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Brazilian Drivers Use Twitter to Avoid DUI Checkpoints

lei seca rjOver the past two years, police in Rio de Janeiro have been cracking down on drunk drivers as part of a strict city-wide campaign. Many motorists, however, have found a way to avoid the watchful eye of Rio's law enforcers: Twitter.

Under Operation Lei Seca ("dry law"), Rio police have been setting up checkpoints at accident hotspots across the city, where they administer breathalyzer tests to drivers. Those who fail the test can face fines, have their licenses suspended, or have their cars towed.

But, in June 2009, a man named Bruno Pontes created a Twitter feed with which Brazilian drivers could warn each other about any police checkpoints they see on the road. The account, LeiSecaRJ, was originally launched in response to similar warnings that Rio's Twitter users were already posting, and now has over 150,000 followers. "We just put all these warnings in one place," Pontes told the BBC. "It was already a spontaneous popular movement, we are just supervising it."

The account's supporters maintain that it's designed not to facilitate drunk driving, but to foster greater awareness for all drivers. "I think Lei Seca is a good thing," said one user, named Marcelo. "But sometimes I check the Twitter page on my Blackberry if I've forgotten my driving license. It's just better to drive without being worried about anything."

The police, meanwhile, are well aware that their checkpoints are being publicized on Twitter. Many officers have begun consulting the page themselves, and sometimes change their locations. But residents say that police involvement on the site is sporadic, and that they often take several hours to actually change checkpoint locations. "The Twitter page is undermining our strategy and good sense of the campaign. It's harmful," former health minister Jose Gomes declared.

But, as LeiSecaRJ's following has grown, so too has the scope of its operations. According to Pontes, the handle now aggregates warnings about "floods, power cuts and traffic as well as Lei Seca operations." The account has become so popular, in fact, that it's even been nominated for Twitter's Shorty awards -- an event honoring producers of quality, real-time content. Rio police may not be rooting for a LeiSecaRJ victory, but, for Pontes, a win "would be testament to the collaborative spirit of Brazilians."

Tags: Brazil, campaign, drinking, Driving, DrunkDriving, dui, law, police, RioDeJaneiro, SocialNetworking, top, twitter, web

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