By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – A bill introduced last week by Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro, to ease penalties on drivers who disobey traffic rules, has been receiving widespread criticism. Some of the harshest criticism has come from federal Deputy Cristiane Yared, a Bolsonaro supporter who lost her son due to a drunken driver in 2009.
“Brazil’s traffic is a war zone,” Chamber of Deputies legislator Christiane Yared, told The Rio Times in an exclusive interview.
Since the accident which took her son ten years ago, Yared has been a traffic safety activist, trying to get Brazil’s Congress to pass and enforce stricter laws for those responsible for traffic accidents. Yared is in her second term as federal deputy from the state of Paraná.
The bill proposed by Bolsonaro would ease a series of norms, including the increase of points on one’s driver’s license from 20 to 40 before the license is suspended, the end of the required drug testing on truck drivers and the end of fines for those who transport children without car seats, or with wrong safety equipment.
“We know that firearms kill a lot of people in this country, but automobile accidents and traffic tragedies kill a lot more than firearms. We see a country which is drenched in blood. Today, of every ten hospital beds occupied in this country, seven are with victims of traffic accidents. We have an unacceptable number of deaths due to these accidents,” she said.
To make her point, Yared appealed to her fellow lawmakers. “Bolsonaro’s campaign promise will directly impact millions of Brazilians,” she said on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies last week.
“We fight for this reality to change. We fight to change people’s behavior, awareness, education about traffic. We have a big problem with enforcing traffic laws because Brazil is a huge country. The network of roads and highways is very extensive and there is little enforcement of rules. This has led Brazil to become the country with the fourth largest number of deaths due to road accidents in the world.”
One of the items in the proposed bill Yared says she finds frightening is the withdrawal of fines for those transporting children without proper car seats. In the bill, the driver would only get a warning and points on his license, but no monetary fine.
“How much does a child’s car seat cost? I don’t know, but I know how much a plot at the cemetery costs, I know how much a coffin costs. I paid for a coffin for my son,” asked Yared on the Chamber floor on Wednesday.
According to the lawmaker, the number one killer of children in Brazil is the transport of children without safety equipment.
“We are burying one hundred children per month because parents are not using the necessary equipment to keep them safe,” she told The Rio Times.
Yared said she was also alarmed when she read the bill that proposes that drivers in Brazil only be required to renew their licenses every ten years.
“The lawmaker who killed my son received his driver’s license when he was eighteen. At 23 he renewed his license, and at 26 he killed two people, one of them was my son. We cannot allow this 10-year renewal period to be approved by Congress. We need renewals every three years,” she said.
According to the lawmaker, there is a death due to a vehicle accident every twelve minutes in Brazil, and a person is maimed or injured every minute in the country.
Along with Yared, dozens of entities that work with children and transit accident victims, have also criticized the bill.
According to a survey by NGO Criança Segura (Safe Kids), between 2001 and 2017, approximately 5,000 children up to age nine died as a result of accidents involving automobiles where they were passengers.
“In Brazil, traffic is the main cause of accidental death of children and adolescents up to age fourteen. Every day, three people of this age group die for this reason. Most of these deaths are due to car accidents,” stated an open letter signed by eleven entities in Brazil, including Criança Segura Brasil and the Brazilian Association of Pediatricians.
“To the Congressional lawmakers now responsible for analyzing this proposal, we ask: to evaluate well the possible impact of this measure, since it can irreversibly damage the future of thousands of Brazilian children and families, besides raising the cost to the government of health care,” concluded the letter.
According to another survey conducted by the Institute of Advanced Studies of USP, since the mandatory use of child seats and other safety devices was implemented in 2011, recorded cases of hospitalizations due to traffic accidents among this group, fell 37 percent while deaths were reduced by 22 percent.
The bill will be analyzed by a special committee at the Chamber of Deputies. If approved by this committee, it will go to the Federal Senate, without having to go through a full Lower House vote.