Driving in Spain - Be Prepared!

Published on 14/11/2006 in Driving in Spain

Driving in a foreign country is never easy. New roads, unfamiliar landmarks, unknown place names, different signs, and if you’re from the UK you’ll probably be driving on the other side of the road too.

If you’ve already driven in Spain then you’ll be able to empathise with most of this article. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure then this will prepare you!

The Roads

The roads today in Spain are considerably better than they were just 10 years ago. Many of the infamously dangerous major single carriageways, such as the N340 spanning the Costa del Sol, have been made into decent dual carriageways and some superb toll motorways have been built. You still get the occasional pot-holed “I think I’ve destroyed my suspension” type roads but these are gradually being replaced by new smoother roads.

However, appearances can be deceiving. Having to join a busy dual-carriageway from a standstill is never safe!  Yet most of the exits onto the dual-carriageway are like this. Sometimes you’ll even find that you are on a bit of a hill, at a stand-still, trying to get onto the road as quickly as possible but which usually ends up in a lot of wheel-spin and a slow crawl onto the motorway as a menacing lorry hurtles towards you at 100 kph. Nerve-racking to say the least! You also usually get the “I don’t care what’s coming” type of driver who decides to pull out onto the road like a snail, risking their own lives as well as everyone else’s. The crazy thing is that this type of driving is not really frowned upon, with no resulting road-rage and everyone carries on as normal having just braked so hard to avoid a collision.

The Traffic

Toll roads are great. Okay, they’re not free but they are so empty! There is not such thing as “rush hour” on the toll roads, you are pretty much guaranteed that you’ll arrive at your journey at the time you  planned.

What does surprise me about the toll roads is how narrow the hard shoulders are. You can just about park your car on it but you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near it after that!

Saying that, generally the roads in Spain seem to suffer very little traffic (it tends to get a lot busier in July and August with all the holidaymakers). When I lived in the UK I used to be stuck in a traffic jam practically every day. Here, on the Costa del Sol, they are really very rare. There are a few bottlenecks, such as getting through San Pedro near Marbella, but these are few and far between.

The Drivers

Like in any country Spain has a mix of slow, “normal” and fast drivers. The slow ones tend to drive special cars for which you don’t need a licence. These are frighteningly slow as they can’t do more than about 50 kph, so even buses and lorries have to overtake them.

The normal drivers tend to have their head in the clouds and not really aware of their surroundings.

Then come the fast drivers who have a driving technique I’d not known before (and which you may soon find yourself adopting). If you’re in the outside lane and someone wants to get past you, the first thing they do is sit right on your back bumper…literally. Just millimetres away from you they will then put on their left indicator to tell you that they want to get past (as if you didn’t already know this!). They are relentless (and crazy) when it comes to overtaking.

I have to say though, it works, cars just get out of the way, although I wouldn’t really recommend this technique.

Roundabouts

Most Spanish don’t seem to have really grasped the concept of the roundabout yet (a bit like the Americans I suppose). Most do not understand that if you want to go round the roundabout (anti-clockwise) you need to be in the left lane as you approach it. The majority will simply dive unexpectedly from the right lane into the roundabout, cutting up anyone coming along in the left lane. You just don’t expect it and I can’t understand why they risk everything just to get round a roundabout. Just be careful and watch the car to your right of you may just lose the front of yours.

And forget indicating, most people don’t bother.

Pedestrians

Cars have right of way. That’s the rule. If someone wants to cross a zebra crossing then they just have to wait. I once received some verbal abuse from an old man after I stopped to let him cross the zebra crossing, not realising that I wasn't supposed to stop.The Rain

When it rains in Spain the roads actually become quite scary. It doesn’t rain often but when it does the heavens truly open and the roads become swimming pools (apart from my beloved toll roads which aren’t really affected).

What makes the roads dangerous in these conditions is that the drivers are not used to driving in the wet and don’t always compensate for it. The fast drivers will still sit on your backside trying to get past and you still have to pull out from a standstill onto a main road.

