Driving in Brazil


Driving in Brazil is challenging, and depending on what part of the country you plan on visiting, extremely dangerous. Brazil has some very high death rates for cars, in part due to poor seat belt usage, and other common missing safety features on almost all cars.

Other aspects that make driving in Brazil dangerous. The drivers don’t have the experience that most western countries have. Places like the US have a good number of experienced drivers, new drivers, and reckless drivers. The mix generally allows drivers to avoid dangerous situations by having at least one party aware of their surroundings and being able to take the necessary action to prevent an accident. This isn’t the case in Brazil, where cars have become more affordable in the last decade and where almost all drivers have no real experience with driving in dangerous situations. The drivers who were on the road previously had the roads to themselves, the new drivers are all like kids in a candy store, regardless of their age the car is a novelty. Anyone who can’t afford a car, buys a motorbike, and fails to get it registered or get any training. In Natal, from 2010 to 2014, motorbikes went from 250K to 350K, nearly 50% more in 4 years. There are 20 times more motorbikes on the roads, than their are issued licenses for motorbikes!

Road signs are random and placed all over the place. This requires constantly reading every sign you come across, or missing out on something fairly important, such as a speed bump (on the highway!) or that the 2 way street your are driving in, will become a one way street at the next intersection.

Speed bumps are everywhere, they were probably originally painted but the sun and wear and tear have eroded most of the paint away. The signs are sometimes posted 200m in advance, 100m in advance or right where the bump is, assuming there is a bump. The speed bumps on the highway are the dangerous ones because they’re often hard to spot and you aren’t expecting them. If there are no cars in front of you, you can hit these bumps at full highway speeds and create your own movie scene where everyone in the car is screaming as you fly through the air, until you come smashing down. In Brazil they aren’t called speed bumps, their official name is “Suspension Breakers” and for good reason.

If you are dead set on driving, don’t drive at night. While in countries like the US it is a relaxing time to drive, in Brazil it’s completely nerve wracking and dangerous. Most Brazilians won’t drive at night on the highways because of security issues, but for an experienced driver, it is the lack of proper road signs, unmarked speed bumps, massive potholes, non-reflective signs, truckers who won’t turn off their high beams, and trucks that have broken down on the road and simply stopped. In the middle of the road. Without any hazard lights, just a small non-reflective triangle that they place about 5 feet from the back of their trucks. Coming up on a truck stopped in your lane (left lane included!) with no reflective material on it, at highway speeds is terrifying. It’s simply not safe, or fun driving at night.

If you can get away with public transportation, and taxi’s you will have a much more relaxed time. Rental cars are available, but make sure you get full insurance! If you do have an accident, there is a good chance the other party has nothing. Always buckle up, and drive safely, because the people around you likely won’t be.