Home Magazine Issue 01 The New Rules of the Road

The New Rules of the Road

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As new laws come into force on the roads of Spain, they are set to radicalise mobility, paying closer attention to how transport arrangements are evolving into the future.

From the days of horse and cart, flagmen walking in front of the first automobiles and the creation of mass transit systems, the roads have had to adapt over times, as have the many people who use them. Now, as we head into a new age of greener, cleaner transport, and focus more on saving the lives and limbs of all road users, with the ultimate goal being zero fatalities, the next stage of that evolution is upon us.

In the 2015 changes to the law, the introduction details how the mobility of the population is constantly evolving, so the rules which regulate traffic also have to keep up with new needs and demands. In particular, in recent years, one of the biggest transformations the country has gone through in the cities and towns in which we live, regarding urban mobility, has been a major shift towards pedestrians and cyclists which has shaped a new concept of a more sustainable and convenient city.

The change of emphasis from the motor vehicle towards the rise of other modes of transport is a major cultural shift which also must be translated into rules, with the object of equipping road users with the necessary legal safety. The Reglamento General de Circulación is the equivalent to the UK Highway Code in Spain and is an example of legal transformation, as traditionally it has been a standard whose objective was to serve the growing increase in mobility of motor vehicles, in such a way that this became the largest part of the whole and the rest of the road users had to adapt themselves to the vehicle regulations.

In this sense, the regulation of the automobile and the highway constituted the central axis of all the rules. In urban areas, the motor vehicle is beginning to stop playing the leading role, giving way to a shared use of the road in which pedestrians and cyclists are starting to gain special importance, as are electric vehicles in all their variants.

This can be seen as the mobility and road safety policies being developed by local government have been for some time geared towards two main objectives: on the one hand, the calming of urban traffic, and on the other, the promotion of the bicycle as the preferred mode of transport, being increasingly integrated into the traffic flow.

For both reasons, local administrations are demanding changes to the standard rules of urban traffic, which will allow them to adequately develop the new city models.

The increasing growth of different modes of transport in urban areas can also be accredited to the proliferation of personal mobility vehicles in recent years and, due to demand from city councils, basic regulation of these will be introduced to complement that which has already been established by municipal authorities everywhere.

The calming of urban traffic, the promotion of the use of bicycles and the reduction of accidents in town centres are three very important allied objectives which set the introduction of a general speed limit of 30 kph in many of our city streets. With reference to accidents, in urban road safety the principle by which the death of pedestrians is governed by the speed of motor vehicles is fundamental: at 80 kph 95% of pedestrians who are run over are killed, at 50 kph 50%, and at 30 kph 5%.

By precisely following this line the general speed limit was modified on specified roads to reinforce 30 zones. After reducing the speed limit in these zones, the moderation or calming of speed allows a new street model to be shaped, converting it into an area of shared coexistence between pedestrian, bicycle and motor vehicle.

In this context, the denominated “one way systems” which are now being specifically regulated, are significant. Some elements relating to bicycles have already been laid down, which are without doubt fundamental to the present partial modification. Bicycle as urban mode of transport, in accordance with the Motion approved by the Plenum of the Senate on the 27th April 2011, urging the Government to adopt regulatory measures promoting the use of bicycles in towns and cities and improving the safety of persons using bicycles as a mode of transport. A new paragraph was incorporated, number VI, which is fundamentally dedicated to bicycle traffic, although other precepts remain in the article in which it is not the only type of vehicle.

The bicycle is gaining prominence in urban streets, becoming another road vehicle, but with improved safety aspects, and allowing the municipal authorities to regulate, while serving the characteristics of their urban infrastructure, the coexistence with pedestrians in places that do not have specific cycle lanes.

What stands out is the introduction of the obligatory wearing of helmets for cyclists under sixteen years of age on every type of street without exception, as a coherent element of protection with the objective of making it possible for bicycles to circulate on the urban roadways in a context of safety.

The speed limits are not only reduced in urban areas, but also inter-city and, specifically, on the “conventional roads” this type of road being where three quarters of accidents with victims occur. Additionally, this reduction is in conjunction with a new configuration of this type of road, from the point of view of road safety.

This breaks the traditional differentiation which exists based on a usable hard shoulder of 1.5 metres width and opens up the width of the road lane and the demarcation of the central reservation, ensuring the driver’s safety. In addition, bicycles with trailers (such as rickshaws) are being considered for the transport of persons in urban areas. Several articles referring to motorcycles and scooters are also the object of modifications.

With respect to the wearing of helmets, medical exemption from wearing a helmet has been abolished. In addition, legal recognition has been given to denominated priority waiting zones, both in their demarcation and their access to and use by the drivers of these vehicles.

With reference to safety belts and officially approved containment systems, it is most important to be able to have an advanced standard with the objective that no occupant of a motor vehicle is left without protection in any situation, and this is being set in stone with two main changes: first, the complete abolishment of exemptions from wearing a seatbelt, which are not justified from a road safety point of view; and second, the prohibition of driving with minors 135cm or less in height in the front seat, except where the vehicle does not have rear seats, or where these are already occupied by minors of 135cm or less, to the end of reducing the seriousness of possible injuries suffered in case of accident.

