Suicidal Spanish Sunday Drivers

I can’t remember what the figure is up to now, but every time we drive up from Madrid to the in-laws place in the Sierra, a digital display across the highway reminds us and the other drivers pouring out of the city how many people have died in road accidents this year. I think the number is hovering around 1900, and today we nearly saw it increase by a good few right in front of our eyes.

Near death experience no. 1 involved a suicidal fool in a sporty hatchback cut-in on the car in front of us at the very very last minute and at insane speeds in order to get into a slightly less congested and walled off central carriageway. He miraculously missed the car and the sturdy bollards delineating the end of the slip road by inches and sped off into the distance.

Shortly afterwards Darwin-award contender number two nearly side-swiped us off the road at a roundabout as he entered the sweeping curve at a hellish speed, nearly flipping as he squeezed past us on two screeching wheels. He slowed down considerably once he got past us, having obviously scared himself, and us, half to death. At least that is how it seemed from the safe distance we immediately put between us and him, until he reached the next roundabout, and performed the exact same maneuver!

Finally, 10 minutes later, we had the pleasure of encountering your average psychotic mega-SUV-driving imbecile, who undertook us at high speed just as the lane he was in ended at the top of a winding hill. Would his lunch have got all that much colder (or his next beer that much warmer) if he’d filtered in patiently behind us, like anyone else with half a brain, half a sense of self-preservation, and half a right to hold a drivers license?

We arrived in one piece, but distinctly nervy. What happens to these people when they get behind the wheel of a car? Is it just that they know instinctively that in Spain there is a 99% percent chance that they will never be caught performing illegal and potentially lethal moves like these? Do they suffer total amnesia the moment they pass their tests and their driving instruction comes to an end?

Personally I think it is the lack of harsh policing on Spain’s roads. There may be more speed cameras around and the odd breathalysing brigade out on a weekend night in the big cities, but it obviously isn’t getting through to the likes of those who so deftly showed us their desire to wipe themselves and others off the face of the earth this morning.

Then again what can you do in a country that introduces a points system to try and remove licenses from bad drivers, but only takes 6 of the available 12 points away from drunk drivers, who are then free to go out, drink up, and head off into the wild once more?

Update: “UK drivers caught texting could get 2 years behind bars” (link) – This is the sort of thing that makes UK driving a hell of a lot safer. I’m all for Draconian policing on the roads

15 thoughts on “Suicidal Spanish Sunday Drivers

  1. Palmer

    As one who braves the crazy city traffic daily in Atlanta, I often wonder the same about these anonymous lunatics who think they are going to live forever at whatever risk they take.

    As someone who will soon be visiting your fair city, I’m curious about the traffic within Madrid itself. Is it just as crazy as you describe as the traffic outside of the city? And what about pedestrians? Is it a pedestrian- friendly city? The city of Atlanta is gradually trying to make this place a safer one for those on foot.

  2. Ben Post author

    Palmer – the traffic in the city is pretty crazy I suppose, it’s stressful to drive in as the other drivers are pretty pushy… but it’s also a great city to walk in. Just never assume that drivers will actually stop at crossings!

    Stuart – that figure is for the whole of Spain, not just Madrid!

  3. steve

    I have found that there needs to be an attitudinal change to drink driving in Spain as well, and this can only be done through severe legal penalties. Many times when on a long journey there are people throwing beer and wine down their throats at service stations and then they proceed to their cars and continue with their journeys. And it is down to peoples own attitudes because ther eare plenty of taxis and late night buses in the cities at least, and I can’t understand why a person cannot drive for a day without drinking alcohol.

  4. luke

    The number of dead in the roads this year in Spain is apparently a record low!
    Concerning the attitudes to drink driving. I’ve had Spanish friends look at me quizzically when I’ve said that I’ve had too much drink to drive and one fire engine driver I know is always drinking, getting high and driving. A couple of weeks ago I was in a village with relatives who wanted to go to another village for the fiesta there. I’d been drinking huge vodkas and beer and they had been keeping up with me. I decided to walk to the fiesta with my kids but my relatives (with equally young kids) were determined that I should drive. I had to stand my ground for 15 minutes and was accused of being a ‘cabezota’. These are just my experiences but they seem to suggest that there isn’t the taboo against drink driving as there seems to be in England; even though the alcohol limit is lower in Spain. However, I think the Guardia have very draconian powers and if they see you touch a mobile, whilst driving, the fine will come straight out of your bank account.

  5. Ben Post author

    Steve, Luke – incredible isn’t it, especially when most of the offenders are young and highly intelligent! In the UK drink driving almost faded out when people began to loose their licenses and face huge fines for it… if only they would try that here…

  6. leftbanker

    When I see someone in traffic driving recklessly, I give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they are delivering a transplant organ. This makes me less upset than contemplating the truth: that they are just assholes.

  7. phil walker

    It’s not all good news on the cutting drinking driving front in the UK either – see this article here:
    http://society.guardian.co.uk/drugsandalcohol/story/0,,2159072,00.html

    In fact, a 10 year old girl who goes to the same school as my daughter and lives very close to us was knocked down by a driver leaving a nearby pub, completely off his box on drink and drugs – and he had no licence! Even though the little girl was crossing the road with her mother, the idiot driver still managed to get her – she landed four houses length down the road unconscious, but luckily, is now OK with no broken bones or serious injuries.
    The problem in the UK seems to be related to the UK attitude to drinking – i.e. go out purposely to get as off your face as you possibly can in the shortest time possible, exacerbated by the extra long drinking hours brought in to supposedly cure this very problem – at least in Spain, people seem to just go for an evening out – not to purposely become paralytic, before they decide to drive home and kill someone!

  8. leftbanker

    I don’t drive when I’ve been drinking. I don’t even like to take the metro drunk. In Valencia we have different metro cards depending on how many zones you pass through on your ride, so I have cards for A, B, and C zones with the C card costing the most. If I were impaired by drink I could use the wrong card! That’s a crazy risk I am not willing to take so I stay in my neighborhood when I go out boozing.

  9. Alun John

    Ben – I empathise with everything you say and have witnessed these ‘near misses’ myself on a number of occasions. Every time I go to my in-laws house in Avila (from Madrid) my wife is a bundle of nerves – and she is from Madrid. I think the reason is that she has got used to driving in the UK and feels very safe diving there (well as safe as you can).

    Here’s an interesting pdf that I found from the European Road Stats people: http://www.erf.be/images/stat/2007/2007_chap7.pdf
    It basically shows that the road fatality rate per million in Spain is double that of the UK. But as Spaniards would point out – it’s not as bad as Portugal’s!!

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