Spain’s Málaga mulls scrapping new 30km/h speed limit due to traffic jams caused

Authorities in the Andalusian city have called into question Spain’s new speed limits on urban roads, having realised the knock-on effects of dropping the speed from 50km/ down to 30 or 20km/h. 

Spain's Málaga mulls scrapping new 30km/h speed limit due to traffic jams caused
Malaga was one of the only big cities in Spain that hadn't dropped its city cente speed limit below 50km/h before May 11th. Photo: Jonas Denil/Unsplash

Málaga, which has a population of 569,000 people, is the first of Spain’s big cities to consider reintroducing the previous speed limits on urban roads, having noticed that they’re causing traffic jams in the city. 

On May 11th 2021, roads in Spain with one lane in each direction went from having a general speed limit of 50km/hour to a maximum of 30km/h. This affects 3,600 roads in the coastal city, three quarters of the total. 

Single lane roads with one-way traffic where the pavement is raised above the road now also have a new speed limit of 30km/h. 

On single one-way lanes and double lane roads with two-way traffic where the pavement and the road are at the same level, the speed limit was reduced even further, down to 20km/h. With speeds this low, drivers in Spain have already started witnessing slightly surreal situations in which cyclists and e-scooter riders overtake them on the road. 

Roads with two lanes or more of traffic in each direction (minimum four total) have kept the speed limit of 50km/h (except for vehicles carrying dangerous goods, for which the limit is 40km/h).

FIND OUT MORE: Why you now have to drive at 30km/h on most roads in Spain

Since Málaga town hall applied the new speed limits on May 11th, with numerous fixed speed cameras and four mobile ones keeping an eye on drivers across the city, some of the busiest streets have been gridlocked as a result of the considerable speed drop. 

According to Andalusian regional daily Sur, Málaga’s government department responsible for urban mobility is now considering making use of a clause which would allow them to sidestep the new rules in some cases, as long as the roads are properly signposted with their own individual speed limit.

Malaga’s Provincial Traffic Authority have reportedly confirmed this is an option, stating that exceptions can be made on roads which have a high volume of traffic and on which the speed limit drop is causing traffic jam problems on that road and surrounding ones. 

Spain’s Interior Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska also stressed back in November that these new speed limits won’t apply to main roads in Spain’s big cities.

As with many official matters in Spain, local authorities are given the powers to adapt national legislation to their own particular needs, which can also apply to road rules.

In fact, many provincial capitals across Spain had already rolled out their own legislation limiting the speed on some of their urban roads to 30km/h rather than 50km/h, as a result of the long wait for this amendment of Spain’s Traffic Code by the national government.

Surpassing these new speed limits currently entails fines of €100 to €600 and the loss of six points from one’s driving licence in the most serious cases.

Critics of Spain’s new speed limits for urban roads have stressed that apart from causing more traffic congestion, driving at a very low speed more often results in a vehicle’s clutch and other parts being damaged more easily and that emmissions are also higher when vehicles are stopping and starting and kept in low gears. 

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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 punishjments 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.

Driving is a great way to enjoy scenic European roads. Pictured is a highway in Norway (Photo by Shai Pal on Unsplash)

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.