Alcohol, night and car: the equation that has led 53 drivers to jail | Spain

The Civil Guard and the emergency teams at the point where the driver of a tourism that, in May 2017, ran over a group of cyclists and killed three of them.
The Civil Guard and the emergency teams at the point where the driver of a tourism that, in May 2017, ran over a group of cyclists and killed three of them.Natxo Francés (EFE)

That morning of Sunday, May 7, 2017, MVSV was driving under the influence of alcohol and narcotic substances, which he had been using since he had finished working the night before. When he was driving on the N-332 road, between the towns of Dénia (Alicante) and Oliva (Valencia), he ran over a group of cyclists with his vehicle. Three of the athletes died and three others suffered injuries. A year later, a judge sentenced this driver to three years and nine months in prison for three crimes of murder for gross negligence with a motor vehicle, another three for injuries and one more against road safety. The driver entered prison.

Currently, there are 53 people serving a sentence in Spain for similar events, according to data from the Ministry of the Interior. Based on the sentences handed down against them, Penitentiary Institutions has prepared a study on the circumstances in which each of them committed the crime with a conclusion: the consumption of alcohol and drugs, together with the night shift, had a decisive influence on the accidents that caused, on many occasions on the weekend. In these accidents, 61 people died (one in three was on foot) and 57 were injured. There were also 175 injured, 31 of them minors, according to court rulings. In total, 293 people were affected by the actions of these convicts. “With the study we seek to find a pattern of behavior in these types of offenders,” explains Miguel Ángel Vicente Cuenca, general director of Penal Enforcement and Social Reintegration of Penitentiary Institutions.

The results reveal, according to Vicente Cuenca, that “a good part of these accidents were avoidable because they are the result of a factor that depends exclusively on the offender: the consumption of substances that reduce or cancel their reaction capacity.” The document will be used by Prisons to improve the reintegration programs that are followed within the prisons to avoid that, once released, this type of criminals from reoffending. In fact, the report indicates that one in four cases involved someone who had previously committed a crime against road safety. It is not the only outstanding data. Between December 2019 and August 2021, the number of prisoners convicted of impudent homicide by motor vehicle doubled, from 26 to 53 analyzed in the study.

The profile of the perpetrator of this type of crime against road safety is mostly male (49 compared to 4 women), 88.7% have Spanish nationality and 68% were in the age group between 20 and 40 when he did it. Regarding the vehicle, in the vast majority of cases the condemned were driving a car. The most frequent scenarios were the urban area and the two-way roads. The usual time slot, which runs from 9:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. the next day, in which two out of three of these crimes are concentrated. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are the days of the week when the most cases occur. Regarding the time of year, the cases are spread over the twelve months with no special impact on any of them. “The night and the weekend are critical elements for this crime and, however, the summer months, or August in particular, despite hosting many patron saint festivities, are not so critical, as one might think”, highlights Francisco Benito, counselor Penitentiary Institutions technician and one of the study authors.

The study emphasizes that the state of the roads did not play “any relevant role” in the accidents and that, therefore, the “human factor was key”. “In two out of three reckless homicide crimes with motor vehicles, the person who was driving was incapable of driving, and it was mainly due to consumption of alcoholic beverages, along with ingestion of narcotic drugs,” the report states. Thus, it stands out that in 64.9% of the cases it was found that the author had drunk alcohol; 13.5% used narcotics, and 16.2% took both substances. “Therefore, alcohol, drugs, night and early morning, along with weekends, are influencing variables in two out of three cases of reckless homicides with motor vehicles,” the report says. The mean value of the BAC of the convicted persons was 0.72 milligrams per liter; that is, 2.9 times higher than the legal limit, although half of those convicted exceeded this figure. “In these driving conditions, the vehicle ceases to be a means of transport to become a weapon”, highlights the general director of Criminal Enforcement.

The most frequent penalty imposed on these offenders ranged from three years in prison (22.0%) to four (16%), in many cases associated with the temporary or permanent loss of a driving license. At present, of the 53 convicts who are serving their sentence, seven are on probation, three are awaiting the sentence to be final and another 43 are serving it in different prison life regimes. Of the latter, 13 are in the third degree penitentiary or semi-release, the majority serving their sentences in their homes under the control of telematic devices, as detailed by Penitentiary Institutions.

The high rate of recidivism in these crimes against road safety is interpreted by the authors of the report as an indicator that “in a not inconsiderable number of cases there could be a disguised addiction to alcohol.” Therefore, it raises the benefits that the generalization of the Alcohol Interlocks (an electronic device connected to the vehicle that performs a breathalyzer test on the driver when he is about to start it and that locks the car if it exceeds the maximum rate) as a prevention mechanism.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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