Sunday, April 25, 2010


Driving in Panama takes some getting used to. I must be getting it because Cindy called me a Panamanian driver the other day. What? Pulling out in front of oncoming traffic against a red light and sitting in the middle of the intersection so I can get a jump on it when the light turns green makes me Panamanian? I'm just going with the flow. The tempo is a bit different, that's all. You have to know when to go fast and when to slow down.

One time to slow down is after a fender-bender. When an accident occurs the general rule is ‘don’t move your vehicle’. The reason for this is that Panama is a fault country – that is, someone must be declared responsible for the accident. Therefore, until the Transito police arrive, the vehicles involved in the accident must remain in their final positions. If you move your vehicle prior to the Transito’s arrival, you will be deemed responsible for the accident regardless of the facts. It may take several hours for the Transito to arrive on the scene.

Meanwhile, drivers will do any at all to get around an obstruction, including driving on the shoulder. The shoulder is actually a pretty popular lane during commute hours or any other time. Drivers will use it when there is no traffic jam, for a variety of reasons, even if all they think is that you are driving too slowly for them. Others get into the left (fast) lane on the freeway and stay there.

Use of the horn is obligatory. A short toot, is "Hi, how are you?" Several long beeps can show irritation. A long blast is an expletive. Some of the Diablo Rojos have special truck and emergency sirens to help them get through tough spots.

Another usual sight is the "sea of yellow". All taxis must now be painted yellow. There are times during rush hour when it seems that 90% of the cars you see are yellow. It is surprising how many different shades of yellow there are, but even more surprising is the number of chartreuse, green, mustard and other colors of paint are used on the taxis.

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