Operation Dry Law on Rio’s Roads

By Philip Sever, Contributing Reporter

Breath Test Fotografo Rogerio Santana

Operation Dry Law, photo by Rogerio Santana.

RIO DE JANEIRO – Operation Dry Law (Operacao Lei Seca) was introduced in Rio de Janeiro one month ago (March 19th), to reduce the number of accidents on Rio’s roads and concentrating particularly on those caused by drunk drivers. The program has involved military police, civil police and highway police and has covered the whole state of Rio de Janeiro. Breath testing has concentrated on areas with the highest accident rates such as Avenida Brasil and Avenida das Americas.

On June 19, 2008, Brazil passed a zero tolerance law for drivers with any measurable content of alcohol in their blood. Law 11.705 was proposed by the Brazilian Congress and passed by President Luiz Inácio da Silva. With 35,000 people dying on Brazil’s roads each year the move was widely welcomed.

Now in Rio, with the slogan “Never drive after drinking,” Operation Dry Law’s unique approach relies on the participation of accident victims (cadeirantes) visiting bars and restaurants to share their experiences with customers and hand out leaflets. The leafleting campaign has focussed on Zona Sul and has been largely carried out at night.

Federal Highway Police inspector Marisa Dreys said, “Accident victims are what make this operation different. They are a great example for all of us. It is their dedication and willingness to share their experiences, publicly exposing their personal tragedies. This operation, fortunately, is going beyond what was originally proposed. It is a lesson in life, humility and love of your fellow man”.

At the same time, motorists are being tested on the road to measure the level of alcohol in their breath. In its first month, results published by the Secretary of State indicate that during Operation Dry Law 4,451 drivers have been given road side breath tests and 1,014 fines have been handed out.

This is the summary of the first month of Operation Dry Law. The operation, which has focused on education and surveillance, is ongoing. In 2008, over 2,500 people were killed and more than 30,000 injured on Rio’s roads, according to DETRAN (Departamento Estudual de Transito).

Of all the drivers who were stopped by the police and asked if they were willing to be breath tested only 437 drivers refused. According to Carlos Alberto Lopes, Secretary of State and coordinator of the operation, this low rate of refusal to be tested shows that there is a growing awareness by society of the importance of fighting the mixture of alcohol and driving. Lopes stated that the biggest success of the operation has been the number of lives saved.