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CYCLING

Cycling in Spain: 12 fines you need to watch out for 

Riding a bicycle in Spain isn't exempt from the country's traffic rules, as these fines of up to €1,000 prove. Here are 12 cycling offences that bike users often overlook.

barcelona police hand fine to cyclist
Most of the traffic rules that apply to car and large vehicle drivers also apply to bike users in Spain. Photo: LLUIS GENE / AFP

Twenty million people in Spain use a bicycle frequently, a rate which has been increasing in recent years. 

That’s according to the “2019 Bicycle Barometer” survey carried out by Spain’s Directorate General of Traffic, which found that around 7.6 percent of Spain’s population rode their bikes on a daily basis. 

The pandemic has caused bike sales to shoot up by 24 percent in Spain, as people have looked for alternatives to public transport and more time outdoors after Covid lockdowns. 

So it’s safe to say that Spain, traditionally a nation of walkers, is embracing cycling as a means of getting around more than ever. 

You may not need a licence to cycle in Spain, but cycling laws are part of the country’s traffic code, meaning that there are plenty of cycling offences you could be fined for if you’re not aware of them. 

  

Not wearing a helmet – €200 fine

On interurban roads, often countryside lanes which link towns and cities, wearing a helmet is always mandatory.

On urban roads only cyclists under 16 are required to wear a helmet, although Spanish road authorities recommend always wearing one as it is the best means of avoiding head and brain injuries if you’re in an accident. 

Riding on the sidewalk – €200 fine 

It’s common to see people riding their bikes on sidewalks in Spain or through pedestrianised areas and squares, but this is in fact a punishable offence.

Has it been properly policed in the past? Probably not, especially in towns and cities which aren’t properly equipped with bicycle lanes. 

However, the proliferation of electric scooters and other small mobility vehicles such as Segways, whose riders usually ignore the pavement rules as well,  is leading local authorities to clamp down more on these practices. 

Not having lights or a reflective vest – €80 to €200 fine

Not using bike lights at night, dusk or dawn can result in a €80 fine in Spain, which can increase to €200 if the person isn’t wearing a reflective vest.

According to the DGT, “compulsory lighting for bicycles consists of a white front position light (or a white reflector), and a red reflector (that is not triangular) behind, both of which must be of approved use (homologados)”.

In 2018, a 78-year-old man in Galicia was fined €200 for using flashing lights rather than still ones, but the DGT has since clarified that this isn’t a punishable offence.

Not respecting road rules – €120 to €200 fine

It may seem obvious but just because a bicycle doesn’t have the same dimensions as a car doesn’t mean that cyclists can overlook general traffic rules. 

Ignoring a stop sign, failing to give way, entering a roundabout when you shouldn’t or cycling over a zebra crossing in the same directions as pedestrians (cyclists must get off their bikes for this) are all offences that can incur a fine. 

Likewise, cyclists have to give priority at zebra crossings without traffic lights if pedestrians are about to cross.  

Cycling in the wrong lane – €100 fine

Cyclists should stick to the right lane and stay clear of the left overtaking lane to avoid a possible fine. The exception to this is if the cyclist is going to turn to the left, in which case they can move over to the left lane. 

Failing to indicate with your arms – €200 fine

Cyclists may not be able to use indicator lights to indicate a change of direction as car drivers can, but they should use their arms instead if they want to avoid the possibility of a fine. 

This should be done either with the right arm stretched out horizontally or with the left arm bent at an angle.

Surpassing the speed limit – €100 to €600 fine

This may not seem like a common traffic offence for cyclists, but with the speed drop to 30km/h on many urban roads in Spain it’s now a lot easier to get caught out. 

If you exceed the stipulated speed limit by 1 to 20 kilometres per hour, you risk a €100 fine. Anything above that and the penalty skyrockets to €600.

A cyclist rides his bike in Madrid. (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)
 

Reckless cycling – €200 to €500 fine

Keeping in mind that cyclists are among the most vulnerable road users, Spanish traffic authorities can hand out stiff fines to those who endanger themselves and others with dangerous or careless manoeuvres. 

These include everything from only using one hand, to doing a ‘wheelie’ or on countryside roads taking up the whole lane by cycling in a pack rather than behind each other. 

Cycling with headphones on – €200 fine

Cyclists out in Spanish nature may assume they can listen to some inspiring music on their headphones to keep them motivated, but this can be just as dangerous and punishable as in urban areas with more traffic. Keep in mind that you can get a fine for only wearing the headphones, even if you weren’t listening to music. 

Using a mobile phone – €200 fine

Another tech-related fine that’s a no brainer. Speaking or texting on a mobile phone whilst cycling is a surefire way of catching the attention of Spanish traffic police.

Drunk cycling – €500 to €1,000 fine

As stated earlier, most of the rules that apply to car and large vehicle drivers also apply to bike users, and drink driving is no exception.

Cyclists caught riding with a blood alcohol level of greater than 0.5 grammes per litre, or alcohol in expired air greater than 0.25 milligrammes per litre can be subject to getting a fine. 

The higher the alcohol level, the bigger the fine. Logically, it doesn’t involve losing points off your driving licence but the ‘multa’ (fine) is likely to sting. 

Riding with another person on the back – €100 fine

Giving a friend a ride on the back of your bike as a favour isn’t legal. 

Unless the main rider is carrying a child under 7 sat at the back in an approved bicycle seat, only one person can use a bike in Spain. 

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DRIVING

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.

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