Highway Signs in Mexico

Highway Signs in Mexico

Can You Read the Signs?  

                Tara Spears

As thousands of seasonal visitors return to the Riviera Nayarit, many arrive by personal vehicle and are often overheard bemoaning the confusion of Mexican road signs.  Well, duh, Canadian road signs are confusing if one doesn’t understand English.  I am embarrassed to admit that even after years of being a permanent resident in this beautiful country, I couldn’t read the Spanish traffic signs. This fall I determined to educate myself. With notebook and pen on the seat, I set off driving and would pull over to jot down the sign wording to be translated later.  For years I had blindly made up translations as I barreled along the Mexican roads, more interested in the sights than the traffic signs- imagine my shock to learn that my imaginary translations were totally wrong. Yikes!  Ignorance may be bliss but it is also unsafe when behind the wheel.

Highway signs A crucial sign that most international drivers can recognize because it is the same shape and color as the ubiquitous stop signs is Alto; however, in Mexico it is not typically placed on the right side of the road before the intersection but rather on the far side of the cross street.  Another troublesome sign is the left turn indicator: here it is necessary to exit one street from the right lane to make a left turn into another street-heads up to all of you that are zipping into Bucherias’ Mega or Vallarta’s Cosco or Walmart. Forget the rules of the road that you learned in another country regarding yellow lines: in Mexico, the drivers pass on turns or whenever they feel like it, solid lines be damned, expecting the oncoming traffic to make way for them.  Obviously, driving defensively and yielding is wise no matter how strongly you feel that you have the right of way.

A word of significant caution to all international drivers: if you are involved in a traffic accident, no matter whose fault caused the incident, Mexican law requires the police to confiscate your foreign vehicle and the driver is taken to jail. Paying the ‘fine’ to redeem your vehicle is quite steep, not to mention stressful, especially if you are not fluent in Spanish. Another traffic law that I learned the hard way is that Mexican nationals cannot drive vehicles with foreign plates (registry). So no matter how well you know and like a national, do not lend your vehicle- if they are pulled over by the police, the car will be confiscated and the owner (you) will have to pay a huge fine to  get the vehicle back. While both of the above actions may seem harsh, in reality they are a protection, a means of getting drunk drivers immediately off the road and as a potential means of recovering stolen vehicles.

Highway signs1Regardless of the signs, my personal Mexican driving nemesis is the proliferation of speed bumps. I have a low riding car, so it didn’t take long (ok, six months and an oil pan replacement) for me to get the idea that the speed limit is primarily regulated, not by signs, but by unannounced concrete mounds (topes). The sudden appearance of several speed bumps indicates that you are approaching a village, town, or high pedestrian area. The absolute worst speed bumps in this country (that I have experienced) are as you enter Tepic. The only municipality where I have ever noticed tope signs is in Guadalajara, and then the signs are even with the cursed curve- not far enough in advance to effectively slow down before reaching them. I have learned to automatically decrease speed in critical areas along my oft traveled routes.

Driving throughout the Riviera Nayarit gorgeous scenery is just as safe and enjoyable as NOB as long as one uses common sense, defensive driving tactics, and reads the signs.

Common Mexican road signs and English translation:


Semaforo en operacion Traffic lights ahead
No rebase No passing
Curva peligrosa Dangerous curve
Frene con motor Use your engine to brake
Ponga la basura en su lugar Put trash in its place
Concede cambio de luz  Dim your lights for oncoming traffic
Obedezca las señales  Obey traffic signs
Utilice el cinturón de seguro Use seat belts
No maltrate las señales Don’t damage the road signs
Grava suelta  Loose gravel
Tramo en reparación  Road repairs ahead
Máquinas trabajando  Heavy equipment ahead
Guarde su distancia  Don’t tailgate
Precaución: zona de ganado  Caution: open range
Si toma no maneja  If you drink, don’t drive
Con neblina encienda sus luces Turn on headlights when foggy
Respete los límites de velocidad Respect posted speed limits
Termina puente en construcción End of bridge construction
Puente Bridge
Puesto de control military Military checkpoint
Gracias por usar el cinturón de seguro Thank you for buckling up
Topes  Speed bumps 
Un solo carril  Single lane ahead
Desviación  Detour
Disminuya su velocidad  Slow down
No deje piedras sobre el pavamiento  Don’t leave rocks on the highway
Conserve limpia la carretera  Keep highway clean
Más vale tarde que nunca  Better late than never!
Zona de vados  Washes in area
Cruce de peatones  Crosswalk
No rebase con raya contínua No passing on solid line 
Precaución extrema: orilla peligrosa Extreme caution: dangerous shoulder
No se estacione  No parking
Termina acotamiento Shoulder ends
Carreteras limpias son mas seguras Clean highways are safer
Precaución: maquinas trabajando Caution: machinery working ahead
Cinturón de seguridad obligatorio Mandatory use of seat belt 
No maltrates las senales Don’t damage road signs
Precaución: zona de derrumbes Caution: landslides possible
No circule por acotamiento Don’t drive on shoulder
Modere la velocidad, su familia le espera Slow down, your family is waiting for you
Con niebla o lluvia enciende sus luces Turn on lights when foggy or rainy
Carril izquierdo solo para rebasar Left lane for passing only
Principia tramo de cuota Begin toll road
Camino cerrado por obras Road closed ahead
Use acotamiento para emergencia Shoulder are only for emergencies
No exceda los límites de velocidad Don’t exceed the speed limits
Transito lento carril derecho Slower traffic use right lane
No tire basura Don’t litter
Periferico Bypass highway (from downtown city)




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