- Failure to adhere to traffic regulations is the third largest cause of accidents with victims.
- One in every three accidents is speed-related.
- It is believed that the effectiveness of seat belts accounts for a 50 percent reduction in the risk of death.
- The correct use of a helmet for two-wheeled vehicles avoids one in three deaths (and two out of three cases of brain damage).
Regulations are necessary
Can you imagine what would happen if there were no traffic regulations? If everybody drove wherever they wanted, at any speed, without obeying traffic lights or signaling their intentions, or if we simply ignored a rule as basic as driving on the right. Can you imagine it? Total chaos! Regulations are essential for traffic. It doesn't matter if, in your opinion, the rules are good, bad, fair or unfair; they are there and must be respected.
Road safety and traffic flow are based on the principles and values of coexistence. If you are studying for a driving license or have recently obtained one, then you will certainly know them; but if you don't respect them then the knowledge is not much use. The public highway is a common space that requires solidarity, responsibility and respect.
In Spain the legal standard regulating all things traffic-related is the Law on Traffic, Circulation of Motor Vehicles and Road Safety. There are then a series of regulations implementing this law (regulations on road traffic, vehicles, drivers, penalty proceedings, etc.).
Point-based driving license
Spain has a point-based driving license system. Drivers with more than three years’ experience (and with no offenses involving the loss of points) start off with 12 points or “credits”. The authorities remove points from your license depending on the seriousness of the offense, and if you end up with no points, you lose your license! As simple as that. Don't forget that new drivers only start with eight points.
Along with other measures, the introduction of this type of license is the reason why the number of traffic accidents in Spain has fallen over recent years, but following the rules through fear of penalties is not the best solution. You should respect the rules for no other reason than that it is safer for everyone.
Let's talk about speed
The safest speed, the appropriate speed, depends on many factors: the volume of traffic, the condition of the car, the weather, your physical and emotional state and so on, and you should continuously adapt your speed to these circumstances.
Some drivers consider themselves safe because they don't go faster than 100 km/h. But 100 km/h, even though it might be a legal speed, can be dangerous. Can you imagine driving at that speed on a stretch of highway in torrential rain? Or driving at sundown with the sun in your eyes?
Speed should be adjusted according to the prevailing conditions at any given time, not forgetting that there are general and specific speed limits. Nor should you forget that driving excessively slowly can also be dangerous and illegal (remember that the minimum speed limit on a highway in normal conditions is 60 km/h).
Be aware of your speed
Let's go back to school for a moment. Do you remember the definition of speed from physics? Sure you do; the distance we travel in a certain period of time.
This is a useful concept when talking about safe stopping distances. Obviously, the faster you go the further you travel over the same time; therefore, at higher speeds, it is necessary to leave a longer safe stopping distance from the car in front.
Remember the table from Topic 2 (attention and distraction), where we were saying that it takes 0.4 seconds to react to the unexpected. At 100 km/h, you travel 11 meters in that brief fraction of a second. And at that speed, the average car requires about 60 meters to come to a halt from the moment the brake is applied. This gives you an idea of the importance of maintaining a “safe stopping distance” from other vehicles.
Less speed, more safety
There are times when it is advisable – and vital - to reduce your speed. Some examples:
- When there are pedestrians or in areas where they are likely to be, such as the vicinity of schools.
- Near cyclists.
- In the case of glare from the sun or from oncoming car headlights.
- In adverse weather conditions, such as fog, snow and rain.
- On approaching pedestrian crossings, junctions and intersections, even if you have right of way.
- On particularly narrow roads.
- On very winding roads or those without a hard shoulder.
- Where there could be animals, domestic or wild, in the vicinity.
- In cases of very heavy traffic and traffic jams.
Speed limits. The legal speed.
In nearly all Western countries there are general speed limits in place which are dictated by the type of road, the type of vehicle and the experience of the driver. In Spain there is a maximum speed limit of 120 km/h for cars on highways and freeways, 90 km/h on normal roads and 50 km/h in towns and cities (30 km/h for very narrow streets).
And then there are specific limits, always signposted, that take into account the peculiarities of the road at that point: dangerous junctions, diversions, coming into a town, hazardous bends, and many more. These limits are as important or even more so than the standard ones.
Driving means deciding
What does it mean to decide? To act in a certain way, having assimilated a specific situation. Now delete “decide” and put “drive” in its place and you will see that the definition applies in both cases. Taking decisions at the wheel is key to being a safe driver and is a three-step process:
- Assimilate information. As we mentioned earlier in the section on attention, you need to assimilate what is happening around you and distinguish the important from the irrelevant.
- Use your knowledge and experience. You already “understand what's going on” and it's up to you to think through every possible course of action and, from all of them, choose the most appropriate. Once again, experience is a bonus, as once you have been through an identical or similar situation, then it all becomes easier.
- Take action. But be careful! Sometimes it is best to act well rather than quickly. This has nothing to do with “good reflexes” but rather trained reflexes and taking the most appropriate action in the shortest possible time.
Driving well also involves anticipation. Imagine you knew what was going to happen a few minutes before it came about. You could be the safest driver in the world, completely infallible. And how do you develop anticipation? Well, by “educating” your instincts, increasing your concentration and bringing your experience to bear.
Here is an example. When traveling in a line of traffic, don't just look at the car right in front you, or the one in front of that. Look ahead as far as you can, and if you see someone braking sharply in the distance, assess the risk of having to stop sharply, slow down, put your finger on the hazard warning lights button and prepare to brake.