Driving in Portugal – Changes to Highway Code from Jan 1st 2014

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The new Portuguese Highway Code (Código da Estrada) comes into effect on January 1st 2014. The relevant legislation is Decree Law 72/2013 of 3rd September 2013 which is the 13th amendment since the Code was first established in 1994. There are more than 60 amendments which apply to drivers and cyclists, introducing new speed limits, reduced blood/alcohol limits, and new rules for circulation on roundabouts. Some of the new rules have caused much discussion; others are an affirmation of what many people thought we had to do anyway.  Here is a summary of the important changes we should know about. If anyone add other changes please help by posting them to conversation. We will draft an article to be appended to the AngloINFO Information Pages shortly.  From January 1st   Car Documents – Fiscal ID card  If stopped by the police you must present the usual documents: driving licence, identity document and insurance papers. That’s normal, but there is a new rule which requires the fiscal ID card (cartão de contribuinte) if the number is not mentioned on the identity document presented and the driver is resident in Portugal. Fine is between 60 and 300 euros, unless you present the document within the following 8 days – in which case the fine is reduced to a maximum of 150 euros.   Roundabouts Drivers must: Give way to traffic already on the roundabout, whichever lane they are in. Occupy the right-hand (outside) lane if you are taking the first exit. If taking any other exit you should only occupy the outside lane after passing the exit immediately prior to the one you wish to take. Move progressive towards the outside lane, taking the appropriate precautions when changing lanes Horse and cart, bicycles and Heavy Goods Vehicles may use only the right hand lane but are required to facilitate the exit of drivers on the roundabout. If you use the right-hand lane, with no intention of taking the first exit, you risk a fine of between 60 and 300 euros.   Mobiles and Headphones If you are not using Hands-free phones, then only single earphone equipment is permitted. Whereas before equipment with two earphones was allowed - as long as only one earphone was used – this is now expressly forbidden while driving.   Cyclists There are additional rights and protection under the new Highway Code for cyclists. Anyone arriving at an intersection from the right now has priority, either vehicle or a bicycle, ending the give way rule for cyclists. Cyclists will no longer be confined to cycle paths (ciclovias). They can choose to cycle along with other traffic. When they are satisfied that it is advantageous in terms of safety, comfort or efficiency of the journey, they can ride in the right hand side of the lane and not in intense traffic or on roads with reduced visibility.   Drivers must ensure a minimum distance of 1.5m from the cyclist and reduce speed when overtaking. 2 cyclists can now ride side by side, in parallel. Not more than 2 and only when it does not impede or endanger normal circulation of traffic. Bicycles in bus lanes are permitted if authorized by municipal authorities; Bicycle crossings are equated to pedestrian crossings. Drivers of other vehicles must give way to cyclists while crossing a road on a bike path; Transport of passengers in cycle trailers is defined and permitted. Cyclists aged up to age 10 are permitted to ride on  the pavement (sidewalks).   Vulnerable Road Users (Utilizadores Vulneráveis) The new Code introduces the concept of “Vulnerable Road Users”. There was previously no specific definition in the legislation for the Highway Code for; Pedestrians, Cyclists, pregnant women, handicapped people, the elderly and children. Drivers have a duty to ensure that their behaviour does not endanger the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, as well as other Vulnerable Road Users. This is particularly relevant in the new concept of “Coexistence Zones” within town limits and residential areas. These areas will be designated by Town Councils (Câmara Municipal).   Coexistence Zones Defined as an area of the public highway specifically designated as for sharing between vehicles and pedestrians where special traffic regulations will apply. Elsewhere in Europe these are known as Homezones, or the Woonerf shared-space concept. These areas will be clearly identified by new road signs where: Maximum Speed limit is 20 km/h Vulnerable Road Users are permitted to use the entire width of the road, but must not unnecessarily block or delay traffic. Games can be played on the road Drivers must stop if necessary to protect other road users No parking - except in specifically designated areas. Fines for breach of the above: €60 to €300 On leaving a Coexistence Zone a driver must give way to other vehicles. Fines €90 to €450.   Alcohol There is a reduced blood/alcohol limit of 0.2g/l for recent drivers (regime probatório i.e. licensed to drive for less than 3 years) and professional drivers, including emergency vehicles and ambulances, taxis, other passenger vehicles and heavy goods vehicles.  This new limit is less than half the current limit of 0.5 g/l.  Procedure for the breathalyser test has changed slightly. If tested positive the police officer must immediately inform the driver in writing, or verbally if not possible, of the result of the test and the sanctions that apply. He must also inform the driver of his right to demand a counter test and that the results of this second test prevail over the first. If positive again the driver does have to pay the costs of the second test.   Child Safety Seats Up to now it was compulsory for children under 12 years or less than 1.5m tall to be placed in Baby and Infant Safety seats with appropriate safety restraints. The required height has been lowered to 1.35m - at which it is no longer compulsory to use these seats. 12 years of age has been retained if shorter than 1.35m.      Payment of Fines It is now compulsory to inform a driver that he has the right to pay any fine over the amount of €200 in instalments. Payment can be made in monthly instalments of not less than €50 and a maximum of 12 months. Currently, fines issued for offences while driving rented or company cars, where it is not possible to determine who was driving, rent companies or businesses have to pay the fine and an additional fine for failure to identify the offender. Now the fine will be applied directly to the rent company or to the business.     Medical Tests after Accidents Previously blood/alcohol tests were compulsory after an accident. Now drivers will be tested for drugs as well.   Sources:  Decree Law 72/2013 of 3rd September and MUBi - Associação pela Mobilidade Urbana em Bicicleta

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