Unfortunately, we are back in that time of year when Panama’s road rage escalates and the traffic jams just seem to be crazy! Everyone that has a car is out and about, and there does not seem to be a single day where there aren’t any traffic jams. Obviously, Panama’s traffic in the central business district is pretty bad all year round – but December is nightmarish.
Every year, we see the government make the Corredor Norte & Corredor Sur (toll highways) free for some of the December period (often December 7 or 8 – Mother’s Day; and then again for Christmas – one year they made it free from the 19th to the 23rd!). This is because some 2 million cars transit through Panama City every week.
It was so bad in 2016 that the Government changed the working hours of public offices so that they would leave work earlier and be able to get home before the worst of the traffic. Hopefully this year it will be repeated, and we will see some employers offering alternative working hours to their staff to accommodate the Christmas traffic.
In Panama, all year round, it’s quite common to find drivers aggressively jumping queues, blocking intersections (even with the traffic cop directing the traffic), honking, flashing their lights, and speeding up to block you out as you try to change lanes or merge. But this inconsiderate driving in bad traffic conditions seems to get worse in December.
What is essential to realise – while you cannot change or control how others respond & react in the traffic – you can control yourself! You can choose how you are going to view the problems around December traffic and stress.
Emotional intelligence – something that many times appears to be sorely lacking in Panama – is the capacity to perceive, access & manage yourself and understand others. It’s quite similar to empathy – with the added bonus of being self-aware.
It’s important to note – this is not intellectual.
This is intelligence.
It refers to our ability to learn – to continually change and adapt the information we had and then choose to respond differently. One of the biggest challenges with emotional intelligence is that there is communication between the emotional and rational centres of our brain – and they occur at different speeds.
The lymbic system, which receives and processes a stimulus (leading to an emotional response), actually receives and processes faster than the neocortex (rational brain). So, inevitably, we react emotional BEFORE we have had a chance to think.
So, while it’s true that Panama needs to come up with new solutions to the December madness that leads to the road rage in the first place – there’s also a place for self-regulation!
In my ideal world of PanUtopia, all driver’s ed courses would include the following education:
- Pause & count to 10 —
- The brain struggles to process more than one thought at a time. So you cannot count to 10 AND be thinking about why you are so mad at the other person.
- This allows the anger and emotions to dissipate until you can engage the rational brain
- Don’t take this frustration home with you – release & let go before you walk in the door!
- Engage your brain – think & visualize the consecuences of how you are planning to respond
- Practice empathy – recognise that they are driving in their own circumstances
- Defensive driving – not simjply driving according to the rules, but awareness that others might not be following the rules. It’s better to be safe than to be right.
- General education about timeliness – if there’s always bad traffic in Panama (and we all know that there is) – always calculate your travel time to the worse possible scenario, so that you are always on time. It’s not the traffic’s fault you are running late.
So, let’s really talk solutions to this December madness.
More public transport
I would love to see Panama actually start planning and announcing public transport options during the peak traffic. To know that during the December traffic, there will be buses running more often than during the rest of the year.
And I would like to see Panamanians using public transportation more during the Christmas period:
I would love for Panama to simply do away with their not-so-well and not-so-brilliant carpooling legislation! Who would think that legislating carpooling would actually work?
The problem is that in other countries a police officer will not pull you over in the morning traffic to find out whether the person(s) travelling with you in the car are friends/family or an officially carpooling which is registered… they will simply be glad for less traffic on the road. However, in Panama, the taxis and transport unions are so strong, that they have made it impossible for anyone to give a neighbour or co-worker a lift to work – because apparently that’s unfair competition with the public transport sector!
Who in their right mind thought that this was a good idea?
If we want to address the traffic nightmare, we need to accept that maybe, perhaps, a neighbour will ask you for petrol-money! And that’s okay. It’s one less car on the road. It’s not an illegal taxi service!
Changed working hours
In past years, the government has changed public offices working hours in December, in order to alleviate the congestion at peak hours. This means that public officials were getting out of work by 3.30 p.m., allowing them to be home before 5.00 when the rest of private enterprise was getting off work.
More TV time – educational videos
I would love to see the transport authorities / police spend money on educational videos!
- how to use a roundabout (circular intersections – rotaries – what do you call them?)
- reminder that a passing lane is for “passing” – go back into the right lane if you are not passing
- give me a comedy about the rudeness of queue jumping
- pet peeve – teaching drivers NOT to block intersections – don’t move forward into an intersection until it’s clear to exit. And give this education, especially, to the traffic cops that are directing traffic. Yes – even if you are directing traffic, there’s still no reason to allow ANY car to block the intersection!
- tailgating versus defensive driving
- purpose & uses of indicators – maybe another tongue-in-cheek comedy routine
But really – be safe as you are out there driving in the December madness.
Remember – while you have no control over how others are driving – you are 100% responsible for your own responses. How will you choose to drive this December?