The perils of 'car culture' in Brazil
From high costs, to heavy traffic, to lagging safety regulations, cars have become a 'quality-of-life problem in many cities,' writes guest blogger Greg Michener.
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Finally, there are the drivers. As in North America, you have the truck drivers hopped-up on amphetamines for the long trips – always a source of danger. Here, you’ve also got a major problem with alcohol, as previously discussed. But especially prominent in Latin America – if not Latin countries more generally – is the sort of race-to-the-finish mentality on highways and even on city streets. People pass recklessly. They routinely break traffic rules. They want to show you up because they have a more expensive car. Or they want to show you down because they think they’re better, ballsier drivers. A lot of ego, a lot of risk, and a lot of accidents.Skip to next paragraph
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These are not just my own observations; renowned Brazilian anthropologist Roberto DaMatta recently released a book on Brazil’s car culture entitled, “Faith in God, and Foot to the Floor” in which he describes a driving culture in which even women act “masculine” to the extreme.
If you’re not getting maimed in a traffic accident, you’re probably sitting in traffic. Exaggerations aside, Time magazine did distinguish São Paulo as the traffic-jam capital of the world in a 2008 article. The piece notes that Paulistas do everything in their cars – shave, create powerpoint presentations, apply makeup – not because they love their cars, but because they have to: traffic jams are a fact of life for those who cannot afford or are unwilling to reside close to work.
That Time article was written almost 4 years ago when Brazil’s per capita income was over a thousand reais below where it is now. Higher incomes, more cars. Although I have not been able to find any official numbers, several estimates serve to triangulate the approximate number of new cars entering São Paulo’s road network at somewhere around 1000 per day. And that’s just São Paulo. The number across Brazil has been estimated at 12,000 new cars per day (in Portuguese). Brazil is now the sixth-largest producer of automobiles in the world, and gaining. Growth in public transport has not received the political attention needed to pose any challenge to the car industry. Go figure.
Current public transport infrastructure and efforts to diminish mounting traffic remain woefully inadequate in Brazil. São Paulo has just under 80 kilometers of rail metro. Mexico City, a megalopolis of about the same size, has nearly 180 kilometers, which is closer to other megalopolises such as Tokyo (195 km), Delhi (190 km), or Hong Kong (174 km). Heck, even Santiago – with less than half of São Paulo’s population – has a far more extensive metro system.
Metro expansions in Rio de Janeiro and other cities are currently making progress and more are planned, but the pace of expansion is simply not keeping up with population growth. Nor is it keeping up with the demands of the newly affluent. People will always want cars to show people they have a car. Conspicuous consumption is a fact of life all over the world, yet, as suggested by the region’s historically low savings rates, Latin Americans have a reputation for flaunting their wealth.