By Sibel Tinar, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – The safety of the roads and highways in Rio is again in the headlines following the recent death of eighteen year-old Rafael Mascarenhas, the son of actress Cissa Guimarães, who was killed in the Acústico Tunnel in Gávea after being hit by a car while skateboarding.
The tunnel was closed for maintenance at the time of the accident, but two cars managed to enter through a passage used for emergencies at a speed of around 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour).
The driver was caught by the police soon after but his subsequent treatment is the subject of an ongoing investigation as to exactly why he was allowed to go free until the next day.
The incident is rife with issues that keep haunting Rio de Janeiro: dangerous roads, insufficient or erroneous signs, speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol.
The incidence of traffic-related deaths in Brazil, which is just over thirty per 100,000 inhabitants per year according to data from 2008, is considerably higher than that of the developed world. The United States has an average of 12.5, and in the European Union that number is just shy of eight.
In Brazil, most fatal accidents occur on intercity highways, but nevertheless the average incidence of traffic deaths within the city limits of the state capitals, where the speeds are supposed to be lower, is also at an alarming rate of nearly seventeen per 100,000.
Each year, the city of Rio de Janeiro registers over 15,000 accidents with injured victims and loses an average of 900 of its residents to traffic.
Avenida Brasil, the Rio section of the cross-country highway BR-101 (the 58 kilometer long avenue that is one of the main arteries of the city) sees the highest number of accidents with an average of 5.9 per day. It is followed by Avenida das Américas, the forty-kilometer avenue that runs through Zona Oeste, and Avenida Presidente Vargas, which connects Zona Norte to Centro and while is only 3.5 kilometers long, carries some of the heaviest traffic in the city.
In order to reduce the high number of traffic accidents and casualties in the country, the Código de Trânsito Brasileiro (Brazilian Traffic Code) was altered in 2008 with an amendment that prohibits the consumption of alcohol by drivers completely, commonly dubbed Lei Seca (Prohibition).
The law has been enforced in Rio de Janeiro since March 2009 and is credited for decreasing the number of traffic-related deaths by 32 percent in the state and by over six percent in the country within the last year.
Under the Lei Seca, drivers who are found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.2 g/l (equivalent to around a can of beer or a small glass of wine) receive a fine of R$957 and have their driver’s licenses suspended for a year. Anyone with a blood alcohol level of 0.6 g/l must be arrested on the spot, and may be punished with six months to three years in jail.
The legal limit in many Western countries, including the United States and United Kingdom is 0.8 g/l.
Cariocas who insist on drinking and driving, however, have been referring to a Twitter account that warns its 83,500 followers about the locations of the Lei Seca operations in the city.
Minister of Health José Gomes Temporão, who has recently praised the success of the operations, insisted that the Twitter account did not change anything, and added: “Tweeting is losing to the strategy and the wittiness of our campaign.”