Rules of the Road - BR

Basics

In Brazil you should drive on the right-hand side of the road. Distances and speeds are measured in kilometers. To covert miles into kilometers you multiply by eight and then divide by five. For example, 50 mph is 80 km/h.

Portuguese is the official spoken language of Brazil and the currency is the Brazilian Real.

Brazil is a vast country and, as such, the climate varies greatly.

The Visit Brazil website states that the average annual temperature is 28° C in the North and 20° C in the South of the country.

Brazilian winter runs from June to September, with temperatures decreasing to less than 0° C in some cities of the South and Southeast. In summer, temperatures can reach around 40° C in cities such as Rio de Janeiro.

Summer: from the 21st of December to the 21st of March.
Autumn: from the 21st of March to the 21st of June.
Winter: from the 21st of June to the 23rd of September.
Spring: from the 23rd of September to the 21st of December.
*From Visit Brazil

The Brazilian road network is one of the largest in the world. However, the majority of the network is unpaved.

The World Health Organization estimated that there were 46,935 road traffic fatalities in Brazil in 2013 and estimated that the death rate per 100,000 population was 23.4.

When visiting big cities such as Rio de Janeiro the general ‘dress code’ is smart casual, bright and flattering clothing. Throughout the country, people generally maintain a tidy appearance, including shoes and hair. Colorful, casual, lightweight clothing is recommended. Because of the climate, business men may typically wear just a shirt and pants (trousers) while women may typically wear pants (trousers) or a skirt with a blouse, or a dress.

Due to its tropical climate, occasional tropical diseases are reported in Brazil. Depending on where you plan to travel it may be advisable to have a vaccination(s) before your trip (consult your GP well before you travel). Many tropical diseases are passed by mosquitos so always use a good repellant.

Time Zones

There are four time zones in Brazil. These are Brasilia time +1 (UTC-2), Brasilia time (UTC-3), Brasilia time -1 (UTC-4) and Brasilia time -2 (UTC-5).

Speed Limits

Unless otherwise posted the speed limits on roads in Brazil are:

  • 60 km/h in urban areas
  • 80km/h on rural roads
  • 120km/h on major highways

Always look out for road signs indicating a different speed limit in force. Speed limits are maximum speeds in ideal conditions. Always drive at a speed to suit the conditions.

Fuel

Five types of fuel are common in Brazil. These are gasoline, gasoline with additives, ethanol, natural gas and diesel.

Fuel stations are plentiful, especially along the major highways. If planning to travel in more remote areas or through the rainforest, it is advisable to refill with fuel whenever you can.

Many fuel stations have gas attendants to fill up your vehicle; these are usually given a tip for their service. Many gas stations also have convenience stores and public toilets.

Breakdown Assistance

If your hire vehicle breaks down in Brazil, you should follow the procedure described by your rental company.

If you are a member of an Automobile Association in your own country, it is worth checking before you travel whether you have cover in Brazil.

Roadside assistance is provided on an informal basis through local mechanics.

Tolls

There are many toll roads in Brazil. You will need to pay the toll at a toll booth or toll plaza. Payment can usually be made in cash or by credit card (cash is recommended).

License and Documentation

Visitors may drive for up to 180 days provided they have a valid driving license from their own country and an International Driving Permit. Visitors wishing to drive for more than 180 days are required to obtain an additional permit.

You need to carry your driving license and International Driving permit, a valid registration for the vehicle you are driving, road tax documents and proof of insurance.

Wildlife

It is common to encounter farm animals when driving in Brazil. There are also many stray animals, particularly in cities, so be prepared for animals running into the road. Always drive cautiously, especially when your view of the road ahead is restricted.

General

The road signs in Brazil are strongly based on the US Department of Transportation standard designs, but with Portuguese text. Regulatory, prohibitory and mandatory signs are all white circles with red borders (with the exception of ‘stop’ which is an octagon shape and ‘yield’ which is a triangle). Warning signs are yellow diamonds and warnings signs at road works are orange diamonds.

General

Many international cars hire companies operate in Brazil although their locations tend to be restricted to major cities and airports. There will usually be at least one English speaker in each rental location.

You can find details on how to book a rental vehicle through their respective web sites. It is recommended that you book your car rental in advance of your travel as this guarantees a vehicle being available and will generally save money.

Requirements

In order to hire a vehicle, you will require a driving license issued by your country of residence and an International Driving Permit. In many instances you will need to be at least 21 to hire a car. Some locations may permit younger drivers in exchange for an additional fee.

Payment

When hiring a car, you will be required to provide a credit card for payment. Checks, cash and debit cards are not generally accepted as any charges relating to your use of the vehicle such as parking or speeding fines can be charged to the credit card.

Often the price quoted for hiring a vehicle won’t include all applicable taxes or insurance waivers. You will usually have the option of paying extra to reduce the amount payable by you should you be involved in a collision. Always ask when hiring a vehicle what the total costs will be.

In addition to the charges for renting the vehicle you will also be required to submit a security deposit in the form of a ‘hold’ on an amount of money on your credit card.

Driving a Manual / Stick-Shift

The majority of cars available for hire will have a manual transmission, although in many locations automatic transmission cars are available for a higher fee. If you do not have experience of driving a manual transmission, Brazil is not the place to learn. It is advised that you pay the extra for the automatic.

General

Brazil has a Lei Seca (‘Dry Law’) for drinking and driving. Drivers with any measurable amount of alcohol in their system are in violation of the law. Law enforcement is strict and roadblocks are routinely set up by the police to administer breathalyzer tests. Drivers will be selected at random and asked to exit their vehicles to perform a test. As well as legal penalties, drivers who fail tests will have their cars impounded.

When driving in Brazil you should carry a fire extinguisher and first aid kit.

