The Spanish government has approved the hardening of penalties for serious traffic offences, as spearheaded by campaigner Anna González.
Anna González, lost her husband Óscar in 2015 when he was cycling and was hit by a truck. The driver, who fled the scene, was identified by the remains of the vehicle that were left in the ditch, was arrested and prosecuted but could only be charged with a homicide for imprudence, and not for the crime of the omission of duty of relief.
Although Anna´s campaigning focussed on cyclists, the main changes to the laws affect all incidents and all vehicles.
There is a new crime of abandonment of the place of the incident, with penalties of 2 to 4 years in prison in the event of the incident being as a result of imprudence, or from 3 to 6 months in prison in the event of a lesser degree of a charge.
Prior to the change, there was a crime of omitting the duty of relief, but it was only appreciated if the victim was alive and there was no other person who could help. The paradox is that in the event of the victim having died, the omission of help was not a crime, whereas if the person was injured, only then could the lack of help be applied.
This was the case in the incident in which Óscar lost his life. Because he had died at the scene, there was no crime of the omission of the duty of help. Had Óscar been alive when the driver fled, then the driver would have faced criminal proceedings.
Another change is automatic imprudence in the event of a serious incident. If a crime against road safety is committed which causes death or injury, this conduct will automatically be considered as serious imprudence.
The penalties will be between 1 and 4 years in prison in case of death and up to 1 year in the case of injuries. Until now it was up to a judge to evaluate each case and in many occasions this type of behaviour was not considered serious imprudence. Some of the most important road safety offences are driving with drugs, or alcohol of more than 0.6 mg / l of expired air, speeding of more than 60 km / h in the city and 80 km / h on the highway and driving without a licence.
There has also been an increase in prison sentences. Until now, a maximum penalty of 4 years could be applied to serious imprudence resulting in death, regardless of the number of deaths or people involved. In these latest changed the judge has the power to aggravate the sentence by one degree, resulting in up to 6 years in prison, if there are at least two deaths or one deceased and one very seriously injured. The judge may aggravate the sentence by two degrees, therefore up to 9 years in prison, in the event of there being “many” fatalities, although the rule leaves it up to the judge in each case to determine the definition of “many”.
Some of the less serious offences have been classified as crimes. For example, if a serious infraction of the traffic law is committed, such as overtaking where forbidden, failing to stop at a stop sign or traffic light, manipulating a mobile phone whilst driving, failing to maintain a safe distance of 1.5 metres when passing a cyclist, etc, which subsequently result in injury or death, will be considered as reckless of a less serious nature. Although the penalty is not as severe as some might consider needed, the most important change to the law is that these offences can once again be considered a crime, and victims are therefore protected by criminal law, rather than relying on the protection of the administrative courts and, in most cases, the vehicle´s insurance.
The History of the Reform
Anna González created a petition on change.org in January, 2016. During the Tour of Spain in August 2016, thousands of people joined the campaign a boost on social networks made by sports commentator ‘ Perico’ Delgado. During the months that followed, Anna contacted all the political parties.
On December 15 of that same year, Óscar’s widow presented the signatures – more than 250,000 – to the Minister of Justice at the time, Rafael Catalá, who promised after the meeting to study a reform in the Penal Code so that cases like that of her husband Óscar do not go unpunished.
On March 2, 2017, Anna González delivered the signatures to Congress and in June, a proposal was discussed regarding the legal safety for cyclists on the roads. On February 12, 2018, Anna received the Medal of Merit for Road Safety with a blue badge awarded by the DGT in recognition of her involvement and commitment to road safety values.
Last August, Anna met with Justice Minister Dolores Delgado, in a meeting in which she was accompanied by Alberto Contador and representatives of the Spanish Cycling Federation, the Spanish Triathlon Federation, the Association of Professional Cyclists, lawyers Alfonso Triviño and Francisco Parrés, the Superior Council of Sports and Michel Madoz, responsible for communication.
On November 22, 2018, Congress approved the reform of the Penal Code that hardens penalties for reckless drivers driving and causing accidents with dead or injury. The vote went ahead with 273 votes in favour, 64 against and 2 abstentions.
In February 2019, the Senate voted with the opinion of the Justice Commission.
The reform has not had any amendment and so will come into force at the time it is published in the official gazette, the BOE.