Speed Racer vs Gringo, Panama

bumper cars

Dangerous Drivers in Training
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A favored form of entertainment among gringos here in Las Tablas seems to consist of lounging back with a beer at the Oceanos Bar while expressing disgust with the local drivers.

Now I grew up in Montana under the guidance of a father who took the family on fishing trips in the back of beyond where roads barely deserved the name. However, that never slowed either my dad or any of the drivers I saw along the way, if one can judge by speeding clouds of dust.  In town the locals had no notion of lanes, good parking practices, stopping for pedestrians, or when it might not be a good idea to pass.

Then I later spent time in large foreign and domestic cities, where a simple cab ride was frequently a death-defying act.

So I am not too impressed with “how bad” our local drivers are.  Most of them here in the Azuero seem eminently sane by my somewhat skewed standards.  Although there is a man with a motorcycle who winds it up on the narrow residential street behind my house.  I have to agree with the neighbors’ assessment that he is going to kill someone.  And when I am out on my scooter I keep a sharp eye out for school buses after one passed me without checking for clearance before turning back into our mutual lane.  I had to slam on my brakes to keep from being physically shoved off the road.

But I don’t see this kind of thing regularly.  What I see are drivers generally aware that their machine is bigger and harder than the pedestrians and bicyclists they pass, drivers checking for anything and everything at corners, and drivers who are basically courteous to other drivers.  I am far more concerned about sharing the road with the SUV full of sloshed gringos who do things here they would never dream of trying “at home.” (Why is that?  Nobody’s watching?  BLLLAATTT.  Wrong.)

When you consider that it has not been more than five or ten years since cars became so easily available to the average Panamanian, you realize this country does not have the cumulative hundred year history of driving experience we bring from the north.  Nor did many of the current drivers here learn the art at 16 years of age and now have years of practice behind them.

All things considered, I am not willing to drive in Panama City where the streets truly are filled with maniacs, but out here in the interior the roads seem pretty safe on the whole.

What are your thoughts?  I’d love to hear them.