By Benjamin Parkin, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Operação Lei Seca (Operation Dry Law) is stepping up its activities to prevent drunk driving during Carnival this year. Throughout the state of Rio de Janeiro 250 agents will be working daily, in both preventive acts and inspections such as blitzes, where police divert traffic in order to stop and test drivers.
On Saturday, 22 agents carried out an educational operation at a Carnival bloco, Simpatia é Quase Amor (Affection is Almost Love), in Ipanema. They were in the procession distributing stickers and fans to the estimated 80,000 revelers in order to raise awareness about the dangers of drunk driving.
Operação Lei Seca (OLS) activity has considerably expanded in scope since operations moved beyond the city to other parts of Rio de Janeiro state. Last year, they carried out eighty blitzes in more than forty municipalities beyond the capital city.
According to government sources, they aim to double that figure in 2014, having already carried out thirty blitzes, searched some 3,000 people, and revoked around 400 drivers’ licenses.
Marco Andrade, coordinator of OLS, told the press that traffic during last year’s Carnival was the safest for ten years, defined by the number of accident victims. He explained, “Last year, we had a thirty percent reduction in the rate of intoxication during blitzes in the state – in other words, there was a reduction in the number of drivers caught drinking under the influence of alcohol. This means that the population is changing its behavior and contributing to safer traffic.”
Across the country as a whole, breathalyzer tests more than doubled last year, from 648,405 in 2012 to 1,523,334 tests in 2013. More than 11,000 people were arrested for drunk driving, compared to 8,693 in 2012 – an increase of 34 percent.
Another OLS blitz on Saturday in Campos dos Goytacazes, the interior of Rio de Janeiro, yielded some unexpected results when agents confiscated twelve vehicles for “irregularities,” though none related to drunk driving.
Later that night, OLS agents in Cuiabá, Mato Grosso, stopped a delegate, whose identity has not been released, found to be driving under the influence of alcohol. However, he paid a fine and was freed. In 2012, Rio de Janeiro deputy Pedro Augusto was stopped during a blitz but controversially refused to give a breath test.
The “dry law” was passed in 2008, and changed the acceptable level of alcohol in one’s body to zero, making any blood alcohol content an offense. Under the law, a breath test is also not required for a conviction if there is other evidence available, such as eyewitness accounts or images.
Although the zero blood-alcohol limit is more strict than other countries, photographer Mateus Vicente, a Carioca that lives in Barra da Tijuca and drives the roads of Rio told The Rio Times, “I like the Lei Seca, for me [the blitzes] are good… It has saved a lot of lives,” adding “I think that zero percent tolerance is a good way to prevent every accident.”
The Federal Highway Police (PRF) released statistics showing that there were less deaths from accidents on highways across the country. There were 8,660 deaths in 2012, compared to 8,415 in 2013. Taking into account the increase of cars on Brazilian highways, this is a relative drop of 9.67 percent. Despite a small increase in the number of accidents, relatively speaking it was still a drop of six percent.
“The Federal Highway Police did a detailed study of the characteristics of accidents and intensified inspections focusing on the causes of these accidents – primarily speeding, overtaking and not using seat belts,” said Stênio Pires, chief of the Federal Highway Police Planning Division.