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DRIVING

Spain eyes fines for drivers distracted by phones, even if they’re not using them

Spain’s traffic authority wants to clamp down on short distractions on the road by fining drivers who have their phones close to them even if they’re not technically using them.

Spain eyes fines for drivers distracted by phones, even if they're not using them
Sending someone a short voice message or reading a message could soon cost drivers points off their licences and €200 fines.Photo: Roman Pohorecki/Pexels

Spain’s Directorate General of Traffic continues with its plans of toughening the country’s road laws, just days after the speed limit for most urban roads in Spain was reduced from 50km/h to 30km/h

The DGT is now seeking approval from the Spanish Parliament to increase the criteria that constitutes a punishable offence for using electronic devices at the wheel. 

As part of this reform of Spain’s Traffic, Driving and Road Safety Law, shorter distractions than texting or speaking on the phone would also be considered a “serious” offence which incurs the loss of 3 points off one’s driving licence and a €200 fine.

Therefore, whether a driver has the phone on their lap rather than in a safe and correct place, if they’re holding it in their hand while driving or they simply pick it up for a second to look at a message, this will be considered a punishable distraction. 

Up until now, mobile-related offences considered “serious” were texting or using your hand to talk on the phone.

If approved, those caught speaking on their mobiles or texting at the wheel will be deemed to have committed a “very serious” infraction rather than “serious” and lose 6 points off their license. 

The news has so far been covered by La Sexta TV channel and by Spanish road and driving specialists autopista.es, who have called into question the ease of policing these different scenarios in which a driver is not necessarily ‘using’ their phone or other devices but is engaging in behaviour that may still affect their driving. 

If the tougher measures are adopted, it is also likely mean that those caught using headphones or a GPS or navigation system with their hands while driving will lose 6 points rather than 3, as the same punishments apply for GPS and headphones usage as to those of using a mobile phone (texting or talking) at the wheel.

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According to DGT data, distractions at the wheel are the cause of an average 300 lives lost on Spanish roads every year. 

In March 2021, the DGT appealed to drivers to keep their eyes on the road, by revealing the distance a car travels while a driver is distracted for just a few seconds, hundreds of metres in which an accident can take place if they’re not paying attention. 

  • Sending a WhatsApp message requires about 20 seconds: 600 metres travelled
  • ‘Googling’ something requires 14 seconds: 466 metres travelled
  • Picking up the phone to answer takes an average of 8 seconds: 266 metres travelled
  • Setting a radio station takes 6 seconds: 200 metres travelled
  • Lighting a cigarette can take 4 seconds: 133 metres travelled

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DRIVING

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.

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