From 2009 to 2012, the number of traffic deaths on Brazilian streets has increased gradually each year – peaking in 2012, when 44,800 people lost their lives in traffic crashes. However, preliminary data from the National Health System (SUS) indicates this trend may be changing. According to the data, there were 40,500 traffic fatalities in 2013, a 10% reduction compared to 2012.
Not surprisingly, 2013 marked the start of stricter alcohol laws in the country. At the end of 2012, an update of an existing law established that no amount of alcohol is tolerated when driving. In addition, the law expanded the acceptable means of proving that drivers consumed alcohol, which now includes clinical examination, expert opinion, video, witnesses, and other evidence.
A key strategy to reduce traffic fatalities in any city is reducing speed limits. In São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, for example, the speed limit is a dangerous 70 km/h (43 mph), and mortality rates in these cities were 13 and 15 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, respectively.
This relationship between high speed limits and traffic fatalities has led many cities to reduce traffic speeds. Paris, for example, has expanded its 30 km/h (19 mph) zones, and New York recently signed a law establishing a 40 km/h (25 mph) speed limit on city streets.
If preliminary data from SUS is unaltered, Brazil’s traffic mortality rate – which peaked at 23 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants – is now 20.1 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants. This number, however, is still extremely high compared to the average developed country. In Sweden, for example, only three people per 100,000 inhabitants die each year. In Brazil, unfortunately, data shows that residents are more likely to die in a traffic accident than by homicide or cancer.