The coronavirus pandemic has left tens of thousands of people in Spain with a reduced road awareness due to "a misunderstood feeling of regaining freedom".
That is the assessment of Luis del Río Montesdeoca, coordinating prosecutor for Spain's Road Safety unit, in his disturbing analysis of the increased numbers of accidents, injuries and deaths linked to reckless driving.
A dramatic increase in traffic offences has been recorded for 2021 showing the worst figures for more than a decade.
Police investigations for violations of the Penal Code by motorists increased by 10 per cent compared to before the coronovirus outbreak with several of the crimes that generate a greater risk of accidents on the roads seeing "exponential" increases.
Such serious recklessness may already be translating into an increase in loss of life. Last year 67 per cent more court proceedings were opened for reckless driving than in 2019 and 23 per cent more cases were instigated for driving a car or motorbike under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Offences for driving without a licence were up 23 per cent and, related to roadside controls, 28 per cent more motorists refused to take a breathalyser or drug test following an accident.
This explosion of irresponsible driving is reflected in the number of court cases in 2021. Traffic safety offences constituted 34 per cent of all criminal cases that were investigated and sentenced by a judge last year. This increase was also reflected in the Public Prosecutor's Office: of all the charges brought against offenders last year, 33 per cent were for very serious and dangerous offences against the highway code.
Prosecutors filed 96,244 indictments for this category of offence and judges handed down 94,942 convictions against irresponsible drivers. Such high numbers have not seen since 2011-2012.
One positive part of the prosecutor's analysis is the effectiveness of police, prosecutors and judges which have led to high conviction rates. Three out of four offenders are found guilty. In 2021, these traffic offences led to the withdrawal or suspension of more than 60,000 driving licences, some 67,000 fines and 25,905 community service sentences, among other sanctions.
Luis del Río made no secret of the fact that the greatest fear of the special prosecutor's office he has headed since last March is that this avalanche of reckless driving will have a direct and negative impact on the accident rate. Until the end of 2021, the increase in offences for dangerous behaviour was evident, but the annual figures for victims were lower than in 2019. This year the tables seem to have turned. In the first six months there have been 40 more road deaths than before the pandemic, with a 33 per cent spike on fast roads.