What to do after an accident in Baja (it depends...)

Waltzing Matilda

(Note: this is a copy of a report I wrote the day of, and then day after, the accident, so the past tense/present tense jumped around as I updated information to share with friends on the Baja Nomad website, where a spirited debate took place.)

Sorry to report I was rear-ended by small Hyundai (?- or Kia - hard to tell after accident) car while stopped at the only signal in the town of Colonet about 150 miles south of border. Heck- the only signal for 50 miles! It began to flash yellow as I approached the intersection so, in an (over) abundance of caution, I decided to stop. A few seconds later I was looking in my rear view mirror, watching a car barrel down on me= clearly unable to stop.

When I saw the car coming behind me and realized it was moving too fast I took my foot off the brake and considered driving through the intersection, which fortunately was empty. But by the time I considered that it was too late- the car hit me directly. However, I think that taking my foot off the brake helped avoid more damage.

I have about a 3-inch lift on my truck so the car hit down low against my tow hitch instead of higher on the body of the truck. After the collision I slowly drove to this shoulder of the road and parked in front of a drugstore. When I got out and looked at the car in the intersection its front hood was crumpled and grill crushed. I was afraid to look at my truck.

However when I walked around to the back I saw no damage. The light lenses were intact. There was no obvious damage to the bumper. But the other car is likely totaled.

My initial thought was: fortunately, I had just purchased insurance from HDI Seguros via Discover Baja Travel Club in San Diego.

Police arrived within a half hour. Insurance was notified. It was raining. Road muddy and slick but light traffic.

I am worried about my neck and back. I thought: I will need to be checked out in San Diego - me and the truck. (update: I am now being treated in San Diego by my doctor for whiplash injuries. Have not had time to deal with the truck.)

Now for the bad news about Mexican insurance and liability. There was no doubt the other driver was at fault. I was at a complete stop when she rammed into me. But I was told by the federal police and the insurance company that in order for any evaluation of damage and claims to be done I would've had to drive back to San Quintin and surrender my vehicle to the federal police for an investigation. (about 50 miles south of my current destination)

Apparently they would have impounded my car indefinitely to do their own independent analysis before I would be allowed to claim damages, then, once the car was released, return to San Diego to have it inspected again. (Note: the local and federal police were very polite and professional- but they also were in a hurry to get this resolved. Lots of other accidents were taking place in the storm that was passing over, and waiting for the adjuster to look at my truck was not a good use of their time.)

Likewise I was told I had to see a local doctor, and if s/he determines I am injured, I can only be treated by doctors in Mexico. (note: the adjuster mentioned she had a friend or a relative who is a doctor, which set off some red flags for me.)

The additional cost of staying more days in Mexico and paying for hotels etc. would not have been covered by the insurance company. They would not have compensated me for missing work.

I had just purchased this policy at the Discover Baja office in San Diego, the day before I left. I have to admit I was shocked by these requirements.

After I called to report the accident I had called the DB office to tell them what had happened. I speak conversational Spanish but I was not confident of understanding all the details from the federal police and the insurance company.

It took the inspector over two hours to arrive on the scene. She only spoke Spanish so that also made the information more difficult for me to understand. It was raining and very cold as we stood outside waiting for her.

My neck and back began to get very stiff and sore and I wanted to get back to San Diego to see a doctor. I asked her if we could talk while sitting inside her car, away from the other driver and police who were interrupting our discussion with questions and suggestions.

She told me about the impoundment requirements for any damage to the truck to be claimed. Then she told me I had to see a doctor in Baja and if I were injured all treatment had to be done in Mexico as well. I did not recall being told of these "treated in Mexico" requirements or reading such requirements in the insurance documents.

Needless to say I am extremely disappointed with these requirements. I finally stopped requesting anything and just signed the paperwork. However, I wrote that while I believe there are damages, I would not seek a claim today because I had no time and would likely lose money by missing additional days of work and paying for a hotel, while waiting for the inspection to be done. (note: the form had no duplicates, so I realized after leaving: I have no documentation of the forms I had just filled out. I do have a claims # from the insurance company.)

