recent change to licensing requirements may influence your decision!
Alvin Starkman M.A., LL.B.
Driving a car in Oaxaca has always been dangerous, be it using your own or a rental vehicle (see my earlier article entitled Driving in Oaxaca: Rules of the Road). But with a dramatic change in the law respecting obtaining a driver’s license, it’s now more precarious, and scary, than ever.
Until recently, to obtain a license you had to either take a written test, or pay a small bribe to avoid having to do so. In either case there was no road test and no eye examination. But now the state has done away with virtually all licensing requirements relating to safety: no written test, no road test, no eye test. The new law is advertized as “more secure.” However, the fact of the matter is that drivers, passengers and pedestrians are much less secure on the roads, curbs and sidewalks.
As long as you’re at least 18 years of age you can apply for licensing for two, three or five years. For the longest period, the cost of obtaining a license to drive a car or light truck is 552 pesos (about $42 USD using early 2009, exchange rates). Add a further 66 pesos ($5) and you can obtain a chauffeur’s license, enabling you to drive a tractor trailer. And with a payment of only 375 pesos ($30), you’re off on your Harley Davidson roaming the roads for a half a decade.
Those 16 and 17 years old must produce an original certificate confirming that they’ve taken a driver training course, but naturally producing such a document has nothing to do with how you’ve performed on the road while taking your lessons. If you can’t afford the lessons, or if your road skills are so bad that driving instructors refuse to teach you out of sheer fear for their own lives, all you have to do is wait that extra year or two, until your eighteenth birthday, and then there are virtually no hoops to jump through.
The requirements with which you must comply are:
1) You must be able to sign your name, which of course does not preclude placing your mark (i.e. an “X”) instead;
2) You must produce proof of residence, such as a water, phone or hydro bill;
3) You must have identification in the form of a voter registration card, or in the case of non-Mexicans, a visa and passport;
4) You must have the name and minimal contact information for a next of kin;
5) You must provide fingerprints of all of your digits, but it’s not clear if this requirement means that those missing one or more fingers simply have to ink up those, if any, that they have;
6) You must be able to pose for a photo.
It appears that if you are legally blind, you can still be licensed. You are simply asked if you need eyeglasses to drive, with no mention of the nature or strength of prescription. It appears that you must be able to speak so as to enable you to comply with the fourth requirement noted above, but if you bring along a piece of paper with the name and contact information of your next of kin, or attend with someone assisting you who can speak, this possible prerequisite may not apply at all. And of course if you read lips when being addressed by the application officer, the ability to hear becomes irrelevant. It appears that you must have at least one arm, or portion thereof enabling you to sign, but there is no suggestion that you must have a lower limb.
So why is it so dangerous for those of us driving in Oaxaca with years of experience and not a single traffic violation on our record? Think about it; the lane to your left could be occupied by a fully licensed sixteen-year-old blind youth who has rarely been behind the wheel or even a passenger in a car, trying to make a right hand turn in his three ton cube van, all the while oblivious to you honking your horn in sheer fright.
Alvin Starkman has a Masters in anthropology and law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School. Now a resident of Oaxaca, Alvin writes, takes couples and families to the sights, and owns Casa Machaya Oaxaca Bed & Breakfast ( http://www.oaxacadream.com ), a unique Oaxaca bed and breakfast experience, providing Oaxaca accommodations which combine the comfort and service of Oaxaca hotels with the personal touch of quaint country inn style lodging.