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Spanish traffic authority proposes compulsory helmets and other anti-cycling measures

Chris Peck's picture
The national traffic authority for Spain has revealed a highly alarming range of proposals that seem designed to get cyclists off the roads. The following is a translation from Spanish campaign group ConBici's account.
Hire bikes - without helmets - have become very popular in Spain
Hire bikes - without helmets - have become very popular in Spain

This article originally appeared on the website of ConBici in Spanish and English.

"The national traffic authority intends introducing measures that seem designed to push cyclists off the streets.

These new measures include: compulsory helmets; the requirement to stay on the right side of a lane; and the maintenance of a system of traffic fines that supposes cyclists represent the same danger as motor vehicles.

We discovered during a presentation at a road safety conference in Salamanca in late February that helmets will be made compulsory on all roads and without exceptions. To achieve this, the government intends revising the Road Safety Act. 

We were told of these measures by Mr Francisco de las Alas-Pumariño, chief of statutory regulations at the Spanish national traffic authority (Dirección General de Tráfico), and a member of the team that drafted the proposals. The draft text, however, has not been presented to representatives of cycling organisations (with the exception of a few pages detailing the least controversial changes). The traffic authority intends announcing the regulations on its website in mid-March 2013, after revision by the Spanish ministry of the interior. 

We believe these measures to be unfair and unjustified – and we oppose them for the following reasons:

  • From the scientific point of view there are simply no safety arguments that support these measures, and forcing cyclists to move aside for motor vehicles on the road will help stop the growth of cycling and maintain the hegemony of the automobile.
  • This reform will discourage cycling and cause more pollution, more spending on imported fuel, and more road accidents. 
  • In short, these measures will push Spain further backwards, prevent the growth of sustainable transport, and only favour those multinationals that have dominated the vehicle and oil industries for decades. 
  • Requiring the use of helmets is a deterrent to cycling, and gives the false message that cycling is a dangerous activity. The national traffic authority has not presented any arguments or studies demonstrating the need for compulsory helmets – unlike ConBici which has presented convincing arguments against compulsory helmets.
  • Public bicycle sharing schemes will be in serious danger of collapse if these measures are enforced, and local councils will be forced to find additional funds to support them.

Other anti-cycling measures

Under the proposals, cyclists must ‘preferably’ use the right side of the lane. The word ‘preferably’ means that in the event of an accident and a subsequent court case, the cyclist must demonstrate his or her reasons for not being on the right of the lane – even if the motorist is at fault. The bicycle will once again be considered a road obstacle, and the law will limit the amount of space that a bicycle can occupy on the road. Our proposed amendment to the law is the opposite: 'Cyclists will preferably occupy the centre of the lane and when a motor vehicle approaches from behind the cyclist will, if safe for the cyclist, facilitate an overtaking manoeuvre by moving to the right of the lane. Drivers of vehicles must not intimidate a cyclist into moving to the right.'

The representative of the national traffic authority confirmed that the move-to-the-right proposal was drafted after the most recent meeting of the official bicycle safety working group; and that no copy of the complete amendment was made available to the members of the group (including ConBici).

Another proposed regulation will prohibit children from cycling on roads unless accompanied by an adult. We asked Mr Francisco de las Alas-Pumariño if children will be able to travel alone and he told us that this would be illegal. We pointed out that this would mean cancelling projects encouraging children to travel by bike to school – some of which are supported by the national traffic authority. He then admitted that this point may need checking.

Other points in the proposed reform include:

  • Offences committed by cyclists will be considered ‘serious’ rather than ‘minor’. Yet another hammer blow for cyclists.
  • Town and city councils may permit cycling on pavements – providing the pavement is at least three meters wide, uncrowded, and cyclists remain at least one metre away from doorways.
  • It will not be compulsory to use cycle paths where they exist beside roads, unless a sign indicates that it is compulsory. We have not seen this point in writing yet.
  • Bicycle trailers will be permitted on urban roads and bike paths – but not outside of cities.
  • Cyclists over 18 may carry cargo and passengers, but not on dual carriageways.

In short, while there are a couple of positive points that reflect years of campaigning, these points are over-shadowed by several extremely negative proposals that will seriously damage cycling in Spain. Urgent reconsideration is needed."

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