I have been living in São Paulo for about 8 months now and it has taken me this long to gather up enough courage to drive. Driving in another country can been intimidating in itself but when you factor in a huge crazy city like São Paulo it can be down right scary! Okay so maybe I’m over exaggerating a bit, at least they drive on the right side of the road.
One of the first obstacles I had to overcome in order to drive was to relearn how to drive a manual stick. In Brazil, it is rare to see automatic transmission cars, they are a little more expensive but not by much. I think it is a cultural thing and Brazilians genuinely like driving manual cars. For me, re-learning this did not take too long, my first car was a stick but it has been over ten years since I’ve driven one. Still today I get really nervous on the huge hills in São Paulo and of course the neighborhood we live in Vila Madalena is full of them!
The second obstacle that kept me from driving for a long time was, what if I get lost? The city of São Paulo is one big mess of one way streets and roundabouts that twist and turn so you can never figure which way that you are going. If you go somewhere one way then you most definitely have to come back a totally different way. On top of that if I did get lost, my portuguese is certainly not good enough to ask for directions. One of the things that helped me get over this fear, was we bought a GPS. Still with the GPS the inevitable happened…I got lost. Thankfully I was able to call my husband and he was able to help me navigate may way to some familiar streets. About an hour later I was safely back at home.
I guess it could be worse, an American woman I met at church moved to São Paulo with her husband about 10 years ago. This was the time of no cell phones and no GPS. She would leave the house to go to the store and would never come back. Her husband would have to go out and drive around looking for her until he found her, 3 hours later.
The final obstacle that prevented me from driving was, what if I get in an accident? After living here for so many months I realized that this is not that big of deal. Brazilians are pretty used to this sort of thing and don’t seem to flip out like Americans do. I think the one who would flip out the most would be my husband;)
Although driving was intimidating at first, it is definitely worth it to be able to drive in São Paulo because otherwise you are confined to your neighborhood and São Paulo’s public transit system is very inefficient for such a large city. It feels great to have some independence back!
If you are planning to drive in São Paulo here are some basics for you to know:
- The legal minimum age for driving cars and motorcycles is 18 years
- Mobile cellular telephones may only be used with a “hands-free” system (This is clearly not followed or enforced)
- In the event of an accident, contact the national emergency number Tel: 193
- You must wear a seatbelt, including in the back seats if belts are fitted. If a child is too small to use a seatbelt, the child must be in a car seat. (This is a new law in Brazil and is not always followed)
- Park in the direction of traffic flow and not facing it
- Right turns at red lights are prohibited unless indicated by a livre a direita sign
- Roundabouts and traffic isles: Vehicles entering a roundabout have to give way to vehicles already on the roundabout
- Running out of gas is an infraction of the law, whether the immobilized vehicle constitutes an obstacle for other traffic or not
- The use of indicators, other than for signalling intention to change direction, can mean: left- it’s unsafe to pass, right- it’s safe to pass
- Headlights flashed at oncoming traffic can indicate danger ahead, such as an accident or perhaps the presence of police
- Due to the high incidence of car-jacking and robbery at traffic lights, it is tolerated for drivers to not stop at red lights at night in major cities such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. (As it should be)
- Drivers in Brazil may be spontaneous and indicators and mirrors may not always be used. Do not expect prior indication of a turn or other manoeuvres
- Drivers should keep doors locked and windows closed, particularly at junctions and especially at night