Participation in road traffic, especially by driving motor vehicles or mopeds, can be considered a dangerous activity as it causes a high number of deaths and injuries each year. In 2022 alone, 1,746 people died in Spain and 8,503 were seriously injured due to accidents on Spanish roads.
Being, therefore, a practice that entails a certain risk, it is permitted as long as its performance respects the rules expressly established by the Law on Traffic, Circulation of Motor Vehicles and Road Safety. And, when these are violated, it is punished primarily through the imposition of fines, which are graduated depending on the seriousness of the infraction committed.
In the case of rules and sanctions of an administrative nature, non-payment of these fines may lead to the imposition of surcharges and even seizure by the Tax Agency. In no case, however, can a mere administrative fine lead to the application of a custodial sanction.
Given the high number of dangerous behaviors committed while driving that threaten basic legal rights - such as the life or physical integrity of people - it has been decided to also punish them through the Penal Code, converting into crimes certain behaviors that can put at risk. risk to other participants in traffic.
In this way, articles 379 to 385 ter of the Penal Code in Spain (within Chapter IV of Title XVII, which establishes Crimes against Road Safety) include different traffic violations whose commission can lead to imprisonment:
So if I commit any of these traffic crimes, do I always go to jail?
Although it is true that all these crimes against road safety carry a prison sentence, their commission does not imply that deprivation of liberty must be imposed in a mandatory sentence. This is due to two reasons:
The fact that the prison sentence, in some cases, is provided as an alternative to a fine or community service, means that the judge can choose which of these three sanctions to impose. In these cases, prison is usually requested and imposed for those people who show habitual behavior.
The possibility that, as occurs in other crimes, the prison sentence can be suspended, provided that the requirements of the ordinary suspension are met (that it is not longer than two years, it is the first crime committed and civil liability has been satisfied: article 80.1 and 2 of the Penal Code) or extraordinary (when the prisoner is not habitual, the sentence is not more than two years and the damage has been repaired, the loss compensated or the agreement reached in mediation: article 80.3 of the Penal Code).
And if I am punished with a fine for committing a traffic crime, do I under no circumstances go to jail?
Its not that easy. It is important to keep in mind that non-payment of a fine imposed as a criminal sanction can ultimately lead to imprisonment, since the Penal Code (in its articles 35 and 53) expressly provides for subsidiary criminal liability for non-payment of a fine.
Therefore, if a traffic violation punishable as a crime in articles 379 to 385 ter of the Penal Code were punished with a fine and the same was not paid, the offender could be deprived of one day of freedom for every two daily installments of unpaid fine.
This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Blanca Martín Ríos is a professor of Criminal Law at Loyola Andalusia University.