David A. Bandel
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Some of you may have heard that this morning (14 Aug) in a pre-dawn accident, a dump truck slammed head on into a bus killing 24 people here in Panama. The two vehicles had to be separated with two tow trucks. This is a tragedy in more ways than one.
The most worrisome part is that this tragedy was avoidable. It's also tragic that I for one was not really surprised when I heard on the news what happened. I'm actually more surprised it doesn't happen here more often, particularly given several factors including, but not limited to, ones I recently discussed in "It's the Law, or is it ...".
And of course today (and probably tomorrow and the next day) we saw the usual knee-jerk reaction -- police out everywhere stopping trucks. Hello, a day late and a dollar short. And really, what are they actually doing to improve things? Nothing, it would appear.
For those of you who don't know, the driver of the dump truck (deceased) had 17 traffic tickets to his name, and I'm not talking parking violations either. As he wasn't old enough to be driving for 17 years (not even close) you have to ask: HUH? And the Transport Authority is doing what? Certainly not keeping these kind of drivers off the road (in fact, he had been stopped by a cop less then 30 minutes before the accident).
I must tell you, that the majority of folks attempt to bribe their way out of tickets, even a number of gringos I know (no, I don't believe in it) will try (and usually succeed) because the alternative is a good 4 or more hours of one work day lost. And a majority (to my experience) of these underpaid cops even solicit bribes to supplement their incomes. So how many times this homicidal maniac was actually stopped for moving violations is anyones guess, but I'd start by multiplying by at least 3 if not more.
If none of the above is sobering, and you're not convinced after reading the above referenced article, you need to come down and see for yourself. But you're safer driving in a war zone (you've been warned).
Is it fixable? Almost certainly not in my lifetime, no matter how old I live to be. At least, not the way the folks down here have gone about it (past or present) or are likely to go about it. Why not? Culture. And you can't change that in one generation without severe punishments meeted out to offenders (I'm talking prison terms). Especially not as close as families here tend to be. They raise their children to be carbon copies, right down to the huge egos.
It's not the first time something like this has happened, though. Not long ago six young people lost their lives in a tragic car accident right here in Chiriqui Province. Headed home at high speed in a too small car on a windy road after a long night of partying. The carnage of that day was memorable as well.
I expect, though, in a few days it will be business as usual. They'll lower the speed limit in that area, put up a sign or two (ones that should already have been there), put up some crosses at the side of the road and paint blue hearts on the road, and try to forget. I will present my thoughts on why this happens another time, but it has to do with religion, so will not be enjoyed by those of you with deep religious beliefs.
David-Tale of 24
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