Red Asphalt is missing in Chile

When I was 15 and in high school, I was required to take one semester of driver’s education as part of the basic curriculum of all students. This practice is all but gone in many schools across the U.S. but during the 70s and well into the early 90s when I was in high school, the course was alive and well. We all looked forward to this semester our sophomore year because it was the first step we embarked on towards the freedom that a California state Driver’s License offered us.

Part of the excitement of Driver’s Ed was the mystery that surrounded the infamous “Red Asphalt.” Red Asphalt is a series of instructional driver’s education videos produced by the California Highway Patrol. And to put it bluntly, all it did was feature gruesome scenes of bloody accidents, most of which were caused by drunk or speeding drivers (or both). Before Driver’s Ed, we’d only heard about the film, which supposedly featured bodies cut in half, strewn on lawns, cars a wrangled mess of metal with blood splattered on the windshields and seats … and all we had to frame our own reactions of the film, were those reactions of students older than us. Some were overly dramatic and claimed to have had to walk out of class; others were sadistic and took it all in gladly. In either case, it was the talk of the school whenever the sophomore class had seen the film that particular week.

Below is an 8 minute clip of the original Red Asphalt, though I can’t recall if this was the one we saw in 1992/1993. I doubt it, but even if we had a more updated version, what they would have updated would be the statistics… the general idea of the video is nicely conveyed in this short clip, should you wish to take a gander.

So not only did we have a semester’s worth of learning California driving laws, but this was mixed in with curriculum focused on scaring the living sh*t out of us by outlining every possible factor that could result in a deadly accident the minute we stepped foot behind the driver’s wheel. I’m not condoning nor am I criticizing this tactic, I’m simply stating how it was presented to the general student population at our school, and from what I hear, how it was presented in general in the State of California.

Further to this semester of education and scare tactics, our school also hosted “Drunk Driving Awareness Week” once a year. This involved assemblies where we’d hear first hand about how real people were affected one way or another by drunk driving, movies featuring images of drunk driving accidents and also included what was left of a car on our school’s front lawn. This was an actual car that had been involved in an alcohol related collision, mangled doors, shattered windshields, dried blood – the whole nine yards – on our front lawn so that every day for a week, we saw it on our way into the building. I have memory of the cars looking something like this every year:


Perhaps not this exactly, but similar enough that I recall thinking “How did anyone survive that?”

And so, if it isn’t already obvious to you, my conclusion about all this is that, in the early 90s at least, California CLEARLY favored educating teenagers about the rules of the road while at the same time, scaring us into never wanting to step into a car either as a driver or a passenger for the remainder of our lives. And at least with this teenager, fear tactics work their “magic” in such a way, that I’m like one of those dogs who wears those collars that send electrical charges through them whenever they bark.

As we got older, the messages surrounding driving under the influence continued. They evolved into more sophisticated messages of the “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” nature and stopped featuring gross, bloody scenes that bordered on resembling bad Hollywood movie types. The bottom line being that in California, we were constantly fed, via the formal education system or the media, messages that it was simply NOT OK to drink and drive. Even if one had done it, that person carried with them the GUILT learned through all of the above, because it’s embedded in our brains that no matter how you slice it, it’s.just.plain. wrong. And trust me, I’ve seen that guilt scare the few people I know who have driven drunk into NEVER doing it again. Those are the happy cabby people (i.e. they take taxis left and right a la Paris Hilton post jail stint).

THEREFORE, dear blog reader, you can simply IMAGINE my disgust at the seemingly culturally accepted tendency in Chile to drive regardless of the number of drinks one has consumed. I’m not talking about evidence on the news (which, believe it or not, shows bloodier scenes than in the U.S.!) but occasions I’ve witnessed FIRST HAND of this acceptance. The “no he’s fine, he hasn’t had a drink in an hour and I just gave him a cup of coffee.” Or “no she’s fine, she lives just about five blocks from here, and I asked her to call us when she gets home.” And I’ve experienced FIRST HAND being in the car with someone DRIVING who has whipped out a can of beer to drink it while driving (that time, I made him stop the car, I got out and told my two cousins who were in the back seat, after refusing to get out with me, peace out. Baby don’t play that game.) The shadiest part about that story is that the guy driving is a DETECTIVE for the Investigations arm of the Law Enforcement here in Chile. Nice, right?

No one wants to be the “mala onda weon” who tells an inebriated – or even buzzed – friend that maybe he shouldn’t be driving. AND no one wants to be the “mala onda galla” who tells her friends she’s only having two drinks because she has to drive home. That would be met with immediate looks resembling “WTF is wrong with you? Did you have a lobotomy, is that it?” If someone WERE to stick to their guns and not drink or continue to drink (and be responsible, at that!) I’m certain the general public would immediately disregard him/her as someone cool and fun. And God forbid promoting the idea of designated drivers here in Chile. Not once in my personal experience have I ever been to any social gathering here where someone merely stated “Nah, I’m good. I’m the DD tonight.” Unless that person was a pregnant or nursing woman, everyone drinks and there is simply no limit.

Anyhoo, what’s the moral of my story today? Nothing really. I can only do so much to change perceptions, which is limited to those directly around me, and even then, I can only influence so much. I’m not condoning scaring teenagers in Chile from getting behind the wheel because as it is, a good lot of them never learn to drive and when they do, it’s later on in life. Nor am I saying that California had it right because God knows I’ve witnessed those same Californians doing some stupid, stupid things related to drinking and driving. I’m not sure that in general, those scare tactics used in my high school even worked. Yeah, they worked on me for the most part but that’s because my mother’s M.O. as I was growing up was the use of scare tactics. Thus it’s the sure way to discipline me. The whole notion of “If you do/don’t do ABC, then XYZ will happen (to you).” Gets me every time!

