When is excessive use of one’s horn NOT a sign of “road rage?” When you are in Panama.
The local forums and gringo opinionations frequently make the assumption that all the honking Panamanians do at each other’s cars, scooters, and motorcycles, as well as at pedestrians and bicycles, is a sign of road rage. That’s probably because the same behavior in the US would be. But here it isn’t, necessarily.
When I got my Panamanian driver’s license, I had to take the written test – in Spanish, mind you. And I was amazed to learn that the driving laws encourage use of the horn. A driver here is expected to alert pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, motorcycles and other drivers to his presence with a short toot.
As a scooter driver, I can see a number of benefits to this.
First, I am not always aware there is a car behind me. Sometimes that car is in my mirror’s blind spot. And sometimes it has just whizzed up behind me while I was enjoying the scent of new mown grass or something. In any case, I appreciate the friendly alert that the giant hunk of steel pulling up behind my vulnerable self is about to pass me.
Having watched spaced-out pedestrians suddenly decide to step out in front of me, I find giving them a friendly toot is also helpful. Ditto for drivers about to pull into the street who are looking only for other cars and miss seeing my bright red scooter with its lights on.
So, if you are planning to drive in Panama, be aware that, at least in the Azuero, most of the time the honking is not some red-eyed driver venting his spleen, but a friendly “Hi, I’m here.”
You’re not in Kansas any more.
Remember, in Panama, IT’S THE LAW. YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO HONK.