MADRID, Spain - Spanish highway patrol officers who are issuing fewer speeding fines to protest a pay cut have heard the magic word from their boss: Please, cut it out.

Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba gave no figures, but says the number of fines is definitely down since Civil Guard traffic officers had their wages cut five per cent along with other civil servants as part of austerity measures imposed in May. Official Civil Guard figures released last month show fines fell in June by one-half compared to June 2009.

“I hereby ask formally that they please enforce the law, as they always have and have done very well,” Perez Rubalcaba said Wednesday as he presented figures on highway fatalities for this summer vacation season.

These were actually down to 364, their lowest level since 1962, despite concerns among some Spaniards that the traffic officers' actions might lead motorists to drive less carefully, thus making roads more dangerous in one of Europe's top tourism destinations.

Civil Guard traffic officers, who make about C1,600 ($2,100) a month, are livid over the five per cent wage reduction imposed on them and other government workers as part of austerity measures enacted in May to help chip away at Spain's bloated deficit.

Perez Rubalcaba insisted his appeal was not about getting revenue flowing back into depleted government coffers, but about guaranteeing motorists' safety.

In the short term, the officers' actions have had little effect on safety, he said. But if it continues, Spaniards would “get the impression that they can run a stop sign or change lanes illegally and nothing will happen to them.”

AUGC, an association of the 10,000-strong Civil Guard traffic department, dismissed the minister's comments as ignoring other gripes they have been pressing for years. These include salaries lower than those of other police units and unfulfilled government promises to hire more officers.