On the way back from Rio we almost ran out of gas. We were on the highway and our tank was low (i.e. on reserve) so at the tollbooth we asked the attendant how far the nearest station was. She informed us the nearest gas station was 20 kilometers, but there was a town about 5 kilometers up the highway. Running out of gas is a terrifying idea to me, only overshadowed by getting a flat tire, so we took a gamble and took the exit off the highway. Only to drive 15 kilometers before we found a station…
Getting off the highway was the wrong thing to do. Not only because off-the-highway towns are often desolate and full of frightening characters (as was the case in this scenario), but also, as my husband informed me later, because Brazil highways offer something special. Service.
Toll roads in Brazil are privatized. That means, unlike in the United States, businesses are accountable for the tolls they collect and how that money is applied to the actual road. So the companies use part of that income to provide roadside assistance.
Every few kilometers, the toll company posts a phone number to call if you have a flat, and accident, or run out of fuel. They also put themselves out there for suggestions or questions (no really, I swear).
Admittedly, I’ve run out of gas or nearly run out of gas in the U.S. I’ve also gotten flat tires. Most of these incidents have happened on the highway in the middle of the night. Let me tell you, unless you have AAA or remember that you opted for roadside assistance within your insurance plan, you are SOL. (For those not familiar with American acronym slang: Sh**-Out-of Luck.) And even if you do, you’ll wait for hours for a person to show up. So, the idea of having someone to call for help that actually works for the tolls is quite liberating for me in terms of highway driving.
Next time you are driving on a highway in Brazil, make sure someone in the car jots down the numbers of those big signs you pass. You never know when you need a little “socorro.”