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Spanish drivers can push the accelerator again

Published on 24/06/2011

Spain announced Friday it is raising the speed limit on highways to 120 kph (75 mph), scrapping a hotly-contested temporary slow-down aimed at saving on fuel costs.

The government had cracked down on drivers on March 7, cutting the speed limit to 110 kph (68 mph) to try to save money as oil prices soared after the popular rising in Libya.

The speed cut saved Spain 450 million euros ($640 million) in fuel costs but oil prices have since eased, Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba told a news conference.

“The circumstances have changed so we understand the measure is no longer required and we are going back to 120 kph,” he said after a weekly cabinet meeting.

Rubalcaba admitted the slower speed limit, to be abandoned from July 1, had provoked “strong debate”.

Some 69 percent of respondents disapproved of the speed cut in a poll published in March by the leading daily El Pais.

Formula One champion Fernando Alonso, used to driving a Ferrari in excess of 300 kph on the race track, had bristled at the restriction saying it was “difficult to stay awake” at less than 110 kph.

Rubalcaba rebuffed the criticism at the time, saying American drivers had to comply with the same speed limit, “and I have never seen them driving while asleep.”

Spain depends on imported fuel for road transport, although a fifth of its electricity output is generated by wind power, and the spike in oil prices added to pressures on inflation and the trade deficit.

Each increase of 10 euros in the cost of a barrel of oil adds some six billion euros ($8.3 billion) to Spain’s annual energy bill, according to government calculations.