Highway Service

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.”


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5 Responses to Highway Service

  1. Ray Adkins says:

    This is really cool.
    My father actually went to Engineering School in the 60’s and worked with the group of guys who developed those Highway “phones”, they are actually an automated service that dials directly into the nearest Emergency crew available at a given highway.
    That way, if you are sick or hurt from an accident you don’t have to “think” or “dial” numbers. It automatically dials the emergency folks for you, some, the older, you have to push a large emergency call button, the newest ones, you just stand in front of it and it dials it for you. Pretty cool stuff.
    I have to say every state is different in the US and California, principally around Los Angeles, have a pretty good road side assistance, paid by the state, to get troubled cars back on the road as soon as possible and avoid traffic jams.
    I had an accident on 405, just outside of LAX last year, two tires blew out on my rented Impala after running over a “HUGE” metal cylinder that felt from the semi truck in front of me. Three other cars were also hit by the metal cylinder and also had blown up tires.
    As I waited on the side of the road with my laptop ( watching the homeless folks under a tree ) I watched two large trucks pull over and start to replace all the tires, in all cars, at no charge. They told me they had to do it to keep the traffic moving, to avoid curious slowing down motorist that could cause another accident.
    We have ran out of gasoline in the middle of nowhere in upper Maine, in the middle of the night, in the winter, I know! Triple AAA saved our lives. We waited about 40 minutes but they sent help to tow us into the closest open gas station 60 miles away.
    I don’t live without triple AAA in the US.
    These private Brazilian highways were just beginning when we left Brazil in the 90’s, it is good to hear they have improved the way you are describing.
    Thanks for sharing, I will keep that number handy.


  2. See, I wish I had known that about California – about half of my flat tires and empty gas tanks occurred when living there. They should have these big signs like Brazil.

    Highway privatization is such an interesting solution. In Illinois outside of Chicago, they continue to increase the tolls, yet the roads are constantly in a state of bad condition and stalled construction. Maybe US needs to consider?

  3. Ray Adkins says:

    Yes, we had a similar experience in New Mexico, Texas is pretty good too, Oklahoma has great private roads with the works for road side assistance, but God help you if you are in trouble anywhere in New England or New York, you better have triple AAA.
    Sao Paulo has always had a great highway system, I can’t say the same for other Brazilian states, Minas Gerais is probably the worse…considering the amount of traffic and the poor condition of their roads.

  4. scrubgrub says:

    I second Ray, California has great road side assistance. They usually see if you if it happens during peak rush hour and are there helping you before you can even call AAA. I do find the whole highway system interesting, and never even thought about the free road-side assistance, so glad you mentioned it! That number will be saved.
    It is kind of genius of the Brazil government to privatize the road. Then the road gets built, and there is no burden on the government, then after so many years they get it back. My husband was explaining how the way the companies win the bids are by whomever is promising the lowest toll amount. I would like to believe it is all up an up and there is no back alley dealings, but it is politics, so who knows if the lowest toll bid always wins right!

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