in Mexico is a decent attempt by slower vehicles to let you pass. Sometimes you want to pass, but cannot see ahead of a taller vehicle. Often the driver ahead will see your intention and if they are able to see ahead that there is no on-coming traffic, they will turn on their left turn signal to invite you to pass. At this point you have to wonder several things: Is he inviting me to pass? Is he about to turn left? Is he about to pass someone in front of him? Is he using his flashers and the right light is out and he is about to stop? Is he about to slam it into reverse and back up the highway? Is his automatic turn signal reset broken? Is he just a fan of blinking lights? (The latter possibility is a real one as Mexicans love color, noise and lights.)

On occasion the left turn signal is to warn you not to pass. The vehicle ahead sees something he assumes you do not, so he puts on his left signal so that you will not pass, thinking he is about to pass someone or turn left. Whether he is indicating “pass” or “don’t pass” is graciously gifted to you to interpret.

Now you know exactly how to interpret Mexican Turn Signal usage, so don’t drive. Sell you car and take the bus.


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