Protests against traffic around schools after second fatal collision in Madrid

by Lorraine Williamson
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Last Thursday, 6-year-old María died and two more girls were seriously injured when they were hit by an SUV on their way from school. This tragic accident has sparked new protests in Barcelona and Madrid. 

Two years ago there was already great indignation about the unsafe environment around schools in major Spanish cities. In October 2019, a motorbike collision cost the life of five-year-old Hugo from Barcelona. In the months that followed, the city council took immediate action and introduced a program to reduce traffic. This centred around 100 schools in the city and expanded pedestrian zones. 

Revuelto Escolar 

After the fatal accident in 2019, the ‘Revuelto Escolar’ (school revolution) movement sprang up in Barcelona and Madrid. And streets were blocked in protest against motorised traffic around schools in the city. After Hugo’s death, they demanded an end to the busy and noisy traffic. They wanted a maximum speed of 20 km per hour and more space for cyclists and pedestrians. 

Contrary to the vigor of the municipality of Barcelona, ​​after the fatal accident last Thursday, the city council of Madrid only said it would “continue to study improvements around 190 schools”. 

Silent march 

Revuelto Escolar took to the streets again last Friday to demand more action for a safer school environment in the city. Around 25 schools in Barcelona and 15 schools in Madrid were blocked by parents and children. The actions, which had already been planned before the fatal accident last Thursday, had been transformed into a silent march. 

Afterwards, the group gathered in Madrid in front of the town hall in Plaza de Cibeles to express displeasure at the city council’s seriously deficient security policy. 

Revuelto Escolar said in a message last Friday what the movement is committed to; “The main reason why we associate ourselves is the great danger to boys and girls in the immediate school environment, due to the ubiquitous motorised traffic. With the ever-increasing traffic, the risks to children also increase. Not only in terms of collisions, but also because of the pollution these vehicles cause. School environments should be protected from this,” the message reads. 

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Big cars more dangerous 

The driver who hit the three girls in Madrid on Thursday was driving a Volvo XC90. Various studies have shown that the large car models pose a significantly greater danger to pedestrians in traffic. Because of the high chassis of these models, serious injuries to vital organs are more likely to occur in collisions. 

According to data from the Spanish traffic service DGT, 45 children under the age of 14 died in Spain between 2015 and 2020 after being hit in an urban area. It is not known how many these fatal collisions took place near a school. 

In 2017, insurance company Mapfre investigated driving behaviour around locations with many children (such as parks and schools). From 3,000 speed measurements carried out, it appeared that at locations where no delaying element was installed (such as speed bumps, speed cameras, etc.), no less than 65% of the cars and motorcycles were driving faster than the permitted maximum speed. 

A number of European cities have already taken measures for a safer school environment. In the UK, Belgium, and Italy, for example, municipalities divert traffic around schools at the start and end of schools. Not only does this reduce pollution by 23%, it has also more than halved the number of children brought to school by car. Meanwhile, in Paris, almost 200 streets around schools have been made completely free of traffic since 2019. 

Madrid City Council takes no responsibility 

Madrid Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida said on Friday that the tragic accident in his city that killed six-year-old María was caused by “human error” and had “nothing to do with the accident taking place at a school’. The only hopeful message from the mayor was the continuation of a rather vaguely existing plan of action. According to Martínez-Almeida, measures have now been taken at 85 schools in the city, such as widening some pavements. 

The mayor also emphasised that since last September the speed limit in streets near schools is now 20 km/hr. In most of these streets, however, there is no sign indicating this limit. In addition, there are no speed checks at schools in Madrid and speed cameras are not installed either. “Motorists must comply with the rules and there is a municipal police presence at schools,” said a spokesperson for the municipality. With this attitude, Revuelto Escolar’s protest last Friday will certainly not have been the last. 

The health of the two seriously injured girls who survived the collision with the Volvo XC90 last Thursday is now ‘stable’. 

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