Silent Treatment: Mimes Enforce Traffic Laws in Venezuela

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Ariana Cubillos / AP

Mimes gesture as they stand in a crosswalk in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday Oct. 7, 2011. The mayor of the city's eastern district of Sucre has launched a unique program aimed to encourage civility among reckless drivers and careless pedestrians, putting 120 mimes at intersections to politely and silently scold violators

A sort of silent shame has cropped up in South American cities, as officials plead with both drivers and pedestrians to obey traffic laws by using the antics of hired mimes.

And why not? Nearly everyone looks at a mime, especially when dressed in a brightly colored getup while eagerly making fun of people on the side of a busy street. The latest effort has about 120 mimes on the downtown streets of Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, making a (silent) scene any time a driver or pedestrian disobeys a traffic rule.

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In Sao Paulo, Brazil, the black-and-white dressed mimes crowd street corners to urge pedestrians to follow the rules. Any infraction leads to frantic miming. And in Bogota, Colombia, the mimes signify a mainstay on the streets, joining with the police officers.

Officials hope that using the visible, yet less-threatening, tactic of mimes can help break bad habits in a more congenial way. The mimes in Caracas have reported mostly compliance with their gesturing, although, as expected, the enjoyment of the mimes hasn’t proven universal. It seems some folks don’t take rebuke well, even the silly, silent variety.

Some mimes simply wave their fingers at knowingly lawless drivers, while others encourage drivers to stop, slow down or otherwise completely change their reckless driving.

And with the wild—and wildly loud—streets in the big cities of South America, maybe the silent miming is the only kind of enforcement drivers can really hear.

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Tim Newcomb is a contributor for TIME. Find him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.