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Panama - Driving

For the most part, driving rules and regulations in Panama are very similar to those used in the US. Drivers use the right side of the road and the road signs and traffic signals that are used are the same. However, driving in Panama can be a little intimidating as it can appear to be very erratic.

Most drivers in Panama overuse the horn as a method of communicating with other drivers. This may not be something that you are used to but if you are driving in Panama you will need to get used to it. If you want to move into another lane then you need to use hand signals to the other drivers rather than use the electronic indicators on the car. The majority of drivers will have no problem letting you in.

Traffic signals are common at junctions but you should always allow a few extra seconds before you move off as many drivers will try to get through the lights anyway even if theirs is already on red. You should also be aware that very few drivers actually stop when they see a stop sign.

Accidents are common in Panama, but due to the volume of traffic no-one is ever going very fast so these tend to be small incidents and people are rarely badly hurt. It should be noted that taxis are allowed to stop wherever they want to and this often causes an accident. It is very rare that a person will be able to drive above 35km/h in the cities due to the volume of traffic.

Those who have a UK or US driving license can use it for 30 days when you first arrive in the country. If you are going to be in Panama for a longer period of time then you will need to get a temporary Panamanian permit which allows you to drive in the country. You need to obtain a Panamanian permit if you are staying in the country and you can be fined for not having one.

If you are in a car accident it is often normal practice to wait for the police before moving the cars out of the way, but if they are causing an obstruction and can be easily moved then the drivers should do so. In the event of an accident the drivers should exchange details and provide their insurance companies and the police with a general description of the incident, details of the vehicles and the location. Other information such as the weather conditions, any details of the road that may be relevant such as pot holes and how the cars ended up. If possible photographs should be supplied which support the statements. The accident should be reported to the drivers’ insurance companies and the Ground Transit and Transportation Authority within 3 days of the accident taking place. It is essential to involve the police if the two parties cannot agree on who caused the accident.

The condition of roads in Panama varies widely. Some parts of the highways are in excellent condition, as are some of the roads in the cities, but this is mainly those which are widely used. Roads in poor areas, rural areas and those which are not used very much will be in a much poorer condition. Lesser used roads are also less likely to have road markings. Some areas have poor lighting and this can make it hazardous at night.

There are several toll roads in the Panama City area. These are in the northern part of the city and close to the airport and there have been plans for a toll road linking Panama City with Colon.

Both drivers and passengers are required to wear seatbelts and rush hours tend to occur in the morning between 7.30 and 8.30, lunchtimes and in the evening from 4.30 to 6pm. There is no essential equipment that is legally required to be carried in the car, although a spare tyre, jack and other important items are recommended.

When it comes to drink driving Panama has a zero tolerance policy. Those drivers who have any alcohol at all in their blood stream will be charged with drink driving. This can lead to fines, loss of driver's licence and in severe cases, imprisonment.

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