Motorcycle police usually patrol in pairs ( parejas), at least one of whom is usually a trained mechanic and the other trained in first-aid; they will stop and help anyone in trouble. Always follow the instructions of traffic police and be prepared to stop. Police in towns blow whistles and wave their arms about a lot – if you don’t know what’s going on, follow the example of other motorists!
The police often set up check-points and stop motorists at random to ask for their identity and vehicle documents (and also to look for drugs or terrorists). You should always carry your passport or residence permit ( residencia), driving licence (Spanish, if held), vehicle registration papers ( permiso de circulación) and insurance certificate, although copies are accepted. If a vehicle isn’t registered in your name, you also need a letter of authorisation from the owner.
Except on Spaniards and Spanish residents driving a Spanish-registered vehicle with a Spanish driving licence, on-the-spot fines ( multas) of up to €300 can be imposed for a range of traffic offences, including speeding, overtaking without indicating, travelling too close to the car in front, not being in possession of your car papers (although you’re now permitted to carry a photocopy of your papers in your car) and not wearing a seat belt. On-the-spot fines are routinely imposed on non-resident foreigners, whose vehicles can be impounded or immobilised if they’re unable to pay a fine, although the police may escort you to a bank or hotel where you can obtain money or change foreign currency to euros. The police can also impound a foreign-registered car if they believe that it’s used permanently in Spain (you must prove that you live abroad, which may be difficult).
Speeding fines ( multas) depend on the degree to which you exceed the speed limit; you can also lose your licence and up to six points. There’s a ‘leeway’ of up to 10 per cent above the speed limit to allow for speedometer and radar errors. It’s a very serious offence if you’re 30 per cent over the limit, e.g. 80kph in a town or 150kph on a dual carriageway. If you’re caught by an unmanned radar trap, you will be sent a photograph of your number plate, which is deemed to be irrefutable evidence of speeding.
Police have stepped up their patrols in many areas and may impose fines for the slightest and most obscure infringements, such as not carrying your driving licence.
If you’re fined, you receive a boletín de denuncia specifying the offence and the fine (check that it’s the same as the amount demanded). Unless required to pay on the spot, you can pay a fine at any post office using a post office money order ( giro postal), some banks (consult http://www.dgt.es for details) or at the local traffic department. Always ensure that you receive a receipt for it.
If over 60 working days elapse between an offence and your receiving official notification of it, the fine is invalid. If, however, notification of a fine is sent to you in Spain while you’re abroad, your Spanish property can eventually be embargoed for non-payment. Your driving licence may also be suspended without your knowledge and your name listed in the provincial official bulletin ( boletín oficial).
Fines must be paid within 60 days, but for minor offences residents (and foreigners who pay on-the-spot) receive a 30 per cent discount if they pay within 30 days. The prompt payment discount doesn’t apply to serious or very serious offences, although you can attend a special course in lieu of up to 30 per cent of the fine. Some communities offer young traffic offenders the option of doing community service rather than paying a fine, which means that parents no longer have the obligation to pay their children’s traffic fines.
If a fine seems unusually high without good reason, you should question it or take legal advice. You can appeal against a fine and there are instructions in English on the back of the boletín de denuncia explaining how to do this. A written appeal (in any language) must be made within ten days of an (alleged) offence to the provincial traffic department in the province where the offence took place. The police decide whether to uphold your appeal and there’s no appeal against their decision, so unless you have a cast-iron case it’s a waste of time and money. To add insult to injury, if you lose your appeal, you no longer qualify for the 30 per cent prompt payment discount!
In some provinces, the authorities seize cars when road taxes and traffic fines are unpaid. This seizure can be expensive for non-residents, who can have their vehicles towed away and stored (at their expense) for a number of months while they’re abroad. Their names are also listed in official bulletins ( boletines oficiales) displayed at town halls.
Under the new licence points system, most drivers receive an initial tally of 12 points with their driving licence. Drivers with under 30 months’ driving experience or who have committed a serious driving offence within the previous three years receive eight points. When a driver commits an offence, a number of points are deducted from the licence depending on its seriousness, as in the examples below. Once you’ve lost your allocated points, you lose your licence.
- Six-point deduction – drunk driving (over 50mg per 100ml); refusing to take a breath test; driving at more than 150 per cent of the speed limit (e.g. over 75kph in a 50kph zone); dangerous driving;
- Four-point deduction – driving at more than 40kph over the limit (unless this is over 150 per cent of the limit, in which case you incur a six-point deduction); drunk driving (over 25mg per 100ml); jumping a ‘give way’ or ‘stop’ sign or a red light; throwing rubbish out of the car; dangerous overtaking; putting a cyclist in danger when overtaking him;
- Three-point deduction – failing to maintain a safe distance behind the vehicle in front; driving between 30 and 40kph over the limit; driving without lights in poor visibility; using a hand-held mobile phone or wearing headphones while driving; not wearing a seatbelt (or helmet when riding a motorcycle);
- Two-point deduction – stopping on a bend or in a tunnel; driving between 20 and 30kph over the limit.
Drivers who lose all their designated points automatically lose their licence. To regain their licence, drivers must retake the driving test and take a driving course of around 30 hours. These tests cannot be taken until at least six months after the last driving offence and can be taken only once every two years. Those who have lost points but still have credit on their driving licence regain their points two years after their last offence. Good drivers with no points lost receive an additional two points after three years and a further point after four years, giving them a maximum of 15 points. Professional drivers, such as taxi and lorry drivers, have a different system. Comprehensive information about the points scheme and information about your points ‘score’ is available on the Department of Traffic’s websites (http://www.dgt.es and http://www.permisoporpuntos.es).
This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain.
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