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Dealing with real news
Spanish Traffic Police upset over Pay Cut.
People are questioning if it is more dangerous to drive on Spanish roads today as a result of the economic crises. The number of traffic deaths last weekend reached 29 -- the highest so far this year. In June, the first month after government salaries were reduced 5 percent as part of a money saving measure, the number of traffic tickets handed out by patrol officers fell by nearly 50 percent compared to the same period in 2009, according to figures from the Civil Guard highway department obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. Official numbers for July are not yet out but news reports say the go-easy policy of letting people off with warnings rather than a fine has continued.
This go-easy policy or protest, as some call it, which the Spanish press has called the strike of the "downed pens" -- is another problem for a government under pressure that also faces a threatened strike by air traffic controllers whose salaries were also cut. The highway police have not said they are going easy on drivers, but their boss accepts they are. An official with the Independent Civil Guard Association, which acts as a labour group because the Civil Guard is a paramilitary organization and cannot unionize, said the protest began spontaneously and then spread. "There is an overall bad feeling," said this official, who spoke on condition of anonymity saying he feared he would be disciplined if he were named. The 10,000-strong Civil Guard traffic department was already miffed because its officers are paid less than other police officers in Spain, their salaries run from €1,600 to €1,800 a month, and have not seen the extra hiring promised by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
Then, in April, the department circulated a money saving memo urging officers to use their radios more, rather than cell phones, and spend more time parked watching out for traffic offenders instead of being on patrol. Last weekend, highway deaths went from an average of about 20 to 29, and alarm bells went off. The authorities are concerned that the police go-slow is encouraging Spaniards to drive less carefully. The government's top official for traffic safety said no, saying that number cannot be relied upon because it refers to too-short a time span. "I will never say that the protest by the Civil Guards has caused an increase in highway accidents," said Pere Navarro, head of the National Traffic Directorate. In addition, under a new reform, traffic cops handing out fines earn more points toward a monthly bonus than helping a motorist with a broken-down car. The nation's top-selling newspaper, El Pais, has lashed out at both sides: the traffic cops for exerting pressure with a plan that could make roads less safe, and the government for giving the impression that the officers' job is less about protecting drivers than raising taxes by fining them. Out on the street, 38-year-old graphic designer Oscar Trevino said he understands the Civil Guard is in a bind because it cannot go on strike, but he insisted the "downed pens" movement was wrong.
"If it is their job, it is their job," he said. "It is their responsibility."
Understanding certain words and phrases;
Note; the explanations given relate to the text only. Each word or phrase may have other definitions or uses.
traffic deathsRefers to the number of people who die in road accidentsanonymityKeep a name secretmoney saving measureA plan to save money alarm bellsPeople took noticeticketsOfficial notification of a fine.miffedAnnoyed strikeStop working in protestgo-slowA deliberate slow down in work rate usually in protest.bossA person in charge in a job or business. time spanA period of time between two events or two points in time.paramilitaryOrganized like an army; Behaves like a military forcenew reformspontaneouslyHappening in a sudden way usually without planning bonusSomething extra given as a reward.bad feelingA negative impression usually based on a feeling in a bindIn a difficult situation
Reading Comprehension:
Answer the following questions as T (true) or F (false). Then give a reason for your answer.
1) A policeman's pay was increased by 5% in May.
T/F ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
2) Police are giving out about half the normal number of traffic tickets
T/F ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
3) The go-slow action was well planned.
T/F ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
4) Traffic police are the highest paid in Spain.
T/F ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
5) Drivers are told to use their radios instead of their cell phones.
T/F ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
6) Traffic police get extra pay if they give out more tickets.
T/F --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Role Play;
Divide the class into pairs and each pair re-enacts a scene whereby a "police man" and a "car driver" interact at a roadside stop. Encourage dissent among the car drivers with phrases such as "I was not speeding" or "you only stopped me because you want your bonus" Reverse the roles. It is important to realise that certain cultures recognise the authority of the police more than others and some students may not be able to respond as you would wish, even to a fictional police officer!
Writing Practice; Have the students write a formal letter to the court office (or relevent local official) explaining why they should not pay the traffic ticket. Encourage them to use their imagination when coming up with reasons or excuses. The letter should be between 120 and 150 words. 
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