Last month, Brazil’s government approved a new law, popularly named “dry law”. As the name suggests, this law forbiddens any quantity of alcohol to be consumed before driving a car. If someone drinks a can of beer or a single glass of wine and gets pulled over by the police, a fine up to almost one thousand Reais is given (something like US$600) and the driver’s license is apprehended for one year.
Brazil has a sad characteristic of having laws that no one respects, mostly because the lack of fiscalization. But with the dry law, things are happening in a different way. You actually see lots and lots of police barriers in the cities, specially on fridays and saturdays, pulling over drivers near known bar areas. Nationwide press is showing these actions almost everyday. Government representants are saying that car accidents have dropped almost 20% in the entire country after the law began to take effect.
At a first glimpse, some may say “well, that’s excellent! Nice job!”. But there a few points that should be taken in consideration before judging.
As I said before, no alcohol is permitted before driving. Neither a small cup of wine, or fifty packs of black ale. But I believe there’s a difference in there. Here in this country, it’s part of the culture to meet friends, loved ones and family at a bar just to chat and cheer something. This practise doesn’t mean that everyone is going to get their heads blowing drunk every night. No, far from that!
Also, it’s no longer permitted to go out to a restaurant and ask for a fine glass of wine with your wife or your friends to celebrate a birthday, an engagement, a job promotion, or anything. If you drink, you will be treated like a criminal.
This law is unnecessarily harsh. I’m strongly in favor of hard punishment for drunk drivers who put other people lives in danger. But that’s not what this law is about. It has actually reduced the penalty for those who commits a crime while drunk driving, like hit someone else. It’s totally nonsense.
There’s another point. Before this dry law, Brazil had another similar law, but not that severe. The difference is that when that old law was on, police didn’t care. There was absolutely no barriers, no fiscalization, no equipment to detect alcohol, nothing. But now, with a new sensation and with the media daily coverage, policemen and government are having their 15 minutes of fame. All on the people’s back.
To finish, car accidents are not caused only because of alcohol. Amongst the several causes, we can list badly conserved streets and roads, covered with holes; lack of signalization; narrow two way roads; cars with absolutely no conditions to be on the streets, but out there anyway; lack of driving education; animals on the road, and so on. All of those items listed we have plenty here in Brazil, and many others I’m forgetting right now.
If you want to visit Brazil and taste the famous Caipirinha, remember: don’t rent a car!