Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Onwards to the flashing - São Paulo

What, you thought I was talking about another kind of flashing? Nope, I'm talking headlights. Since I have been assigned to the VP-Motor Pool household position by BH a year ago, I am now able to share with you all what all the flashing is about on the roadways of São Paulo. Or not.

It turns out that this is the most ambiguous of all roadway rules here. Killing people in pedestrian walkways is not ambiguous. While it is against the law, you will never ever serve time. Ever. Drunk driving is similar. Against the law. Still going to get away with it.  Flashing headlights? Not against the law, and not clear what it's all about anyway.

Let's get on with it. Now, let's say you are at a 4-way stop and the guy to your right flashes his lights at you. Does that mean "you go first"? Or does that mean "get the heck out of my way, I am driving a BMW and you are not"? And the answer is: it depends. If the car is actually at a full stop, the light-flash probably does mean "I am doing the completely atypical for a Brazilian driver, and letting you go first." If the car to your right is rolling on through the stopsign, at say 30 mph, it means "get the f*** out of my way, you domestic car POS". Or something like that. My Portuguese translations are rough you know.

Now, if you are trying to merge into a lane, and you are flashed by the car behind you in the lane you wish to enter, what does that mean? "I will crush you like a bug if you try it"? Or "there's plenty of space, please come over"?  Again, it depends. If it is a motoboy flashing you, they mean "get the f*** out of my way or I will kick your side view mirror off". If it is a mellow Fiat driver, you're okay.  Do not attempt this maneuver into a city bus lane as you will be crushed like a pancake (literally it happened here a month ago). Lights flashing from them means "Die, tiny Japanese import!" 

On a highway, flashes are more obvious. The Audi coming up on your tail at 150000000 km over the speed limit is saying "You wish you were me, but you're not, so move the heck over!" There are no double meanings there. Oh, okay, if you let a truck in, he might flash his lights at you to say thanks, but frankly, that's not happening a lot.

Now if you are crossing a pedestrian crosswalk (as a soft flesh pedestrian), you really have to figure things out. The car flashing its lights at you is saying "please cross, I will not smush you" about 90% of the time. The other 10% of the time it means "run, you little two-foot cause I'm a comin'-on."  I have fear. They smell fear. The 10% usually comes for me.  One of my sons has a new strategy which is when cars stop he runs across the street waving his arms and screaming "AAAAAAGGHHH!" which usually makes the drivers laugh. When he gets to the other side, he stops, turns around and gives the driver a thumbs up. He usually gets one back, or a light-flash which means "you're welcome."

Basically what we have here is total ambiguity. No different from any other country, methinks. But here, you can die if you don't figure it out. As I was looking this up on wikipedia, THE source for useless information, I found this line, which I love: "Headlight flashing as an effective mode of driver communication has been questioned and researchers have found the ability of drivers to communicate with one another is about the same as the communication abilities among insects." (source here).

If you speak insect, carry on. As you may have guessed, both of my kids do.


  1. What is it with Americans and their obsession with "rolling stops"? No one else cares. Even in the UK, where the driving exam is annoyingly methodical, no one gets hooked up if you completely stop or not. Oh, and 4-way stops don't exist in Brazil (just like roundabouts don't exist in the US) so your example is invalid. :-)

    Seriously now, I'm not condoning bad driving but, like you said, flashing lights are imprecise in any country. Maybe drivers should have a keyboard attached to the steering wheel so they can type messages that would be displayed on a (non-flashing) light panel mounted on top of the car. Yeah, that would make things safer. OK, maybe I wasn't being serious...

    1. :) Yes, I hear texting and driving is always a good plan.