Plus, can I also attribute all this “awareness” to the fact that California as a state is all about making us aware? Aware of the effects, aware of the surroundings, aware of the aftermath, aware of the consequences. We’re an aware bunch in CA, or at least, our government aims for that. Does that mean Chileans are, in comparison, unaware? No. I think they’re a very aware bunch as well … it’s just that they’re quick to forgive or turn a blind eye to something they are aware is bad.

THIS is the biggest issue I have with the culture right now.

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8 thoughts on “Red Asphalt is missing in Chile

  1. Seba and I's first fight was over drinking and driving. We were going to a party and I asked who was driving. He said he was. I assumed that meant he was limiting himself to one drink, two tops. After three, I said, "ok, if you're driving you need to stop drinking." And he was like WTF?!? NO. And I said, "ok, give me the keys." And then we got into an all out brawl in which Seba's friends proceeded to tell me I was mala onda for counting how many drinks he had.

    Until I pulled the My Grandpa Was Killed By a Drunk Driver card. Then they all shut the fuck up.

  2. Kyle I'm so sorry about your Grandpa. I hate drunk driving. When I was in seventh grade a bunch of high schoolers from the neighboring town got in an accident right near my house after they'd been drinking. I remember waking up in the middle of the night to the flashing police and ambulance lights reflecting off my bedroom walls. Of the four people in the car, one survived. He later, as part of his court sentence, went around to area high schools and talked about drunk driving. This scared the SHIT out of me.
    I've been in so many situations here where people say they're "okay" to drive when obviously they are not. One time I was at a disco and the people I was with were trying to decide who was the "least" drunk to be able to drive. I made a fuss and took a taxi with my friend and yes, got accused of being mala onda.
    Drunk driving is stupid and selfish, because not only are you endangering yourself, but anyone who is on the road with you. I don't understand why so many people just don't get that.

  3. Oh man, the fight between me and Pablo about this was nasty! And happened more than once! I did some research and found that the same percentage of total population die in the U.S. and Chile from traffic related incidents… but can you imagine how much more of the population in the U.S. has a car compared the population of Chile!
    And what about the whole, "no seat belts in the backseat?"!!?!? I shocked Pablo's dad when I was the first person to wear the seat belt in his backseat. Stupid

  4. I love Kyle's comment because that is exactly what happened with me and my Chilean. We are not a fighting couple, but my first week in Chile we went out to a disco, met up with Chris' so called best friend and basically after being drinking all night they decided we would go on to another disco a few kms away. I was HORRIFIED!!!!Ireland has a seriously strict drink-driving laws, and every year they get stricter and stricter. So imagine my shock at seeing Chris jumping into the driver seat. Well I'll tell you now, he NEVER did it again. Now he totally agrees with no drink-driving after seeing how they enforce it here in Ireland, but I really believe that Chile needs a revolution regarding its enforcement of drink-driving laws. It's shocking!!!And the no seat belts thing is absolutely absurd. I refused to enter a car in chile without a seat belt and I think by now all my friends and family there know not to even suggest it.

  5. I've been shocked by this too. Rodolfo and I are pretty clear on things now, and luckily in his groups of friends I've never noticed anyone giving someone a hard time for not drinking/drinking less if they're driving. What's most surprising to me is how bad experiences don't seem to affect anyone. I know more than one person who's been surprised to see a dent in the car the next day and not been sure what that came from because the drive home's a blur – that would scare the HELL out of me.

    Some friends got in a car accident last weekend, actually, and no one seems to have taken anything from it, including the guy who was seatbelt-less in the back and got banged around. I said something along the lines of "I'm glad he's ok but that was dumb, hopefully he learns to buckle up," and other people told me that it wasn't his fault because usually the seatbelts are hidden under the back seat. I know that, I would just have thought that maybe now all of us who saw the totaled car could think to make the seatbelts accessible before we get in!

    PS. By 2000, we didn't actually see Red Asphalt, but it was still legendary!

  6. I'm totally all for the scare tactics. In fact, in the school that I work at in IL they have amped it up a bit with not only the smashed up cars but with real life people who are paralyzed or testimonials from those who lost loved ones to accidents from drinking or texting and driving. It all scares the crap out of me so I was happy to see my students come back to class looking physically disturbed by what they had witnessed.

  7. My husband agrees on the scare tactics too. Therefore it's been decided … I will scare my kids (who will be raised in Chile it seems) to fear the car. That's all there is to it! :o)

  8. AHHH this post makes my blood boil. My boyfriend doesn't drink and cant even drive so thank god its not a constant issue but there is a MAJOR problem with this in Chile. My bf was telling me the other day that lots of people always say "I drive better drunk." WHAT?!? I've heard people in the US say this about being high, because they drive super paranoid slow (studies show this isn't "better" but at least I understand why they would make the comment)… but drunk?

    I've had known a number of people who've flipped their cars, got into the hospital etc because they were driving drunk, and it didn't cause any lightbulbs. They still drink and drive.

    I have also been made to feel extremely uncomfortable every time i have said anything or been reluctant to ride with someone, even when i explain why. although it worked for kyle, nobody has seemed more than indifferent about my experiences being catapulted through a windshield or having the closest person in my life break down in my arms when their mom was killed by a DD. Me not wanting to ride with a drunk person seems logical, but everybody else regards it as me being rigid and paranoid

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