One of the federal officers saw how angry/frustrated/upset I was, and before leaving, offered an apology for the delays, impoundment requirements, etc. But: it's the law in Mexico and we had to comply. I understood- he had explained these things to me before the adjuster arrived, and had advised me to continue driving north and not impound the car, so in retrospect, I appreciate the concern he expressed for my time and well-being.

However, I had waited for hours to make sure I filed the report with the adjuster, and complied with all insurance requirements, before leaving the scene. So I was tired, sore and exhausted. I had been driving since 8 am that morning- it was now 3 pm. The roads were already bad, and now getting worse.

I got in my truck and drove north, just as the skies began to open up, causing crazy weather for the next 150 miles between Colonet and my home in San Diego. I wound up spending the night in the truck about 80 miles south of the border, vs. driving thru treacherous conditions in the dark the final stretch.

Some photos of the roads I was driving on that day:

BajaRoads1.jpg BajaRoads3.jpg


So for anyone who has insurance for Baja be aware: even if the other person is 100% liable you may still lose time and money trying to make a claim. If the damage is severe to both vehicles, or someone is injured, the cars will be impounded pending an investigation by authorities.

Perhaps if I were retired I could have stayed for a few days to resolve all this. But I'm a teacher, and I had to return to work, and it looks like now I won't even make it back in time to teach tomorrow. (update: I didn't)

The accident delayed my travel for over three hours. By the time I started driving the rain intensified and it was dark when I arrived in Ensenada. I am currently sitting at the tollbooth trying to decide if I will spend the night here. Even though the rain has stopped I don't want to drive in the dark knowing there's likely a lot of debris on the road and flooding in Tijuana.

All in all this has been a very disheartening day. I came down to evaluate the road conditions before returning with a group for whale watching in the lagoons next month, and I learned that the drivers here can be more dangerous than the roads.

I have already told some of my friends I am not willing to lead a group down this year under these weather conditions. No matter how safely we may drive we can't control the actions of other drivers, and I learned a tough lesson today about Mexican liability law. But: it could have been much, much worse.

Update: Wednesday January 6 2016- I am still in Mexico after spending the night and waiting for the storms to pass. I read my insurance documents more carefully and saw nothing requiring treatment in Mexico, only treatment by qualified medical professionals. So I called the insurance company again this morning to verify the information I received yesterday was correct.

The international claims adjuster told me that I can receive treatment once I return to San Diego and then apply for reimbursement.

So it appears I can be treated for any injuries once I am back in the United States but I will have to pay out-of-pocket and be reimbursed. I'm in the process of doing that now.

I wanted to post this information as an advisory to anyone who travels into another country, for any reason. The laws are different and insurance can be complicated. Under current Mexico legal system, as with many other countries, they assume people are guilty before proven innocent.

Mexico requires US drivers carry insurance when traveling in Mexico. Local drivers often have no insurance- it is required, but rarely enforced.
It is changing here in Mexico, but slowly.

I think it is worth being informed of these things before traveling, not to discourage you from traveling to Baja (which I have done without accident for decades), but to advise you of the challenges and risk during this El Niño year.

In closing: I don't want to end this on a bad note: Baja is beautiful! The last two years I made 3-4 trips each season to see whales and visit friends.

So I will end with some photos of my trip to Ojo de Liebre lagoon to see whales, wildlife, water. (I also saw some Expedition Portal travelers who had arranged their trip via this forum.)

LagoonMts1.jpg LiebreHeron1.jpg
liebrelodge2.jpg LiebrePier1.jpg newPier1.jpg
LiebreWhale1.jpg DSCF6249.jpg
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Thanks for the info and I'm glad it wasn't worse. I always use Baja Bound insurance...I'll read my policy. I was down there around the same time as you.

Waltzing Matilda

Thanks for the info and I'm glad it wasn't worse. I always use Baja Bound insurance...I'll read my policy. I was down there around the same time as you.
Yes, read it carefully. Make sure you know what to do, and expect, in case of an accident instead of learning under a stressful situation.