Even worse than the rain are damp roads. Even in dry conditions the roads in Spain tend to be quite slippery due to dust. When the roads are damp, combined with the dust, you really do have to take it easy.

Anything Else I Should Know?

It’s not all bad. The fact that it doesn’t rain much and that the roads are rarely busy means that driving in Spain can actually be quite enjoyable. There seems to be less road rage than I experienced in the UK and getting around is quite easy once you know where you’re going, although you really do have to keep your eyes open.

A word of advice, don’t use your mobile phone whilst driving, it’s a very big offence here, and don’t drink, even though many people do. You can speed past police cars (I don’t advise it) and they won’t stop you, but if you’re on the phone you’re in trouble.

So, keep your eyes open, drive defensively and let those fast cars past. It takes a bit of getting used to but to be honest, since moving to Spain I have actually started to enjoy driving again.

 

Written by: Justin Aldridge

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Comments:

Jamesinmadrid said:
12 February 2014 @ 10:13

Just dont drive a nice new car in Spain. It will either be stolen to order, stolen for a joyride, scraped with a key due to jealousy, or dented and sraped in a car park mostly due to others negligence. Just buy a 10 year old seat ibiza and no problem.


Gerry said:
11 May 2013 @ 11:05

Justin, thank you for your comments and I would agree with the majority of your opinions. "Ex pat comments" "Ignornace is bliss", etc. dont take any notice. Having been seriously injured in Spain with a fatality in the offending vehicle, all due to reckless driving, I think this qualifies me to make comments on Spanish driving.

Very poor standard of driving, a lack of respect for others, and no common sense makes spanish roads very hazardous. I have driven all over the world (in all continents) and Spain takes some beating for danger

All this being said, I enjoy my life in Spain just concerned about driving.



tom said:
18 March 2013 @ 13:35

My situation is unusual regarding keeping a car in Spain.
I bought a mobile home on a park and keep a british car at the site. I'm never there longer than 5 weeks and I'm not residencia. Am I subject to the same rules about registering the car after 6 months?



John said:
19 February 2013 @ 07:50

I'd say locals in this deep/high Andalucian village are pretty good. Yes, most males learned on & still drive tractors, which require special attention (or else) and in addition (to my surprise) are very calm/cool characters. Not seen one road rage incident here. Best of all is when driver stops to talk so other drivers, including fuzz, forced to drive around her, sorry him. But it makes for good driving when you're not sure what's around the next corner...........


midasgold said:
26 December 2012 @ 19:32

Here on the CDS you can tell when the driver is a tourist - he's the one using his indicators.


Dave1954 said:
20 December 2012 @ 16:33

Driving in Madrid in like a war game, Speed is the essence and a trip to the supermarket very interesting. Most cars in Madrid are battle damaged from many minor scrapes, you fight with your fellow drivers for lane changes and fast get always at traffic lights. I love the challenge of driving here . I just wish people would respect each other, hahah it will never happen. Good Luck..


gazzerb said:
28 September 2012 @ 17:09

In Spain it is OBLIGATORY to use indicators when changing lane/direction. You can be fined for not doing so!
Also anyone changing lanes does NOT have priority on anyone in the lane they are changing TO. That means, on a roundabout, a car can come all the way around on the outside (right lane) in order to turn LEFT because they are NOT changing any lanes and have priority over everyone else!
In the Spanish Highway Code Book, the only examples of Procedure at roundabouts (Glorietas or similar) are for one lane in and one lane out, no examples of procedure when there are multiple lanes in and out! Hence why they stick to the one lane rule.

