The speed limits in towns are to change from 11 May, when a modification to the Traffic Law comes into force. It will mean that the maximum speed for motor vehicles on urban roads which have one lane in each direction (which are the majority) will be 30 kilometres an hour, and 20 kilometres an hour on semi-pedestrian streets where there is no difference in level between the road and the pavement. The current 50 km/h speed limit will remain the same on urban roads which have two or more lanes in each direction, apart from a few exceptions.
Spain's Directorate-General for Traffic (DGT) has introduced the new rules to improve the coexistence between different road users and reduce the number of deaths in urban areas.
According to statistics from the National Road Safety Observatory, 82 per cent of the 519 victims who died on roads in towns or cities in Spain in 2019 were considered vulnerable: 247 pedestrians (47.5%), 32 cyclists, 126 drivers or passengers and 22 motorcyclists.
Bearing in mind that nearly half of all those killed on urban streets are pedestrians, it is also useful to note that studies show that the risk of dying after being hit by a vehicle reduces by 80 per cent when speed limits are lower. The DGT warns that if a vehicle is travelling at 30 km/h the risk of death is 10 per cent, but if it is travelling at 50 kph it rises to 90 per cent.
As well as reducing personal injuries, the measure also aims to reduce material damage and the danger of collisions, because the distance needed for a vehicle to come to a halt is also shorter when it is travelling at a lower speed.
Road users need to bear in mind that the maximum speed will be 30 km/h on all urban roads which have one lane in each direction. In one-way streets it can be up to 50 kph. The regulations also allow town halls to increase the speed limit on single-lane roads up to 50 km/h as an "exceptional" measure, but there must be signs to show that this is the case.
This does not cover bus lanes, so if a street has one lane for private vehicles and another for public transport, the speed limit in that street cannot exceed 30 km/h.
However, streets with the so-called '30 lanes' which are now proliferating in towns and can be used by motor vehicles, bicycles and scooters are included, which means that the speed limit on the normal parts of those roads can be up to 50 km/h.
In every street which has two traffic lanes in each direction the maximum speed will remain at 50 km/h. The same applies to main roads which pass through towns, although the local councils can reduce the limits on those, as long as there are signs.
With regard to built-up stretches of 'autovía' motorways, the limit will be 80 km/h, although councils and the authorities responsible for the autovía may increase it as long as it does not exceed the maximum speed permitted outside the urban area.
In the case of Malaga city, the council intends to apply as few exceptions as possible. "We are finalising a study to see where they could be relevant, but our main intention is to just apply the new rules," says the city's councillor for Mobility, José del Río.
He also says speed limit signs will be removed from streets where the maximum speed is 30 km/h, because this will be the normal rule once the new limits come into effect on 11 May. In other words, there will only be signs where the speed limit is different.
This modification to the Traffic Law is the latest to come into effect as part of the packet of measures approved by the Spanish government on 10 November 2020, because there was a six-month period of grace to give the administrations time to change their road signs and for people to be made aware that the rules have changed.
Also, since the start of this year other rules have come into force, affecting personal mobility vehicles (scooters). These must travel on the road and never on pavements, and are only permitted on urban streets. This means they are not able to use main roads that pass through towns, inter-urban roads and dual carriageways or tunnels in urban areas.