Speed Limits, Roads and Drink Driving
Understand the different speed limits, types of road and parking in Panama, plus information on drink driving...
Roads in Panama
Throughout Panama there is a network of paved highways, and main roads in Panama City and in most large towns are paved and maintained.
The country's main highway is the Inter-American highway, running from the Costa Rican border to Yaviza, in the Darien Province. Beyond Yaviza, toward the Colombian border, the largely impenetrable Darien rainforest makes driving impossible. Realistically, passage to Colombia can only be made on foot, by plane or boat.
On the Corredor Norte and Corredor Sur highways there are tolls, and fees vary according to the length of time spent on the road. Toll fees are nominal, and are usually less than a US$1dollar.
Problems on the roads
Roads in Panama City and highways leaving the city are currently undergoing a lot of construction work. While the metro is being built (until 2014), many main roads in the city are reduced to single lanes and there are few signs notifying drivers of any road changes ahead. On main highways to the city, construction work often takes place at night and there are few road lights, making driving hazardous.
Drivers need to be alert: manholes are sometimes left uncovered, there are many potholes and the drainage in Panama City is inadequate, causing the streets to flood during the rainy season. The potholes in Panama City are often so large that if a vehicle's tire becomes stuck it has to be towed out.
Roads in the largely undeveloped Darien region are rarely paved; neither are many of the smaller roads off highways and main roads in many other regions.
There is a general lack of signage on roads; and highway ramps often do not have signs indicating where they lead. There are insufficient traffic lights and few signs indicating right of way.
Driving is significantly more dangerous throughout Panama City during the Carnival than the rest of the year. The city experiences a huge influx of people for the festivities and traffic is extremely congested during this time. Drink driving is also commonplace.
The speed limit for city streets is between 25-30 Km/h and around 100 Km/h on highways. Road speeds, road signs and most car odometers are in kilometers.
There are general speed limits in the city and sometimes small residential streets may post an additional speed limit sign, although these are not always respected. On highways around the city, for example on the Corredor Sur, there is speed limit signage but the highways are not regularly policed.
Drivers often drive on the hard shoulder on highways, mostly during rush hour.
All cars in Panama must have at least third party liability insurance. However, it is the car that is insured, not the driver or owner.
Most car insurance policies have roadside assistance packages. Drivers can also call a tow company (a service provided by some garages) for help in the event of a breakdown.
Drinking and Driving
The Blood Alcohol Content driving limit in Panama is zero. Those caught drinking and driving may be fined and may have their vehicle retained. However, this is not often policed and driving while under the influence of alcohol is common in Panama.
Within the city there are occasional road blocks, but breathalyzers are seldom used. There are a few consistent checkpoints in the city, on the Causeway for example.
Riding a Bicycle in Panama
Riding a bicycle on the streets of Panama City can be dangerous. The chance of having an accident in the city on a bicycle is very high due to the erratic and unpredictable driving of many motorists.
Many parks, for example the Causeway, and the Cinta Costera, have designated bicycle areas or lanes for cyclists. In Casco Viejo there is less traffic and more space for bicycles, but the roads are extremely poor and uneven.
Parking in Panama
Parking in Panama is generally unregulated. Drivers park on roundabouts, on curves, on the pavement, in front or behind other cars, in front of garage doors and entrances, and anywhere else they think they can fit their car. However, this is currently changing and parking tickets are now being issued in Panama City.
There are a few streets with parking meters as well as parking lots that charge an hourly rate, ranging from 15 cents to US$1.00. Some businesses have garages that may charge a fee.
A parking ticket must be paid at the Municipio de Panama. In Panama City there is an office on Avenida Cuba.