By Anna Kaiser, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Recent traffic studies have revealed that every 20 minutes there is a traffic-related accident in the city of Rio, an alarming increase in the last five years. In order to combat this trend, both the city and state government are investing in programs to educate about road safety and crack down on road law enforcement.
During 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, O Globo reported 22,000 cases of collisions, run-overs, cars being flipped or losing control, and fallen motorcyclists, a 62 percent increase from data collected in 2007.
Some 24,000 people were hospitalized in 2012 due to injuries sustained during car accidents. Fatalities average around 700 per year, with a reported 679 in 2010 and 691 in 2011.
The study revealed two areas with a notable concentration of accidents. Twelve percent of car accidents occur on Avenida Brasil in Rio’s Zona Norte (North Zone) and Zona Oeste (West Zone) and six percent on Avenida das Américas in Barra da Tijuca.
Both are major thoroughfares of transit in Rio de Janeiro. The study also found that during the hours of Noon to 9PM, Friday through Sunday are the most common times for car accidents.
A 63 percent increase in car ownership in Rio, alcohol consumption and, most notably, negligence of traffic rules, have all been cited as explanations for the high rates of accidents by traffic experts, firefighters, and emergency response teams.
“It’s principally because of a lack of education. Bus drivers, for example, don’t get trained in any road safety education,” said professor Raquel Paiva from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. “It’s also the fault of bikers and pedestrians; a lot of times they don’t follow the rules either” she added.
Many initiatives are being taken to fight this dangerous trend in Rio, including road safety education programs and the government’s strict drinking and driving law, known as Lei Seca (Dry Law) which was implemented in 2009 by the state of Rio de Janeiro.
Lei Seca sets up checkpoints throughout the city and checks drivers passing by; even the smallest trace of alcohol will cost you a suspension from driving, a monetary fine, and sometimes even jail time.
Since its installment in 2009, authorities report there have been 32 percent less fatalities due to car accidents and a 27 percent decrease in victims of car accidents in the state of Rio de Janeiro.
Another program that should be helping is the Operação Choque de Ordem (Operation Shock and Order), established in 2009, which aims to enforce order in the city, including obeying traffic rules for cars and buses.
Despite the increased efforts some feel it is not enough. Alfonso Stefanini, an American living in Rio, was in a near-fatal car accident six years ago on BR101. “I don’t feel traffic has gotten better, even with programs like Lei Seca in place. Drivers are still reckless, and there is very little signs on the road.”
In addition to Lei Seca, in early May, a program was launched to monitor the conduct of bus drivers. “Actions are being taken to educate pedestrians and drivers, and to monitor by installing radars and electronic speed radars in critical areas,” said Director of the CET-Rio, Ricardo Lemos.
Beyond this, we are improving our stats with an agreement signed with the firefighters. We will have more detailed information about accidents,” Lemos told O Globo.