I've been told Baja Bound sells same company's policies (HSI Seguros) and one of their reps has reached out to me for information about some of the issues I mentioned here.

Were you part of the overlanding group traveling thru the mountains from east to west?

Some made it to the lagoon after off-roading from the east cape. Looked like a well-equipped bunch.
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No sir...I just went down with my girlfriend in my 4x4 van. We covered almost 1400 miles in 7 days. We had a great time!

Waltzing Matilda

No sir...I just went down with my girlfriend in my 4x4 van. We covered almost 1400 miles in 7 days. We had a great time!
Glad you had a good trip.

Baja is so beautiful. The flowers are already appearing, the skies are gorgeous-- but it can be crazy when the mud/rocks/rain starts hitting the highway.

And just as in SoCal- no one knows how to drive in the rain.


Sorry to hear about your troubles and hope you heal quickly and without issue. Thanks for posting. When you have a moment, fill me in on the type of camper you have. I'm currently contemplating going larger than my topper. Thanks.


New member
I had a minor accident in tijuana, an old lady with no insurance and no license plate rear ended me, when the municipal police arrived they told me that just for the fact that she didn’t have the insurance and plates was her fault, at the end they ask me for a “donation” to speed the process and put the report on “my favor” I only gave them 100 pesos, I think it was worth for the amount of time it took them to finish the report.


Several years ago some friends were traveling Baja in two rented motorhomes. They were driving at night. (Yeah, I know.) One got forced off of the road and crashed. They managed to get ahold of the embassy who told them to get the H*ll out of there and get back to the US. Let the rental company deal with it. It was a bit cramped getting 12 people and gear in the remaining vehicle. As far as I ever heard, no problems ever came up from them exiting in a rapid manner.

Waltzing Matilda

Sorry to hear about your troubles and hope you heal quickly and without issue. Thanks for posting. When you have a moment, fill me in on the type of camper you have. I'm currently contemplating going larger than my topper. Thanks.
Chris- it's a Callen camper. After doing some research, I bought it 2nd hand in San Diego a few years ago and it's been bombproof for off-road in Death Valley and Baja and places in between. They are insulated, with sliding screened windows and a traditional vent on the top (I've considered getting the "super" style with battery powered fan for better air circulation)

I'm wondering if its structural strength, and the way it's bolted to the truck bed rails, may have also helped absorb the force of the collision, and keep the truck straight in this accident.

Unfortunately, the company went out of business a few years ago.

There are many used ones still around in SD, and I see them daily while driving. They are offered for sale from time to time. Not sure of the weight.

Unlike the Leer I had before on a similar truck, this one is dust proof, very sturdy (steel frame) and much more comfortable for camping when the weather turns bad. Many have rooftop carriers that people use for "decks" for sleeping, star gazing, etc.

In any case- it's built like a tank, and designed for offroad. I love it, and have created a simple sleeping platform and shelves for storing camping gear during travel. I also sewed the curtains, and added flat pockets for keeping books, small items etc. out of sight and easily available.

Hope that helps!


Waltzing Matilda

Thanks Frenchie- yes, whiplash injuries can cause problems for years. Sorry to hear that happened to you.

I've heard the "don't take anything to ______ you don't want to leave behind" comment many times. I don't completely agree, and for that matter, it's true for any adventure travel trip, even into remote areas of the US/Canada.

What irritated me about this was the contradictory information I received from the adjuster vs. what the policy said, in terms of where I could receive medical treatment.
I hope it will all be worked out soon.


Expedition Vehicle Engineer Guy
Interesting to hear your story, sounds like a tough situation and glad you made out okay in the end.

I guess I don't view any of the locally required insurance as having any real value to me. If it does, I'm prepared to be pleasantly surprised.

What I count on is my medivac policy getting me the heck out and back to the US for care if something bad happens to me. Possessions can be replaced, and if necessary I'll just leave it all behind. That wouldn't be my first choice, but it's one I'm prepared to make.

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