One of the first words I learned here is “Pirate” which is pronounced “Pee-RAH-tuh” in Spanish. It means a truck that carries passengers for money. Since riding in the back of a pickup is now illegal in most of the US, pirates are a chance to do something I last did as a kid. Plus, they are cheap transportation.
Every couple of days, I ride one out to Pozolapan to see Shelley. Shelley and other people have told me stories about pirates crammed full of people. Today on my way back to Catemaco, I had that experience for myself.
The pickup was a Toyota with an extended cab; typical for pirates. What was not typical today was the number of people. Since it was Easter, I guess everybody was trying to get somewhere else. There were three people in the front seat, four people in the backseat, and in the back (where I was) there were nineteen more people – and this was not a long wheelbase Toyota either.
So there I was, riding in a pickup carrying 26 people. That is a sight you don’t see in the States. The cool thing was, nobody acted “put out” over it. Everyone just scooted over the best they could to make room for everybody else. Mexico and the Mexican people are just pretty much like that, laid back and easygoing about circumstances that are unavoidable. In transportation, this includes overcrowding sometimes. On average there are about seven people per car in Mexico, compared to about six in Argentina, ten in Chile and less than two in the USA and Canada.
Still, there remains the question in many gringos minds – “Is it safe?” The short answer is it didn’t kill me. At least not yet. Statistically, it is probably not the best thing to do if safety is your overriding concern. In fact, as far as road safety, Mexico doesn’t rank very well.
Part of the safety issue in Mexico is the low budget it allocates each year for road safety—just US$0.40 compared to more than $3.00/person in the USA, more than $7.00/person in Canada and up to $40.00/person in some European countries. As a result of this, it is no surprise that a high percentage of drivers involved in traffic accidents in Mexico have alcohol in their system. This is one of the reasons why accidents are statistically more frequent in the evenings from Thursday to Saturday. One study reported that as many as 1 in 3 of drivers in Guadalajara was under the influence of alcohol while driving, and 1 in 5 of Mexico City drivers.
Maybe the fairest way of ranking countries for traffic safety is to look at traffic deaths per 100,000 population. Mexico has 21 traffic related deaths per 100,000 population. Brazil has 18, China has 17, India has 17, Indonesia 16, and Thailand has 20. Though Mexico is slightly better than Peru (22), Venezuela (22), Russia (25), and Pakistan (25). Mexico is significantly behind some of the other Western Hemisphere countries such as Canada (9), USA (11), Argentina (14), Colombia (17) and even Guatemala with 15 traffic related deaths per 100,000.
The major countries with the safest traffic are Japan (5), UK (5), Germany (6), and France (8). The least safe countries are mostly in Africa and include Egypt (42), Ethiopia (35), Kenya (34), Nigeria (32), the Congo (32) and South Africa (33).
Still, there is nothing like riding in the back of a pickup. And I don’t think about statistics when I’m there. I’m just enjoying the wind, the sun, and the view.