Semana Santa on the highway

For the past several years the Spanish government has mounted a huge traffic safety campaign for the Easter holidays. Between Miércoles y Jueves Santo (the Wednesday and Thursday before Easter Sunday) there are more cars on the road than at any other time of the year in Spain, which produces, as you can imagine, a good number of accidents.

I remember being completely shocked a year ago when, just starting a week-long road trip, my boyfriend and I were greeted on the highway by computerized signs reading, “Más de 100 personas morirán en la carretera durante esta Semana Santa (More than 100 people will die on the highway during this year’s Holy Week).” Chills ran up my spine. Holy crap, I thought aloud, that’s really morbid. My boyfriend shrugged. “That’s the point,” he said.

Basically, the Dirección General de Tráfico is looking to scare people into being careful on Spanish highways. This year’s campaign theme was “Hay muchas razones para no matarte en Semana Santa. Elige la tuya y hazlo (There are many reasons not to kill yourself in Holy Week. Choose yours and do it).” The reasons in the ads range from “Because you dig a girl at work” to “For your mom’s croquetas” and “To not break your head open on the asphalt.” The signs we saw on the highway this year included “110 people dead in Semana Santa 2006,” “Lo importante es volver (The important thing is to return),” “¿Tienes prisa? (In a hurry?).”

Vamos, enough to make you think a little.

But is it working? The DGT’s press releases show that for the past ten years, the number of deaths caused by accidents on the highway have exceeded 100. The hope was that for this year the number would be less than 100, in part because of the implementation last summer of the carné por puntos or driver’s license points. Every driver with a Spanish license is allotted 12 points, which he or she loses by committing traffic infractions. If you lose them all, you lose your license.

This year there were 106 deaths, just four less than last year.

What does this mean? That Spaniards are just dangerous drivers? I don’t know. But this year, the victims came closer to home: two were the parents of a good friend. The figures may look just like numbers, but when you think that every one of those was a life, the numbers start to look a little different.

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