Brazil's Traffic Is A Circus, So Send In The Clowns The northeastern city of Olinda is trying to tame its chaotic roads with "traffic clowns," who hit the streets in full costume, encouraging drivers to slow down, don a helmet or buckle their seat belts.
NPR logo

Brazil's Traffic Is A Circus, So Send In The Clowns

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/223775470/223848859" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Brazil's Traffic Is A Circus, So Send In The Clowns

Brazil's Traffic Is A Circus, So Send In The Clowns

Brazil's Traffic Is A Circus, So Send In The Clowns

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/223775470/223848859" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

On a busy avenue in Olinda, in northeastern Brazil, two men in wigs, big red noses and full clown makeup are squeaking horns and making a good-natured ruckus.

"Where's your helmet?" shouts one as a motorcyclist whizzes by. "Fasten your seat belt!" calls out the other.

Clown GIF 1

Uncle Honk and Fom Fom are traffic clowns, or palhacos, hired by the city to make the roads a bit safer. They lean into traffic, making exaggerated gestures, like the sweep of the arm to mimic fastening a seat belt, and a mimed reminder to never drink and drive.

"We try to bring peace to the traffic," Uncle Honk tells NPR's Melissa Block. "Respect the driver near you."

"Our motto," adds Fom Fom, "is, 'Kindness breeds kindness.' "

Clown GIF 3

The clowns have their work cut out for them here, where cars, trucks and motorcycles share the road with rickety horse-drawn carts. And as millions of people here move from poverty into the middle class, "people who always dreamed of having a car are now able to buy one," Uncle Honk says.

That means a tremendous jump in the number of cars on the roads, more inexperienced drivers and a big traffic mess — making plenty of work for these traffic clowns.