New traffic law approved in Spain will see stiffer penalties for using cellphones while driving

The legislation, which is likely to come into force in a couple of months’ time, will also make helmets obligatory for scooter riders

Madrid -
Fire crews at a traffic accident in Valencia this week.
Fire crews at a traffic accident in Valencia this week.Clara Martínez (Europa Press)

Spain’s lower house of parliament approved on Thursday the new Traffic, Circulation and Road Safety law, which includes the docking of six points from motorists’ driving licenses – compared to the current three – for anyone who is caught “holding cellphone devices while driving.” The final text that was passed by lawmakers in the Congress of Deputies does not, in the end, prohibit drivers from exceeding the speed limit when they are overtaking another vehicle.

Currently, the latter rule allows for an excess of 20 kilometers per hour when passing on Spanish roads. This will remain in place despite the regulation’s elimination having been included in an earlier draft of the legislation.

Among the other new regulations is a rise in the penalty for not wearing a seatbelt, from three to four license points, as well as an obligation to wear a helmet when riding electric scooters.

The reforms modify the current law, which dates from 2015, and will now be sent to the Senate. Once it has been definitively approved by the upper house, it will likely come into force in the coming months.

According to the reformed law, the penalty for using a cellphone while driving will remain at three license points, if the device is in a stand or on a seat while being used. But should a driver be caught manipulating the phone in their hand, a four-point penalty can be levied. Hands-free devices will still be permitted for use.

Unlocking cellphones, and reading or answering WhatsApp messages, can have the worst consequences when driving. Distractions caused 31% of the fatal accidents in Spain in 2020, a rise of three points compared to the year before, according to the latest report from the DGT traffic authority.

Also under the new legislation, professional drivers will have to install a breathalyzer system in their vehicles that immobilize the engine should they exceed the legal limits of alcohol levels in their blood.

Points system

In Spain, drivers have 12 points on their licenses, or eight for new drivers with less than three years of experience or those who have recovered their license after it was suspended. Points are removed if drivers incur in a serious or very serious infraction. Two, three, four or six points can be docked depending on the severity of the offense. If during the two years after a serious offense, or three years in the case of a very serious offense, a driver has not lost any further points, the full 12 points are reinstated automatically. If a driver loses all of their points, their license will be suspended. The license can be reactivated six months later (three for a professional driver) provided that the offender takes a road safety course, and then successfully passes an exam on the content of said course.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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