Typical Spanish driver: A dying species?
The government’s crackdown on reckless drivers coupled with drivers’ desire to save cost have successfully reduced the number of road accidents in Spain.
The stereotypical Spanish driver who speeds, tailgates, overtakes on blind bends and generally shows scant regard for other road users is fast becoming a dying species.
Common sense, the threat of hefty fines - even jail time - and, in increasingly money-conscious times, a desire to save fuel, are all helping to cool the hotheads behind the wheel.
The evidence that driving in Spain has become a lot less stressful and a lot safer is more than anecdotal.
Since the introduction of a points-based driving license in 2006, road deaths in Spain during the summer holiday period fell to their lowest level for nearly half a century, showed figures recently published by the traffic department.
Last week, Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said road accidents claimed the lives of 377 deaths in Spain between 1 July and 31 August, the lowest since 1962.
The number of road deaths in 2008 was also down by 20 percent from the previous year.
Publicity campaigns have encouraged more people to buckle up and to avoid reckless habits such as overtaking where it is prohibited - so much so that the number of fines handed out for those kinds of offences fell by more than a third in June, July and August 2008 compared to summer 2007.
And, although the number of fines issued for speeding rose by an astounding 86 percent over the period to 580,000, the increase is due more to the widespread deployment of speed radars and the creation of a more efficient centralised fine-processing centre in León than to people driving faster.
Indeed, the average speed of traffic on the nation's highways is now 113 kilometres per hour, four kilometres slower than just two years ago.
Speed, by far the biggest killer on the roads, is not just being challenged by the authorities, but also by drivers' own wallets.
As Spain remains mired in its first recession for 15 years with about 18 percent of its workforce unemployed, drivers are increasingly being more careful about how heavy they are with their right foot.
They are confirming for themselves what studies already show: that going slower can save substantial amounts of fuel.
According to one study by the technical universities of Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia, the driver of an average 1,600cc, 120-horsepower car who travels 100 kilometres a day can expect to save EUR 30 a month on gas if they travel at 90km/h instead of 120km/h.
In addition, their car will pump considerably less carbon dioxide and other greenhouse cases into the atmosphere.
Ecological driving courses
Figures like that help explain why more drivers are signing up for so-called ecological driving courses, in which instructors show them how to save the most fuel through a combination of driving slower and, above all, driving more efficiently.
"Most people come here with a defiant attitude. 'You're going to show me how to drive after 30 years?' they say. But they soon realise what they can save," said Jesús Gómez, the director of Prevensis, a company that offers Eco-driving classes.
"We have to unlearn things that today no longer make sense. Cars have evolved, but we continue driving like our parents did."
The government estimates that if all drivers drove more efficiently, and, in particular, if they reduced their speed, Spain's fuel consumption would drop by 20 percent, CO2 emissions - 29 percent of which come from traffic - would plunge, and road deaths, which amounted to 16,000 in 2007, would fall.
Meanwhile, many Spaniards are opting simply to leave their cars parked more often and hop on a bus or a train.
In the peak July and August driving season of 2008, the traffic department estimates that the number of people on Spain's roads fell by 4.5 percent, contributing to a 3.7 percent fall since the start of the year.
7 September 2009
El Pais / Elsa Granda / A.E. / Expatica
Photo credit: woodleywonderworks