Two decades since Catalan police took charge of the roads
In 20 years, the Mossos d’Esquadra have booked two million drivers for speeding and attended 400,000 accidents
Today marks 20 years since the Catalan police -the Mossos d'Esquadra- began patrolling the roads of Catalonia. It all began on May 4, 1998, with an initial deployment of 250 officers in the Girona area. Within two years, the Mossos had replaced Spanish police units and were patrolling Catalonia’s entire road network. If the police stop you when driving in Catalonia today, it will almost certainly be one of the traffic division’s 1,169 officers.
Charged with the dual aim of enforcing the rules of the road on the one hand, and on the other raising driver awareness of road safety, in the past two decades the traffic Mossos have booked almost two million drivers for speeding. Yet, also within their remit is preventing and punishing such infractions as drunk driving, failure to use safety measures like seatbelts, or allowing oneself to be distracted by devices, such as mobile phones.
Too many lives still lost on the roads
It was Josep Milan, the division’s first head and now Girona regional police chief, who oversaw the first transfer of powers from the Spanish to the Catalan police. Milan claims that in the past two decades the Mossos have helped reduce the number of accidents, although in his opinion still too many lives are lost on the roads. “How do you kill 600 people without causing a public scandal? Use four million vehicles,” he says, echoing a quote by US author and researcher Susan P. Baker.
Milan remembers that the handover from the Guardia Civil to the Mossos was a challenge for the force. Yet, as his officers got to know the road network better, and where the most problematic spots are, things became easier: “Over time we adapted and improved coordination and knowledge of the territory,” he says. A year later, the Mossos traffic division also took over in the Lleida area, and in 2000 the deployment was extended to Barcelona and Tarragona, leaving the Mossos in charge of all of the country’s roads.
“Human factor still decisive”
Milan says much has changed for the better in the past 20 years, and he points to improved roads, more effective emergency services, and better technology in vehicles. However, what has not changed is the potential for driver error: “The human factor continues to be decisive when it comes to breaking the rules and putting other road users at risk,” he says.
In fact, the figures bear this out, and in 20 years the traffic Mossos have booked 1.9 million drivers for speeding, 320,028 for driving over the alcohol limit, and another 35,818 for driving under the effects of drugs (especially marijuana and cocaine). To these dangers must now be added the risk posed by distractions from modern devices, such as smartphones.
Prevention the best for road safety
Yet the police chief insists that accident prevention is the best way to improve road safety. In the past two decades, the Mossos have set up 900,000 checkpoints on Catalan roads to stop and provide advice to drivers. They also give talks on road safety in numerous schools and organizations in all sectors. “We focus on trying to change attitudes, to incentivize people so that there are the fewest number of accidents possible,” says one police instructor.
Yet the work of the traffic Mossos is never done, and while the number of accidents on Catalonia’s roads has come down drastically in the past 20 years, some 248 people still lost their lives on the Catalan road network last year. In 20 years, the Mossos have attended 399,685 accidents, in which there were 6,402 deaths. Even after two decades, Milan admits that facing the loss of human life on the roads never gets any easier.