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On the right track

Traffic law reforms will reinforce policies that have reduced accident rates

July will mark nine years since Spain’s points-based driver’s license went into effect, and these days nobody is questioning the role it has played in reducing road accidents, which have dropped 65 percent since then. The unquestionable success of policies that were implemented by the previous government and continued by this one suggests that we should reinforce the measures that have proven to be more efficient. And the new Traffic and Road Safety Law recently approved by Congress does just that.

The new regulations raise fines from €500 to €1,000 for drivers caught driving with twice the allowed blood alcohol level (0.05 percent) and for those who already tested positive during the previous year. The same parameters will apply to those who drive while under the influence of drugs: from now on, it will no longer be necessary to prove that the drugs impaired one’s driving; it will be enough to test positive for them. The new law also introduces alcohol and drug tests for pedestrians and special safety measures for children, such as making bike helmets mandatory within city limits. Following a heated debate, it was finally decided to maintain the 120km/h speed limit on highways, although a few specific stretches may go up to 130km/h.

Following a heated debate, it was finally decided to maintain the 120km/h speed limit on expressways

The point is evidently to reinforce the kind of preventive policy that has produced such good results in the past. Considering that in the 1990s there were nearly 6,000 deaths a year from road accidents, the fact that 2013 ended with 1,128 deaths illustrates the many lives that were saved and the enormous amount of suffering that was prevented. Yet if we look at the countries with the lowest road death rates, it becomes evident that there is still some way to go.

Sweden, at three deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, has the lowest rate, followed by Britain (3.7), Singapore (5.1) and Japan (5.2). Spain comes in at 5.4. As those other countries have demonstrated, reducing road deaths requires something more than fines. What is needed are improvements to the roads, good vehicle maintenance, and guaranteed ongoing education for drivers. In a country like Spain, where 20 percent of those killed in traffic accidents were not wearing their seat belts, it is vital to insist on awareness and road safety campaigns.

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