June 23, 2008

This is our regular column called Ask a Brazilian”, the idea being that you can quite literally ask a question of a Brazilian – for those issues you aren’t sure about but perhaps dare not ask someone else. It is meant as a bit of fun and answers should not be construed as expert opinion or the definitive reply on the matter. For that reason we ask you to please send comments and experiences in order to add to our replies.

What is the deal with Brazilian headlights? I don’t know about the rest of Brazil, but in Rio all cars and taxis seem to have a setting that is actually lower than a normal ‘dim’ on their headlights. It’s a very low setting they use for driving around town. I have even noticed that many, including the buses, don’t even use their headlights at night. Is the unusually dim headlights a special setting that Brazilian cars have, or is it put on after market? And why…?

— David


Funny you’ve mentioned this. Years ago I almost got arrested in Florida for not using headlights. Actually I was using them, according to Brazilian rules.

There are three headlights phases, right? The one you refer to (I think) is the lowest one, “lanterna”. The lanterna is mandatory for public transportation during the day (although it’s ignored). The second phase, “farol”, is what you’re supposed to use at night. You should also use the farol during the day when on the road, “estradas”. At last, the higher level, “farol alto”, is for exclusive use on big roads, at night, only when it’s necessary (too dark) and IF you’re not running behind another vehicle.

Apparently in America you must have the “farol alto” on the roads no matter what, is that correct? I didn’t know that until:

_ Get out of the car, now!
_ Hello, officer. What’s the problem?
_ You’re not using headlights!
_ Sorry my English, maybe I don’t understand what you’re saying but…
_ Where are you from?
_ Brazil.
_ Oh, really? Que haces en Florida?
_ Me gusta Mickey.

PS: Not using any headlights or using just the lanterna at night is a serious fault for anyone, specially buses.

Thanks for you question,


Readers comments:


I think you are not a car bug.

Our “lanternas” are known in the US as “parking lights”. I wonder why anyone would park a car with lights or anything else on, at the risk of running down the battery. But they are called so anyway. In Brazil they are required by law to be on while driving in foggy conditions or under heavy rain. Many people in Brazil use them while driving at dusk, or even at night, just to to make themselves visible. This is against the law anywhere in the world, see local details below.

Then there are the headlights, with selectable low and high beams. The light may come from either the same double-filament lamp, or from separate single-filament lamps, depending on the specific car design.

Passenger cars are required to have their headlights on, in low beam, when it’s dark or inside tunnels. The high beam is only for driving at night on unlit roads, as long as there is no other vehicle ahead going in either direction. Buses are required to have their headlights on, in low beam, at all times in the traffic, day and night, just like ANY vehicle in Canada.

This is described in Art. 40 of the Código Brasileiro de Trnsito.

— Z

Are there any burning questions you have about Brazil, or other issues that you’re curious about, such as Brazilian culture? If so, send your questions to gringoes@www.gringoes.com with “Ask a Brazilian” in the subject. We will forward to our Brazilian experts, and publish the best questions (and replies) on the site.

Previous questions in this article series:

Ask a Brazilian: Differences and Love
Ask a Brazilian: What Do the Police Do?
Ask a Brazilian: Contractor Frustrations
Ask a Brazilian: English Books and Brazilian Boys
Ask a Brazilian: Cold Cahaca
Ask a Brazilian: Interruptions
Ask a Brazilian: Travel and Security Concerns
Ask a Brazilian: Gestures and Toys
Ask a Brazilian: Hispanics or Latinos, and Duvets
Ask a Brazilian: Overbearing Sogros
Ask a Brazilian: Hotels and Bank Transfers
Ask a Brazilian: Swimming, Showers and New Year’s
Ask a Brazilian: Making Friends
Ask a Brazilian: Female Etiquette
Ask a Brazilian: Washing Machines
Ask a Brazilian: Picking Teeth
Ask a Brazilian: Lozenge or Candy?
Ask a Brazilian: Liberal or Jealous?
Ask a Brazilian: Truck Wheels
Ask a Brazilian: Tolerance
Ask a Brazilian: Screens
Ask a Brazilian: Brazilian Wax
Ask a Brazilian: Flashing Lights
Ask a Brazilian: Lemon and Limes
Ask a Brazilian: Shocking Showers

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