Three-time world champion Oscar Freire and other former top Spanish racers headed a demonstration in Freire’s home town of Torrelavega on Monday evening to demand tougher road safety laws in Spain.
There is growing pressure on Spain’s Socialist government to strengthen penalties against drivers who cause accidents involving cyclists, which are widely viewed as far too lax.
On Monday evening in one of the central squares of Torrelavega – where the Vuelta a España time trial finishes on Tuesday – Freire made a speech in front of hundreds of sympathisers calling for government action to strengthen the current laws.
Freire was flanked by around a dozen former professionals, including 1988 Tour de France winner Pedro Delgado, Jose Ivan Gutierrez and Alfonso Gutierrez, as well as sports directors Joxean Fernandez Matxin (UAE Team Emirates), Juanma Garate (Team EF-Education First) and Xavier Florencio (Katusha-Alpecin). A similar protest was also made before the start on stage 15 on Sunday.
The protestors ended the meeting by unfurling a giant banner, entitled #Por Una Ley Justa [For a Fairer Law], the title of a long-standing campaign to toughen Spanish road safety legislation and headed by Anna González, whose husband, a cyclist, was killed by a hit-and run lorry driver in 2013, for which the driver did not face prison charges. The campaign was backed by a change.org petition, which gained over 200,000 signatories.
Campaigners are demanding legislation that ensures drivers who cause injuries or deaths in an accident when violating traffic laws could be sent to jail, and that those who cause accidents to cyclist or pedestrians when under the influence of alcohol or other drugs are sentenced to no less than nine years of imprisonment. They also say that hit-and-run drivers who cause injury or death to others – an offence currently free of penal charges, even when the driver fails to stop afterwards – should go to prison for up to four years.
“This campaign is for all the victims of accidents, whether they’re cyclists, pedestrians or in vehicles,” Freire said in his speech.
“It’s no longer enough simply to get upset or angry when we see how easy it is to kill in this country when the weapon is some kind of motorised vehicle.”
Under the current legislation, he added, “It doesn’t matter if one person or several die, because there will never be more than four years in prison, and that’s before the judge starts reducing the sentence for one reason or another.” As for the victims or potential victims, “everybody is at risk,” Freire concluded.
“Ever since the Spanish law changed two years ago, victims are much more vulnerable,” Pedro Delgado told Cyclingnews during the demonstration. “What happens now is that if you have an accident, you have to reach an agreement with the insurance company. Before there’d be a trial and a legal sentence.
“It’s easy to understand that a victim who is fighting against an insurance company with a huge line-up of lawyers at their disposal faces a real uphill struggle. Right now, cyclists feel so at risk on the roads that if there is an accident, it’s as if nothing has actually happened.”
Gonzalez and former professional Alberto Contador recently had a meeting with the Spanish Minister for Justice, Dolores Delgado, to explain the campaign’s demands. The Minister expressed her sympathy, but it has not become clear if actual changes to the current legislation will finally happen.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.