Spain to axe speed limit imposed after oil price rise

Highway workers reduce the speed limit near Zulueta, northern Spain (5 Mar 2011)
Image caption One opinion poll put opposition to the reduced speed limit at 69%

Spain is to remove a controversial temporary speed limit on motorways introduced to cut fuel consumption because of rising oil prices.

The limit was cut to 110km/h (68mph) in March drawing protests from motorists including the Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso.

The government says petrol prices have now fallen and, from 1 July, motorists can again drive at 120km/h (75mph).

Oil prices spiked after uprisings in Libya and elsewhere in the Arab world.

Spain is heavily dependent on imported fuel and 13% of its oil usually comes from Libya.

"The circumstances have changed so we understand the measure is no longer required and we are going back to 120 km/h," Deputy Prime Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba said after a weekly cabinet meeting.

He acknowledged that the slower speed limit had provoked "strong debate" but said it had saved Spain 450m euros (£399m) in its balance of payments.

Many Spaniards believed the change was a ruse to raise funds through more speeding fines.

The main opposition Popular Party labelled it "absurd" and "improvised" and a poll for El Pais newspaper put opposition to the speed cut at 69%.

Spanish racing driver Fernando Alonso - who drives a Ferrari in excess of 300kph on the race track - also ridiculed the lowered limit, quipping that it was "difficult to stay awake" at less than 110km/h.

Mr Rubalcaba rebuffed his criticism, saying drivers in the US complied with the same speed limit "and I have never seen them driving while asleep".

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