I wrote the title in Capitals because this experience will go down in my life history.
I decided to get a Brazilian driver´s license. In Argentina no one actually does the tests unless they want a professional license. If you don´t believe me, ask an Argentinean where the nearest driving school is. There aren´t any.
So anyway, as I live in Brazil and have been struggling for almost 10 years to get my Brazilian documents, I decided to get an official Brazilian driver´s license with test and everything (yes, they sell them here, too, but it´s less frequent).
The classes are good, no problems there. But the entire social experience taught me a lot about what Brazilians think about rules and laws, which often leads to incomprehensible behaviour.
I attended all the theory classes (written test) and learned all about the Brazilian Traffic Laws. We studied laws, signs, environment, defensive driving, first aid and basic mechanics. The funny thing was that as we studied, the teacher would keep saying, “this is how it should be, but it´s not like that on the roads.” I thought that comment was odd at first but then slowly started to understand what she meant.
When we studied sound pollution (considered a serious infraction), we learned that people should not remove the silencers from their exhaust pipes and should not honk their horns unless it is to avoid an accident. As she was talking, the teachers of the school arrived, honking their horns so someone would open the gate. Then the motorbikes arrived, all making a terrible noise because the teachers had removed the silencers. Some students actually shouted, “hey, control your sound pollution”, with the typical response of chuckles and smirks.
The Brazilian traffic authorities re-created the test because accident rates don´t stop growing. Traffic accidents in Brazil cause more deaths than almost all diseases put together, especially among the younger population. The result is more study hours but the same test and content. Yes, absolutely nothing has changed. Typical of the government. What´s more, you have to know the laws but there is no need to learn vertical signalling (those signs painted on the roads) so no one studies it.
In the town where I live in, people rarely respect signs, traffic lights, crossings or stop signs. You actually see people crossing huge avenues without so much as a sidewards glance. They don´t die because there are not enough cars to get in the way and others are usually careful because they know just how common “not looking before you cross an avenue” is. Drivers don´t trust green lights because you always see someone rush passed just before you accelerate. You see cars crawling passed their green light on the look out for people running the red light.
My sister once shouted at a woman that had a 6-month old child hanging out of the front window, without so much as a securing hand to stop her from falling out of the car. I asked the woman where her baby chair was, and she said, “I have one at the back but she doesn´t use it.” Then she drove off.
Back to the classes, I realized that laws and rules are a laughing matter. The jokes about running over pedestrians are constant, everyone laughs except me :(. I thought driving classes were supposed to be taken seriously. The teacher actually tries but she is surrounded by people breaking the laws all the time, so it´s an upward and very dangerous road if you actually decide to be a law-abiding citizen.
I sometimes wonder if someone will crash into my car when I do stop at crossings or red lights. It´s happened in Argentina, with the death of both backseat passengers. Is this a Latin American phenomenon? Are you really an idiot if you follow rules and laws? Do they decide to break them because they are rarely enforced?
Oh, and one more thing. One of the students, who obviously doesn´t have a driver´s license, comes in his dad´s car and parks it at the front of the driving school.