It is not considered safe to park on-street in Brazil due to the high number of thefts from vehicles. If you have no option but to leave your car on the street make sure all valuables are removed from your vehicle, all doors and locked and additional safety devices (such as alarm/ steering lock) are used if possible. It is recommended that you use a secure parking lot such as a paid parking facility or hotel parking.

Look out for ‘flanelinhas’ operating in Brazil. Usually male, these people offer to help drivers find places to park and look after their cars for them. The activity is illegal but enforcement is low. Flanelinhas will charge people as soon as they leave their car, and non-payers have been known to have their tires or cars damaged. Some flanelinhas even ask drivers to leave their keys with them. Avoiding the situation completely is recommended.

All vehicle occupants must wear seat belts.

Car seats are required for all children under the age of 7½. Between 7½ and 10 children must not ride in the front seat. They must be seated in the back seat wearing a seat belt.

Hand-held mobile phones are prohibited while driving.

Right turns at red lights are not permitted unless otherwise indicated by a sign reading ‘livre a direita’.

Drivers must yield right of way to cars on their right. Many drivers treat stop signs as yield signs.

Be particularly cautious when travelling close to trucks in Brazil, there is potential for drivers to be tired.

School times are staggered in Brazil – some public high schools have classes in the morning, afternoon and evening, so the streets can be full of children on their way to and from school four times a day. Police officers sometimes act as crossing guards.

Drivers sometimes flash lights or wave a hand out of a window to signal other drivers to slow down.

General

Driving in Brazil can be quite an experience. Urban streets can be very busy with pedestrians, who may not always cross at designated crossings. Pedestrians often run part-way across the road and wait in the center until the opposite carriageway is clear. If you see a pedestrian waiting in the middle of the road, away from a crossing area, it is not common practice to stop to allow them to cross. Doing so could cause a collision as local drivers are not used to this.

Drivers

It is common to witness dangerous driving habits, such as tailgating and road rage.

Motorcycle riders often weave through traffic when it is at a standstill, or even when it is moving at regular speed. Always use indicator turn lights and caution when changing lanes.

Drivers sometimes use indicators to signal whether it is safe to pass – left means it is unsafe, right means it is safe.

Headlights are often used by locals to indicate danger or an incident ahead.

Don’t be surprised if you see drivers running red lights at night in major cities. This is generally tolerated due to the high incidence of car-jacking and robberies.

Drivers do not always use mirrors and indicators, so be prepared for vehicles turning without giving prior notice.

General

The crime rate is high in Brazil. The highest crime rates occur on public transportation, in hotel sectors and in tourist areas. Rio de Janeiro experiences high incidences of crime, including armed robberies. Tourists are particularly vulnerable to street thefts and robberies in the evening and night, especially in areas close to major tourist attractions. If a robbery attempt occurs, do not resist but instead relinquish your personal belongings. Remain vigilant at all times and pay close attention to your surroundings.

To maximize your safety, you should avoid driving at night if possible. If driving at night is unavoidable remember it is acceptable to run red lights if you feel your safety is at risk.

Always Lock Your Vehicle

Always lock your car, even when leaving your vehicle unattended for a few seconds. Never place items of value in your car and then leave it unattended. You never know who is watching. If you have to leave something of value in your vehicle make sure it is in the trunk.

Never Leave Items on Display

Never leave anything to do with work in an unattended vehicle, industrial espionage is a thriving business! Always engage your steering lock before leaving your vehicle.

Drive With Your Windows Closed and Doors Locked

Always remove the key from the ignition when paying for fuel at a garage. Always drive with your doors locked and windows shut. In the event you are attacked follow the car-jackers’ instructions to the letter – it may save your life.

Parking Safely

Always try to park away from places that could hide potential attackers. If possible, avoid unattended parking lots and those situated away from main roads where the streets are likely to be quieter.

When parking at night choose a well-lit area. You will be able to see your vehicle clearly and have a better chance of seeing anyone who is hanging around.

Keep People Informed

When traveling in a foreign country you should provide someone in your native office with an itinerary for your day so that they know where you plan to be at all times. You should also furnish them with your cell/ telephone number and the number of each of your planned destinations.

Report an Incident

The Mobile Emergency Service number is 192 and the State Highway Police number is 198. The police number is 190.

Fatigue

You must take a break every two hours or sooner if you feel sleepy. Stop for at least 15 minutes and take a 10-minute snooze. Having a coffee or energy drink before your sleep can help you be more alert when you wake up (this is NOT a substitute for a good night’s sleep). Only continue your journey if you feel alert after your sleep.

Ensure that you get a good night’s sleep before making any long journey. If you are tired, do not drive.

Speeding

You must always abide by the speed limit.

In towns and built up areas, slow down to 20mph/32km/h or below where appropriate – e.g. in heavily-built up areas or during school leaving times.

On rural roads, slow down for curves and avoid passing / overtaking.

Ensure that you maintain at least a two-second gap between your vehicle and the vehicle in front. This is your braking distance in a crisis.

Distractions

You should not eat or drink on the move, reaching over for a sandwich or opening a drink will distract your attention from the road.

Avoid in depth conversations with passengers, it is vital that you maintain your concentration on the road ahead.

Alcohol and Drug Use

You must never drive if you have consumed alcohol or taken illegal drugs. Always check the label of prescription drugs for fatigue related side-effects.

The evening before you drive you MUST NOT consume more than the legal limit of alcohol.

Eyesight

You must be able to read a number plate at 65 feet and have a good field of vision (120 degrees) if you plan to drive.

Ensure that you have your eyes tested every two years or sooner if you feel your vision has deteriorated.

Stress

Never drive if you are highly stressed. This can affect your ability to concentrate.