A few months back we did our bit for Spanish democracy by emailing the Spanish interior ministry and pleading for them to withdraw the bonkers helmet law. We were just one of thousands of emailers who had been asked to lobby on behalf of the Spanish Friends of Cycling.
We've just received this email from the Friends of Cycling...
NEW SPANISH TRAFFIC LAW ENDANGERS CYCLISTS
On November 11, 1999, the Spanish Parliament definitively approved a law to adapt traffic regulations to cycling. It is meant to protect cyclists and promote cycling, but these aims do not go beyond the preface. Most of the articles are restrictive, even to the point of creating situations where
cyclists will have virtually no other choice than fling themselves off the road or get overrun by a car.
In seven articles, cyclists will
Art. 1) be allowed to ride 2 abreast under some circumstances to be developed by decree, most probably only bicycle lanes and hard shoulders;
Art. 2) be banned from freeways, except when the authorities decide that there is no other alternative;
Art. 3) lose right of way in most ordinary traffic situations, except on bicycle crossings and bike lanes and under some other circumstances, when a car turns left or right;
Art. 4) be the only responsible for providing their vehicle with lights and reflectors, and also have to wear reflective clothing when riding on road under poor light conditions;
Art. 5) have to wear a helmet outside town, as will be detailed by decree
Art. 6) be specifically obliged to submit themselves to alcohol controls
Art. 7) learn a new definition of mopeds (no joke).
During the past two years, the law has gone twice through both Chambers of Parliament. Over 50 amendments have been presented to the handful of articles. Some of them made much sense, such as defining what is a bicycle way or giving right of way to cyclists on bicycle crossings and bicycle
ways. Others denoted thorough ignorance of cycling and the traffic law in force, asking cyclists to carry red reflectors "on the back side of the pedals" or obliging "drivers of vehicles AND bicycles" to submit to alcohol
controls. Other proposals were only made at a preliminary state and did not enter the process. This is the case, e.g., for better protection of cyclists when motorists overtake on road.
The law has remained nearly unaltered since the first proposal, and the outcome is utterly diasppointing. Bicycle advocates from Spain, from the ECF and from all over the world have campaigned against such unjustified
restrictions and for cycling promotion. So far, they have achieved that the law has not passed inadvertedly or even widely applauded by the motorist society. It is controversial even among politicians of the same party in
Upper and Lower House (who voted against each other's proposals), and it has raised social debate. One of the main promotors of mandatory helmets, socialist Javier Paniagua, has even been forced to admit publicly that bicycle helmets will not reduce the accidentability of cyclists - only to
continue that they are life-savers anyway.
90% of cyclist road accidents are impacts of motor vehicles, 75% of cyclists suffering an accident were not infringing the law, about 2% of traffic fatalities in Spain are cyclists. Most cycle accidents happen on
weekends, with fine weather and on broad roads, when cyclists are disrespected by motorists who overtake them at only a few centimeters or even less, simply "don't see them" or claim that the cyclists "have come
over them" inadvertedly.
At the very last moment, when only the last amendments approved by Senate in plenary session (no mandatory helmets, no freeway ban, no special mention of cyclists among vehicle drivers obliged to submit to alcohol control) were to be accepted or refused by Congress, thus passing the whole
law definitely, Mr. Paniagua also recognised that the loss of right of way for cyclists may create situations of additional risk and danger for them at any crossing or roundabout. By the day of the votation, at least the
president of Congress and all spokespersons of political parties knew about this situation. Parliamentary procedures would not permit further
amendments. No steps were undertaken to postpone votation, and on the morning of November 11 all Senate amendments were rejected with 293 votes, with only 3 votes for the amendments and 17 abstentions. All big political
parties were in a hurry to make helmets mandatory and tell the automobile lobby that cyclists will be specially fined for drinking. Afterwards, emergency measures may be undertaken to fix the fatal prescription of
losing the right of way.
Such cycle-unfriendliness in a tourist destination may make you change your holiday plans and keep off Spain. We can only advise you to do so and tell all your friends about it, BUT also tell the Spanish authorities (embassy,
tourist board, Ministry of the Interior, etc.) of your decision and the reasons for it. And if possible, send a copy of your letter to:
ConBici, Coordinadora en Defensa de la Bici
Tel/fax: + 34 93 431 53 79
Postal address: Demostenes, 19 - E-08028 Barcelona - Spain