I have been driving since I was 13 years old. I have driven in almost all of the countries I have lived in, including a Vespa and Rollerblading in Paris, a bicycle in Manhattan and a cruise cross country in a 1967 Pontiac Lemans.
NOTHING prepared me for driving on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. If any of my readers has gone around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and tried to get off of the go around, well then, you are partly prepared to deal with Rio traffic.
To own a car, one must pay an extranious tax (IPVA) in the neighborhood of 8% of the cars total value on a yearly basis. This tax is to be used for road maintenance. Which brings me to my next point, the road conditions. I wish I had a full time 4x4 4WD vehicle with super suspension. There are holes that have no bottom to them!!! Not only must one drive at Ayrton Senna speed, one must literally dodge the potholes at the same time. Needless to say, the IPVA is misused big time.....
Everyone thinks that they are the incarnation of Ayrton Senna or Nelson Piquet (espcially the men). I think its wonderful that the Brazilian Formula One drivers are doing so well this season, but that doesn't mean that one should emulate them on the roads of Rio.
Truths and tidbits of Driving in Rio
1. Using a signal to tell the driver that you are changing lanes is useless, he wont let you in anyway.
2. Lanes exist, except usually there is someone who creates a third lane on a two lane street to get through traffic. Usually motorcycle messengers, but can be small compact Fiat Uno following an ambulance.
3. Stopping at a red light is optional after midnight. Use the flashing amber light technique taught in Driver's Ed (slow down to see if it is safe to procede, no need to stop)
4. Taxis will cut in front of you. They don't care. They just want the next fare. If you rear end them, you will be responsible (even if it wasn't your fault, their brake lights tend to falter...) Be prepared to pay for 'lost work days'too. Needless to say, I keep an extra eye out for taxis, as I have already had a run-in with one.
5. IF someone does let you in, is courteous etc., a smile and a thumbs up gesture is the best way to thank them.
6. Always drive with windows rolled up, AC on and doors locked. Keep an eye on all your mirrors at stop lights, be aware of what is going on around your car.
Do not react to thieves, do not try to fight back. Keep your hands visible and let them take your purse, your cellphone, the car. Don't look them in the eye. Let them go...you can always get the material stuff back later. I was carjacked here in Rio and I am alive to tell about it.