It's quite amazing to see the reaction to the Spanish government's announcement last week of a 10km reduction in the speed limit on motorways. Anyone might think that the most fundamental of all human rights had been breached by the measure, which was justified as a means of reducing petrol usage. The current limit is being "temporarily" reduced to 110km along with measures to cut train fares in a bid to encourage people to switch to public transport.
Despite the hysteria generated by the announcement it makes very little difference to all but the longest of journeys. A 360km journey will take a terrifying 15 minutes longer once the new limit comes into place on March 7th. In return the country (together with those drivers who obey the limit) gets to spend less on its fuel bill helping the balance of payments at a time when the cost of petrol is rising sharply. In addition we get less contamination and probably some further improvement in accident statistics. Terrible isn't it?
Accusations by opponents of the move that the real intention is to increase income from traffic fines seem to ignore the fairly obvious consequence of less petrol being sold; the government loses significant income from taxes. In any case fines are only available for those who choose to ignore the limit. Always ready for a bit of empty populist rhetoric, the Partido Popular has denounced the measure as being reminiscent of the Soviet Union, and no doubt the same people who claim the anti-smoking law is evidence of creeping dictatorship will be on the case.
The new government in Cataluña had already anticipated the PP's position by lifting an 80km restriction around Barcelona that was working quite well, and counted as one of the few measures to reduce the awful traffic pollution problems. Critics like to claim that the new measure won't work, and it is arguable whether it is sufficient to really make a difference but I'm sure may of the same people made similar claims about the measures which have led to a massive reduction in deaths due to traffic accidents in Spain.
For the boy racers whose favourite activity is to go up to 2 metres from the car in front to try and force them into another lane, any restrictions are an attack on their inalienable right to put other people in danger. I laugh when I see people claiming that the way forward is to educate drivers on how to drive more efficiently, as if those who have supposedly learnt to drive properly to get a license don't forget half of what they have learnt as soon as they get it.
With everything else that is happening you have to wonder about some people's priorities. The economic good times have left this legacy of people who buy expensive, powerful cars and have contempt for anyone who hasn't done the same. Making train fares cheaper is not a bad thing but it won't attract these drivers to switch, they regard public transport as being for losers even though in Madrid at least it is generally excellent and cheap. For the moment.