Have you ever noticed more lanes going onto the roundabout than there are exiting? Recipe for disaster.



http://www.manilvaspain.com/ said:
28 August 2012 @ 15:53

That roundabout thing drives me insane on a regular basis, why cant the Spanish be taught to drive the same as the rest of Europe, going round in the outside lane to turn left, second exit. bonkers


Snopes said:
23 August 2012 @ 12:45

If you think driving is crazy in Spain, try Naples, in Italy. It's insane, I couldn't believe my eyes. Cars driving in opposite directions, ignoring red lights, bikers with no helmets... I was horrified for what I saw.
Bilboman, the rules for roundabouts are clear in Spain, although few people knows them. In general, all vehicles inside the roundabouts have preference over the rest.
And to leave, you have to gradually approach the outside lane, so you don't collide with other vehicles. It doesn't mean you have to start in the inside. You can perfectly start directly in the outside lane and keep there until you leave. But if you do so, be careful with the drivers wanting to leave from your left, because they'll probably invade your lane. Not because they want to break the law but because they think they are doing right.
There is an explanation for that. The roundabouts in Spain are relatively recents, and people here have troubles dealing with them.
I laughed at your comment about "the Spanish reluctance to obey any rules imposed by the authorities as a matter of principle". Where did you get that? Sounds like a british cliche to me.



Snopes said:
23 August 2012 @ 12:45

If you think driving is crazy in Spain, try Naples, in Italy. It's insane, I couldn't believe my eyes. Cars driving in opposite directions, ignoring red lights, bikers with no helmets... I was horrified for what I saw.
Bolboman, the rules for roundabouts are clear in Spain, although few people knows them. In general, all vehicles inside the roundabouts have preference over the rest.
And to leave, you have to gradually approach the outside lane, so you don't collide with other vehicles. It doesn't mean you have to start in the inside. You can perfectly start directly in the outside lane and keep there until you leave. But if you do so, be careful with the drivers wanting to leave from your left, because they'll probably invade your lane. Not because they want to break the law but because they think they are doing right.
There is an explanation for that. The roundabouts in Spain are relatively recents, and people here have troubles dealing with them.
I laughed at your comment about "the Spanish reluctance to obey any rules imposed by the authorities as a matter of principle". Where did you get that? Sounds like a british cliche to me.



Snopes said:
23 August 2012 @ 12:42

If you think driving is crazy in Spain, try Naples, in Italy. It's insane, I couldn't believe my eyes. Cars driving in opposite directions, ignoring red lights, bikers with no helmets... I was horrified for what I saw.
Bolboman, the rules for roundabouts are clear in Spain, although few people knows them. In general, all vehicles inside the roundabouts have preference over the rest.
And to leave, you have to gradually approach the outside lane, so you don't collide with other vehicles. It doesn't mean you have to start in the inside. You can perfectly start directly in the outside lane and keep there until you leave. But if you do so, be careful with the drivers wanting to leave from your left, because they'll probably invade your lane. Not because they want to break the law but because they think they are doing right.
There is an explanation for that. The roundabouts in Spain are relatively recents, and people here have troubles dealing with them.
I laughed at your comment about "the Spanish reluctance to obey any rules imposed by the authorities as a matter of principle". Where did you get that? Sounds like a british cliche to me.



Snopes said:
23 August 2012 @ 12:42

If you think driving is crazy in Spain, try Naples, in Italy. It's insane, I couldn't believe my eyes. Cars driving in opposite directions, ignoring red lights, bikers with no helmets... I was horrified for what I saw.
Bolboman, the rules for roundabouts are clear in Spain, although few people knows them. In general, all vehicles inside the roundabouts have preference over the rest.
And to leave, you have to gradually approach the outside lane, so you don't collide with other vehicles. It doesn't mean you have to start in the inside. You can perfectly start directly in the outside lane and keep there until you leave. But if you do so, be careful with the drivers wanting to leave from your left, because they'll probably invade your lane. Not because they want to break the law but because they think they are doing right.
There is an explanation for that. The roundabouts in Spain are relatively recents, and people here have troubles dealing with them.
I laughed at your comment about "the Spanish reluctance to obey any rules imposed by the authorities as a matter of principle". Where did you get that? Sounds like a british cliche to me.



