Sunday, July 6, 2008

Liquids and Automobiles

Today's post is about two different liquids and the effect they have on the Brazilian driving experience. One is to be found in the car, in fact, inside the driver, in quantities ranging from clearly too much to teeny tiny, infinitesimal, almost nonexistent. The other liquid is to be found outside the car in potentially enormous and terrifying quantities, such as I experienced about half an hour ago.

The first liquid, as you may have guessed, is alcohol, and I'll talk about that one later. The second one, as you also may have guessed, is water- rain water in fact, lots and lots and lots of rain water.

I did something in my car today that I've never done in my life: I headed for higher ground. Rain here in the tropics is often torrential, as I have mentioned before in this blog. Today's torrential rainstorm caught me in my car, and scared the shit out of me. The route I was taking winds through a valley- actually, a couple valleys, and it is a quite scenic and pleasant route most of the time. Low lying roads like that tend to have a big canal in the median to deal with the kind of extreme runoff I experienced today. Problem is, the median is in the middle of the road, which means the water has to cross one side of the road to get into it. If it can. If it can't, then you get what I believe is known as 'flash flooding'- terrifying uber-puddles of unknown depth and contents. At one point I was actually trying to tell if my car had begun to float- that's when I headed for higher ground.

The funny thing about rain like that is that it is generally very localized- in the midst of my distress I got a call from my sister in law not ten miles away and it wasn't raining a drop there. When I called her back half an hour later and no longer raining here, the rain had reached Paripe and it was pouring.

Now moving along to the second liquid: alcohol, or 'booze,' or 'cerveja' or 'cacha├ža' or whatever you want to call it. Brazil just enacted a zero tolerance drunk driving law. The traffic police, or SET as they are called, are allegedly setting up roadblocks and testing people with disposable breathalysers, or 'barfometros' as they are known in Portuguese. 'Barfometro' is a great word as it consists primarily of the word 'barfo' which means 'bad breath' (also used for other bodily-produced stinks), so it's a bad-breath-meter.

On the one hand, this is great news and I am thrilled, as I have often been appalled and terrified with the lawlessness on Brazilian roads and highways, especially in respect to drinking and driving. I asked Evani what drunk driving law this was supplanting and she told me that previously there had been nothing. No law? No repercussions at all for driving drunk? She said no, which I find a bit hard to believe, although if there was one it wasn't getting enforced. Like lots of laws here. Actually, referring to the ever-informative Wikipedia, there are a surprising number of countries that have no legal limit for alcohol consumption behind the wheel- then again, half of these countries have banned alcohol entirely.

On the other hand, why did it have to be zero tolerance? if you are caught with any alcohol in your barfo, you get something like a 960 reis (currently $600 US) fine, and if it's much more you're looking at jail time, car impounded, etcetera. This seems a bit extreme to me, and it means I can't have even a single glass of beer, even a single swallow, at the beach, or out in Paripe, or after Capoeira, or anywhere else if I've got my car and I plan on driving it. On top of that, I think it's a setup for disaster- my guess is that within a year or two the law will be repealed and we'll be back to lawlessness again. Or even more likely, they'll run out of barfometros and enforcement will stop.

I know how annoying Americans can be with our incessant "Back in the States, we do it like this!" and I generally try hard not to be one of those Americans and I can't believe I'm actually going to vouch for field sobriety tests, but why the hell don't they just do it the way we do it in the States? You know- have cops driving around looking for weaving vehicles, who then get stopped so the cop can get a better look at them- perhaps smell the barfo first hand, in which case they can be run through a series of tests, which if failed can lead to the dreaded barfometro. Seems like a better plan than hoping the drunk drivers happen upon a roadblock and then get a barfometro stuck in their face (as you may have noticed, I'm trying to get the word 'barfometro' in here as many times as possible barfometro barfometro.)

There's already been at least one scandal involving a judge getting busted and then released without repercussions, and that's the other side of it- there will probably be lots of cash quietly changing hands, and lots of the more socially privileged people getting away with murder like they usually do.

Well, I have been successfully deterred- I can't afford a R$960 fine. I'll be saving money on gas and wasting money on taxis. Or maybe I'll just save money on beer. Or maybe I'll stop going out altogether.

7 comments:

Pedra said...

Mark,
Thanks for cruising around yesterday. Sounds like your ride home was a little hairy! Hope it wasn't too stressful for you, and I feel bad since you were out because of my project. So again a HUGE thanks for not only the ride around, but having to deal with flash flooding on your way home.

-Cheryl

AkuTyger said...

Which is exactly what my husband said would happen. Actually, that the beer companies are going to loose so much money that they will lobby and win. Or that now everyone has to turn to other substances. And so on...

Ray Adkins said...

I am from New England and let me tell you, our "system" in the US doesn't work at all, people get killed in car crashes here more often than I could ever remember when I lived in Sao Paulo...
Evani is very poorly informed, Brazil, before this new law, had exactly the same law as in the US which is equivalent to about the amount of two glasses of beer or wine...and it is the norm around the world.
Brazil lately has seen an increase in accidents involving drinking and driving because with the new economic boom there has been an large increase in car ownership and with more money, people go out more, and get in trouble more...often as well...
Don't panic, just get a designated drive, take a cab or drink at home...that is what people should have been doing anyway...


Take care

Ray Adkins

markuza said...

Ray,

Hmm there are so many things I could say in response to your comment- defending what I wrote and/or making disclaimers, or refuting your statements... I'll leave it at this: I told Evani what you wrote, and she told me, amongst other things, about her best friend who was killed by a drunk driver a few years back. The driver's sentence? The night in jail, to sleep it off. The people who got locked up were the ones that wanted to beat the shit out of him for killing someone as a result of his murderous behavior. Do you think that would have happened in the states? And what good is a law if enforcement of it is nonexistent?

A.L.R. said...

Ever try the rain on a motorcycle. No complaints!!!! hahaha

I have the same mixed emotions about the dry laws. I was having dinner at my lady friends house, and they denied giving me a small glass of beer because I was riding home. The problem is, there are people with common sense, who know not to drink gallons and then jump in their vehicle. And then again, there has been so many instances where I have seen Brazilians throw down 15 glasses of Skol, and then go looking for their keys. So, crazy drunks, way to ruin it for the rest of us.

markuza said...

Dude, I wouldn't ride a motorcycle here stone sober on a bone-dry roadway. The phrase 'scared shitless' comes to mind...

A.L.R. said...

Yes. Ahem. Yes I am.