One result of the recent modification of the Criminal Prosecution Law is the new edition of the articles relating to drugs, especially the part referring to methods of detection, which establishes saliva testing as the normal procedure, as well as providing preventive measures. The rules also benefit from very concrete modifications of the General Vehicle Regulations. On the one hand, the obligation to continue to pass technical inspections in cases of damaged, lost or withdrawn driving permits or licences has been eliminated. This removes an unnecessary burden from citizens which has been the source of repeated complaints. On the other hand, regulation of the markings on priority vehicles has been incorporated.

Finally, and with reference to the modification of the General Vehicle Regulations, the obligation to have type B technical inspection cards in electronic form has been introduced, enabling the administrative process for vehicle registration to be carried out electronically, including also pre-registered vehicles, increasing the legal security of the process. The law itself it very detailed and covers all elements across the spectrum of road use, including pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, through cars, vans, trucks and buses, and everything in between.

Although we will try to avoid some of the legal language in these explanations, it will be essential at times, in order to afford as much detail as we can. However, to detail every single clause and change would perhaps result in many of the key points being missed, so we will explain the most pertinent points as we go through this document, trying as best to keep the rules together in categories wherever we can.

In Brief:

Foreign residents are now obliged to register vehicles in Spain. Until now, foreign residents must only meet tax obligations set out in the Excise Act, but it was not mandatory to register the vehicle in Spain, which in practice made it difficult for law enforcement.

Children are prohibited from riding in the front seats of cars. Until now, those under 12 years of age were allowed to sit in the front seat, if they do so with the proper child restraint system. Now, the translation of the law dictates that children less than 1.35 metres tall are not allowed to travel in the front, although there are certain restrictive exceptions, such as vehicles without rear seats. The fine for not complying is 200 euro, and this rule also applies to taxis, but the responsibility is given to the parent or guardian, not the taxi driver.

The fine for driving whilst under the influence of alcohol has doubled, and will be 1,000 euro, in the case of driver exceeding 0.5 milligrams per litre of exhaled air and 0.3 milligrams for novice drivers and professionals, such as taxi drivers. The penalty is also doubled should a driver have been found guilty in the year prior to this conviction.

In order to enforce the government´s aim of “zero tolerance” of drug use, a new law to tackle drug use whilst driving, replacing the current legislation that was covered by administrative sanctions, with saliva tests now acceptable, and fines of 1,000 euro.

Pedestrians are also now subject to drug and alcohol testing, in the event of any offence having been committed, replacing the current legislation that only requires a test in the event of a pedestrian being involved in an accident. Child cyclists, under 16 years of age, are obliged to wear a crash helmet when riding in towns. Those responsible for the child will face a 200 euro fine if caught out.

The speed on motorways remains at 120 kilometres per hour maximum, although the law does now allow for the increase of permitted speeds, and fines, should certain areas of highway be seen as acceptable to be increased to 130 kilometres per hour.

The speed on some roads may well decrease though, as a new section has been included to fine drivers on some roads who are speeding at the lower end of the spectrum. The restrictions on minimum speed limits for cyclists on some roads will be lifted, as so far it has been impossible for cycles to travel at the required minimum 50% of the maximum. The new law expressly prohibits the use of radar speed detectors and imposes a penalty of 200 euro, plus the loss of 3 points, as well as a the continual 6,000 euro fine and the decrease of six points in the case of using inhibitors.

However, it is legal to use devices which provide information on the location of safety cameras, which are freely published by the DGT on their website, but drivers must avoid using them whilst driving to avoid distractions. A traffic law enforcement officer may now issue a fine without the need to stop the vehicle. Until now, certain surveillance activities have proved difficult when it came to the required identity of drivers, but this element will be removed by the filing process of the vehicle.

Drivers will become responsible in the event of hitting or killing a large animal on the roads. Until now, the driver was only responsible if it were proven that a law had been broken which led to an incident, now the responsibility is on the driver, unless negligence can be proven in the event of a lack of speedy repairs to fencing, for example. Should a driver be issued with a sanction, the length of time in which a 50% discount will be applied has been increased from 15 to 20 calendar days, allowing a slightly longer period in which to submit claims.

A new law also now allows authorities to restrict access or traffic routes to vehicles for environmental reasons. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment will be allowed to make the necessary moves, which can also include such problems as reducing pollution.

Tow-trucks involved in emergency roadside assistance will now be treated as emergency vehicles, and be allowed priority to move through traffic. They may also now stand or park on city streets during the time necessary to remove vehicles, provided they do not create a new hazard or obstacle to traffic.

The restrictions on cancer patients have also been eased in the legislation, as medical and pharmacological advances mean that the possibility is increased in the cases where cancer patients can drive themselves as they lead their normal lives.

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