Bilboman said:
31 July 2012 @ 19:46

The "rules" for roundabouts are vague and ambiguous. They lamely mention gradually progressing to the outside lane, having started off in the inside one (i.e. when turning left, begin the manoeuvre in the LH lane, equivalent to UK rules) but there is NO firm rule on indicators. In the absence of clear rules (added to the Spanish reluctance to obey any rules imposed by the authorities as a matter of principle), some drivers have sort of worked out the rules for themselves. Sort of.
I've noticed that some drivers going straight on take the right hand lane, put on their left indicator till half way then cancel it.
About half of left turners take the LH lane on approach (or the middle lane if there are three) and weave their way round without hitting any other cars.
Lane discipline is an alien concept. Middle lane hogging is a sloppy, lazy, selfish, stupid habit that started in Britain in the 1970s and has since been exported successfully to France and has now reached Spain. (Littering has gradually moved in the opposite direction, in my experience.)
Barely 5% of roundabouts with two or more lanes going round have direction arrows or lane markings; it's absolutely random and at the whim of the local authority: Those that keep a good stock of white paint tend to splash it around and occasionally refresh stripes on zebra crossings.
As a general rule, don't expect any drivers to know what the Hell to do at a roundabout. Drive defensively all the time and expect the worst. Remember that any collision will result in a 50/50 apportionment of blame. You have been warned!



Ting said:
03 March 2012 @ 16:34

What are the Spanish rules for roundabouts Senor Mattimoe?


victor said:
09 January 2012 @ 12:25

In driving school Mayor de gracia, situated in the heart of Barcelona, in the neighborhood of Gracia, you can get a driver's license in your language. We have got specialized teachers to help you approve the theoretical and practical examination with materials made for you. For more information visit us at www.mayordegracia.com or call 661-76-27-91 and ask for Victor.


F E Mattimoe said:
01 August 2011 @ 18:52

Had the author of this piece bothered to study the SPANISH Highway Code s/he might have made fewer foolish comments. Such as assuming that the British rules for negotiating roundabouts apply in Spain. Which they don´t !

Ah but, "ignorance is still bliss" for most English ex-pats.



DZ said:
17 July 2011 @ 00:02

Peds have the right of way at crosswalks. It's not only the law, but people will blindly walk in front of cars. They are so confident that I've had people walk their baby stroller (loaded with a baby, I presume) across the street without checking for cars.

*Source* I've been living in Andalusia for a couple of years.



Johnzx said:
06 September 2008 @ 09:57

Mr Kevin. The Spanish Highway Code is NORMAS DE CIRCULACION. You can buy it from bookshops or usually driving schools.

Careful reading shows that comments like 'drivers always have the right of way' is not correct.



mr.kevin said:
09 June 2008 @ 07:20

Is there such a thing as a Spanish Highway Code book

Thanks



antyfred said:
09 March 2008 @ 11:12

i have been in tenerife for a few years now,and have a scooter 200cc aprilia and a car,why two well the sunshine does invite you out to play, and it is more fun in the open air,me with a helmet, not the kids though.
until a year ago we [they] had never seen a round about,well thats not exactly true,we did have one that you had to stop on 3 times as you procceded round, hence bloking all traffic behind you, thats another story,then suddenly the western roundabout started poping up all over the place,they would clear vast areas of land,put in aroundabout but not very round, some have straight bits, d'nt ask,only they know why,you could build an aptment block in the middle,but they just c'nt get the hang of making the traffic go better,on one, entering los cristianos from the tf1, you hit this very large roundabout, to find the traffic turning left, have to stop,waiting for the traffic comming out of the town,but in doing so it will block one of the two lanes, wanting to go straight on, why oh why, did they not put in a 3rd left lane,bags of room, but no,lets stop the traffic, or even worse,make them dive over to the right to avoid the left turners,so this then stops any trffic joining it from the right!!but on a scooter you can tootle past them,on the left,in the middle or on the right,does'nt matter.the police are just bad on them, in the middle on dived right,almost passed the exit, no i did not blow my horn,the trouble is if you are not careful,you end up doing the same thing as outside lane will not let you in.
have you seen them marking the white lines, throw down some metal sheets,spray paint in the gap, and move on, the only problem is if you try to stop, on say a zebra the paint is so smooth that you just slide, and when its wet forget it, not good on a scooter, i can tell you! ok i hear you saying, you should stop before you hid the white bits,but you forgot the brits,they are looking the wrong way!!!!


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