The highway designated BR-116 runs north-south along the Brazilian coastline. It is the second longest highway in the entire country – almost 4,400 km. Due to its unstable weather conditions and high number of traffic accidents, the part of the highway which runs between Sao Paolo and Curitiba has earned the nickname “Highway of Death” (Portuguese: Rodovia da Morte).
The Highway of Death also has a reputation for being poorly maintained, and there are places where the narrow single lanes mean truck drivers must drive so close to those going in the opposite direction that they nearly touch the other vehicle.
This is doubly unfortunate since the road is a major artery for freight traffic, mostly grain shipments (trucks make 60% of the road’s traffic). The passage of untold thousands of heavy trucks wears the road down, creating potholes and further adding to the danger.
In addition, BR-116 is where many bandit attacks and car-jackings take place. Sadly, it is also one of the world hotspots for underage prostitution. Finally, it is also a place where drugs and alcohol sales flourish – these are often used by drivers for short-term stress relief or to enhance their alertness.
Despite the dangers, the route is absolutely vital for Brazil’s economy, especially since the country’s rail and river transportation networks are underdeveloped – Brazil relies on its 1.85 million trucks to do the vast majority of heavy transportation.
All in all, it is clear the country’s infrastructure cannot handle the sheer volume of traffic. This in turn leads to higher transport costs and lower profit from grain sales.
The measures the Brazilian government introduced to reduce the number of accidents include mandatory rest periods for truck drivers as well as a campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of alcohol consumption.
Over 40,000 people (including 1,200 truckers) die on Brazilian roads each year, thousands of whom are the victims of the Highway of Death.