Brazil does have a Traffic Code, and it is based on the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic. There are extensive Rules of the Road, including long sections on Defensive Driving and First Aid. In order to receive Brazilian drivers licenses Mark and I had to study these rules, then take a sophisticated computerized test, a difficult psychological written exam and an eye exam. The Motor Vehicle Bureaus around the country perform rigorous annual vehicle inspections. There are radars and speed bumps everywhere, and heavy fines for scofflaws. It is not for lack of regulations, enforcement or will that Brazil has plunged so far down the traffic fatality slope, fatalities which last year alone totaled upwards of 40,000.
So what is it? Aggressive tailgating, reckless passing — on the right, on the left, into the oncoming lane — it just doesn't gibe with my sense of the Brazilian spirit of paz e amor. I was baffled until one white-knuckle ride into Rio, when it came to me in a flash. Futebol. The national sport, the national passion. They're all playing soccer. The drivers are forever cutting in front of each other to take any field advantage they can, they're passing with reckless abandon to get to the imaginary goal posts. One car scrapes against another? Just a rebound, the ball (or in this case the car) remains in play. Driving at breakneck speed on the shoulder? No worries, that's just an offside position, which is not an offense in itself.
|Sir? Sir? I believe that's called the Oncoming Lane.|
I've lost count of the number of near accidents I've witnessed. But since they were only near accidents, since the drivers maneuvered and veered and avoided and stopped just short of the actual accidents, there is an argument that can be made that Brazilians are excellent drivers. I even see the logic there. Apologists cite the poorly maintained roads, the bad or misleading traffic signs, and some blame the weather. Huh? The weather? But nobody is forced to put the pedal to the metal. That's cultural. After all, Brazil ranks second in the list of foreign-born winners of the Indy 500, and third on the Formula One list. They love speed. It's not for nothing that the soccer breakaway is one of the most exciting plays in the game.
One thing for certain, no one in Brazil has ever watched "Signal 30," the driving safety film they forced us to sit through in Drivers Ed. Remember? A film so graphic for its time, so horrifying, that even the most macho football team captains ran out of the classroom vomiting and girls fainted in their seats? Well, I remember it. And I think it should be resurrected in Brazil. So right here, right now, I'm going to do my part:
Alert: Strong Content, Parental Guidance Required