Careful in your car

Last month I wrote a post about the new speed limit on motorways in Spain, which has been reduced from 120km/h to 110km/h. You could incur a fine, or even lose points on your driving licence, if you have a Spanish one. Now there is a new campaign which drivers should be aware of. It's not a change in the law, but it is something which you should definitely be aware of when driving, especially in cities. When you answer a phone call (even on a hands-free), turn on the radio or light a cigarette while driving, you're taking your attention away from the road. Last year, driver distraction caused 608 road accidents in Spain - in which 684 people were killed and 288 seriously injured. This accounts for nearly 40% of the total fatalities in traffic accidents in 2010, so the DGT (Direccion General de Trafico) has launched a new campaign to highlight the risks, educate people about responsible driving habits, thereby reducing these accidents. When you answer the phone in your car, it can have the same effect on the body as driving while drunk: speed reduces by more than 10%, heart rate increases and reactions are dulled. After one and a half minutes' talking on your mobile phone, the risk of having an accident increases four-fold (according to research by RTVE experts). Other dangerous activities include eating while driving, programming a GPS, turning on the radio, and putting on your make-up. If you light a cigarette while you're driving, your attention is distracted for four seconds; changing a CD takes six seconds; and dialling a number can mean your eyes are off the road for as much as 13 seconds. Any of these offences could mean losing three points on your licence. The other factor to be aware of, which many people are ignorant of until it's too late, is traffic violations - parking and speeding fines. Often you don't receive any notification of one of these fines, and the next thing you know money has been taken out of your bank account without your permission, or in some instance your account has even been frozen. This system seems grossly unfair - the authorities are not obliged to inform you of an infraction of the law, either in terms of where, when and how long you parked somewhere illegally, or where and when you exceeded the speed limit. This means that you often don't have the opportunity to appeal the fine until it's too late, since you don't even know you've received it. There's a website you can use to check if you have outstanding fines on your car - you just have to put in your DNI (ID number) and car's matricula (registration number). So make sure you keep a sharp eye on your bank statements (I don't as much as I should), and if in doubt, check that website so you don't get a nasty shock from your bank. Recent figures here in Seville stated that as many as 16,500 people were driving in Seville without valid licences - they had lost all their points, and were using their cars in breach of the law, without knowing it. The reason given for this situation was a delay in the DGT letting them know - sometimes of up to six months. The national figure of people driving without a valid licence is 71,100.
Blog published on 14 April 2011