Yesterday, while we were making plans, relaxing, and enjoying a few drinks over dinner, a tour bus carrying a group of people on their way to a religious event, plunged over 1,000 feet over a cliff on a very popular stretch of road in the same mountains we love to visit. In fact, we were planning to do this drive today, as it is one of our favorite places to drive on lazy Sundays. In light of this event we decided to table our plans for today.
Most of our blog posts are of a happier tune, but today I can’t help but feel solemn and great sadness due to this tragedy, which sounds like it could have been averted. The casualty reports vary at this time, anywhere from 40-54 dead, including men, women, children, and teenagers who were all undoubtedly excited about this trip. Some preliminary reports state the possibility of brakes failing as the road conditions, and weather conditions at that time were good. Also, some reports state that the bus was over capacity as another bus broke down and the travelers all had to pile into one bus. Only time and careful investigation will give us answers to our questions; however the answers will still not change the fact that a lot of human potential has been forever lost, and many people’s lives have been horribly impacted.
I tend to shy away from any political discussion about Brazil as this is not my country of origin, but rather a place I plan to call home for three or more years. We have lived in Brazil for 9 months now and I have not even begun to understand the complex politics of this country. That said, this is a wonderful place to live and visit and I hope that our blog will serve to dispel a lot of the stereotypes some have about Brazil.
However facts are indeed facts and Brazil’s traffic related fatalities are the worst in the Americas and the 8th leading cause of death in Brazil. Around 42,000 people are killed in car accidents each year in Brazil. Many articles report various reasons for such a high fatality rate that include, poor driving conditions related to the roads and weather, inexperienced motorists, high rates of drinking and driving, speeding, and an increase in motorbikes on the roads. It seems as if public safety is not a high priority when it comes to funding and implementing projects to make the roads safer.
In the short 9 months we have lived in Brazil, we have observed all of these hazards. From the drunk drivers coming home from the beaches, swerving on the highways, to the driver speeding and passing other cars on a curve and in a do not pass area. Motorbikes fly by my car daily with only inches away from hitting my car. What if I change lanes and do not see the motorbike in my blind spot? They drive so fast and without care, as if they are invincible. Yet they are not, as many die every year on the streets in Brazil.
Our first day living in Brazil, we hadn’t even made it home from the airport and we witnessed a woman on a motorbike get hit by a car. It was raining very hard and it appeared as if she was not paying attention. Luckily she survived the encounter. One day, while driving the same road in which the tour bus tragedy occurred, we saw a horrible accident. The picture of the man, lying in the road, the back of his bike helmet split in two will forever be burned into my memory. This image is something I wish I had never seen. He was hit by a car and to this day I still wonder if he survived, however I suspect he was already gone when we drove by him and some first responders, as he was only a few feet away from us and he clearly was not moving. Also, in July, 4 employees of BMW located in Joinville were killed in a car accident, one of which was a man from the United States who was here working in Brazil. Recently, one of my co-workers found out that her best friend passed away due to a car accident. So, you see, we hear about car accidents and fatalities regularly in Brazil, yet people continue to take risks, and in so doing, also risk the lives of other unknown strangers.
So, what is the solution then? Well to quote most of my Brazilian friends using this frequently uttered phrase in Portuguese, “e complicado…” or it’s complicated. In 2008 Brazil introduced a zero tolerance law for drinking and driving. This is a good start but not enough in my opinion. I feel that Brazil could make more strides to improve driver’s education, crack down on speeding, and of course improve the road conditions, all of which costs money, therefore, –it’s complicated. In regard to the tour bus tragedy, I really hope they find out the cause of the crash and if the crash was due to the brakes failing as some report, that they hold the tour bus agency accountable for any lack of oversight.
In the meantime, since change takes time and does not seem to be coming in the near future, I plan to drive carefully, tell my loved ones how much I love them often, and appreciate and be thankful for the time I am given on this beautiful planet. I will take time to be thankful for the opportunity I have to live in such a beautiful place, with some of the most generous and kind people I have ever met, in Brazil. I will say a little prayer before every trip, and I will pray for the loved ones of those lost in this horrible bus accident, as that is all I can do.