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Monday May 19, 2014

Will Spain’s new road laws drive tourists away?

Whenever I drive along the busy Via Cintura, the ring road that loops Palma, running from the south west to the east of the island, I shudder at the speed and cavalier attitude of many of the drivers. It is quite common to witness car occupants swerving between lanes at speed without indicating and the same applies at the exits where some motorists suddenly tear across all three lanes as if they’ve only just remembered – at the last minute – that they need to get off the road.

So when I heard that tough new road laws were being introduced in Spain I applauded the decision. If it made the public more mindful of the penalties associated with excessive speeding, it could only be a good thing. Of course speeding is just one aspect of the legislation which sees heavy fines being imposed for a number of road offences. In the case of serious speeding, fines of nearly £500 will be in order while drivers twice over the legal alcohol limit, will face a penalty of more than £800. Bike riders below the age of 16 must now wear helmets and children under 1.35m in height are forbidden to sit in the front passenger seat of a car. Should anyone be foolhardy enough to install a speed camera detector in their vehicle – and be caught – a fine to the tune of nearly £5000 will apparently be imposed.

On the face of it all these fines seem quite justified. No one wants inebriated drivers or speed junkies coursing the highways and there are far too many teenagers riding around our island on popular moto bikes without the protection of helmets. But there are those who argue that some of the new laws are draconian and might be of serious concern to visitors to Spain. Critics claim that imposing an instant fine of more than £400 for travelling at just one kilometre over the speed limit is excessive and dislike the fact that the Guardia Civil military police will soon have the authority to record a car’s registration number and prosecute the driver for an offence without actually stopping the vehicle. In reality this could mean that some holidaymakers return to their home country blissfully unaware that they’ve been charged with committing an offence until they receive notification. Prosecution will soon be made easier due to EU legislation that will allow drivers to be fined for a road offence made in another European country.

All the same, perspective is needed. Spain welcomes countless holidaymakers each year and the Guardia Civil will therefore hopefully tread delicately with those ignorant of new legislation. It is worth bearing in mind too that if fines are paid speedily, normally within 20 days, the amount is halved. Fines will not be imposed on those with GPS installed in their vehicles warning road users to slow down on certain highways. After all on many Spanish roads signs often indicate the need to decrease speed because of nearby fixed radars. Although those caught burning up the road will be heavily penalised, motoring speeds will at the same time be increased from 120km/hour to 130km/hour on certain fast routes.

In reality – and despite the current brouhaha – the new laws are unlikely to cause much heartache to the millions of visitors to Spain each year. Still, working on the principle that it is better to be safe than sorry, holidaymakers should familiarise themselves with the new legislation and to the best of their ability avoid being a Speedy Gonzales or Road Runner. As they say, more haste, less speed.

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