Joaquim Oliveira

Holidays are just around the corner with the promise of a much deserved relaxation time by the beach, in the mountains or just relaxing in your hometown. All sure to recharge your batteries (and this time I don´t mean it literally). But if you are venturing into some unknown territory on a more daring trip to a foreign country be advised that strange things are likely to occur.

Especially if you decide to fly to an exotic touristic destination where the number one rule when driving is to expect the unexpected. That was the major lesson I retained from my first experience driving in Sao Paulo (Brazil, a decade ago) and some years later in Rio de Janeiro in two of the most tourist-hostile driving environments I have ever been submerged in.

Sao Paulo´s economy was stagnant in 2003, housing and general prices had not inflated obscenely as they did a few years later before the current crisis, middle class explosion was still a good distance down the road and, thus, far from the 34 million households owning at least one individual means of transportation today (there is an estimated 85 million vehicle fleet in Brazil, twice as many as back in 2003). So it was with little surprise that I found the driving conditions in the heart of the Corcovado city to have deteriorated in my more recent experience (in 2016). Considering the driving standards of a southern European such as the author of these lines the scenario behind the wheel of an air conditioning-less Chevrolet Corsa was frightening, for a central European mind-set it would probably be close to Armageddon. In either case these very wise driving tips could be of transcendent relevance before you hop on your rental car: on city roads with three lanes ignore the exterior ones as you become more exposed to theft and that same imminent risk will strongly advise you to keep your windows up if you have any hopes to avoid getting acquainted with an armed individual; at night improve your low emission driving rate by slowing down when approaching a red traffic light from the distance waiting for it to become green again or simply ignore the scarlet tone after making sure you don´t knock down a pedestrian, but either way don´t stop the car at night; don´t venture into sightseeing behind the wheel if you don´t know where you are going as a wrong turn can send you into a favela (shantytown on a hill in the vicinity of a city) where you might enlarge the statistics proving that more people get in than out; if when driving through a tunnel you exasperate by the blocked traffic don´t make a big fuss about it and instead focus on collecting some valuables to hand over to the unfriendly armed pedestrian who, along with a team of fellow-workers, blocked the entry and the exit of the tunnel before visiting each and every "hi-jacked" car to alleviate the occupants from some of their belongings; don´t start horning or protesting if the old-timer van in front of you stops every 300 meters to drop and pick up people randomly and without any warning as this is one of the most widely established means of "public transportation" (also because people tend to get aggressive if you do so); don't expect people to cross at pedestrian crossings as they may dodge cars, sometimes stopping in the middle of a street without while waiting for a chance to finish crossing over – and if you stop for them, you could cause an accident because most drivers don't expect anyone to do that and your "act-like-a-native" disguise will be revealed; the thousands of stray animals strongly recommend sharp reflexes, just as potholes as deep as craters, impassable mud pits and speed bumps the size and shape of concrete cylinders (many of which not even painted or signed) represent a constant threat; don´t exasperate with the zigzagging erratic driving style of moto taxis as they tend to know what they are doing and will avoid contact with your car... and also because you might go crazy soon and enrol on a life threatening experience in the back saddle of one of these Brazilian unauthorized official transportation vehicles.

On a more positive approach, all this action going on constantly day or night can be seen as a source of entertainment for the driver who feels he is in the middle of a video game, the windshield being the console display where hundreds of characters, threats, rewards appear out of nowhere and disappear (back to nowhere) from your sight at a frantic pace. Just make sure you don´t get to read "game over" or "RIP" at the end of it all...

The other important thought to keep in your mind is that things could also be worse. Like they were on the 14th of November of 2013. That day, at 6 pm, the federal division in charge of engineering traffic in Brazil recorded a 309 km traffic jam, the all-time record line of cars queuing in to get out of the city centre on the eve of a national bank holiday. A combination of factors (late afternoon before a three day weekend, two public demonstrations in the city centre and more than a dozen of accidents) created "the perfect storm", but the paulistano (the local citizen) who commutes from home in the suburbs to downtown Sao Paulo (somewhere in the midst of 8500 km2 of the metropolitan area) is quite used to sit in traffic every morning and every late afternoon: recent figures show an average 2h42m/day sitting in traffic, which translates into 27 days per year just to go to work and back; also, the km/day traffic line averages increased from 116 km in 2011 to 132 km to 150 km last year. A nightmare on the verge of bringing to life a truly dramatic human behaviour like anticipated by REM´s "Everybody Hurts" video clip from the 90s in which all the drivers stuck on a massive jam simply abandon their cars and walk away from them to proceed with their lives. And in Brazil happy to have one as the annual road traffic death toll averages 60 000 people. Think about it: one full stadium of passionate football supporters erased from the map every year.

Joaquim Oliveira

Joaquim Oliveira

European Car of the Year Jury Member

June 26, 2017 Columns › Joaquim Oliveira

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