Our tips on driving in Spain
Lets face it we all think we are the world's best driver anyway...well you probably are, but it won't hurt to have a quick read through these very helpful tips...
All other visitors, including those from the UK, can sometimes be in for a mild shock when driving here. Overall Spain's roads are pretty safe, but it really is worth knowing about a few things in advance.
If you are visiting from the UK you obviously have the added issue of driving on the right side of the road. Sounds obvious but first thing in the morning when you are on autopilot it is an easy mistake to make. Remember everything you have ever been told about driving on the right, how to give way etc, but please read on.
Signage is improving, major roads however can have up to three designatory numbers so do check. Motorway signs more or less follow EU standards and are well placed with adequate warning. UK visitors will still however think signage is minimal compared to the UK system. Signs in towns do tend to point in the direction you need to go at the actual junction, forward placement is not usual. Also in smaller towns they may use their own signage system (shapes, colours etc) so watch out.
DRIVING RULES/HIGHWAY CODE
There is a highway code in Spain but it is a very technical, and not a very friendly document. This might explain why so few people seem to follow any standard procedure on the roads. This isn't a joke!
The international give way signs and road markings are used everywhere, however 90% of local drivers seem to ignore these. So BE PREPARED, just because you have the natural right of way, lets say on the slow lane of a dual carriageway, with multiple on-slips don't take anything for granted. Don't be astonished to see people just sail straight into your lane from the slip road, forcing you to change lanes abruptly and when you hadn't planned to. It is an extremely dangerous practice, and if you are not prepared for it you will end up having a collision. So the advice is, rather contrary to everything you may have learnt, to remain in the fast lane, or at least change lanes when you would not normally to allow other road users to have unfettered access to your lane.
They do have them in Spain, and you could be forgiven for thinking they were a new invention. Take particular care and treat every other road user as a serious hazard, you will be cut up left right and centre. Use indicators properly and if you are worried drive slowly. You will be amazed at what you see. There was a recent campaign by the Guardia Civil (The police force that does roads among other things) to properly educate people about how to drive around a roundabout - the situation is that bad.
Saying all this though really shouldn't matter if you are a careful driver. That's the key don't take your eye of the road for a moment.
There are three police services, two national ones (The National Police and the Civil Guard) and then there are a plethora of local police services, these are commissioned by local town halls and answer to locally elected representatives. The national services are different and have a regional structure that answers to Madrid.
If there is an accident on the road, one or all three may turn up. If you get stopped by the police it is more than likely to be the Guardia Civil (Traffico). Bear in mind that in Spain any of these police services can stop you on the road for no apparent reason, so don't be surprised if it happens to you.
You might just be asked for your documents, remember you MUST have ID on you at all times (UK visitors take note). Sometimes the police set up a road block and simply brethalyse every car in the queue. Tip - don't think about drinking and driving, its not a question of you doing something wobbly that catches the eye of a police officer, you could just be stopped like everyone else for a routine test. Beware.
Drink and drive
Our advice remains don't. The legal limit in Spain is 0.5mg of alcohol per ml of blood (in the UK the limit is 0.8mg) That equates to about 2 small glasses of wine or 3 cañas (small beers).
Everyone seems to do it, out in the country and on the major motorways it is a joy to drive with many roads seemingly empty. There are some (not many) speed cameras, but police do set up unmarked speed traps. On the spot cash fines are usual.
HAZARD WARNING LIGHTS
These are used in Spain in situations other than to warn other road users of a stationary vehicle. HGVs routinely put them on when they are driving uphill and causing a possible obstruction in their lane. Other road users seem to switch them on if they brake suddenly, they are routinely used if you join a queue of traffic. Just something to point out as it might otherwise seem odd.
Parking in most major towns is regulated, however on-street parking is very cheap compared to most European countries. Its not worth the hassle of driving around to find a free spot to park. As an example the large multi story car park in Mijas Pueblo costs all of one euro for a stay up to 24 hrs. Operating road side ticket machines is a bit of a struggle, just remember you usually have to enter the vehicle's registration number. If you do get a ticket, you can pay a fine at a ticket machine within 24hrs and the penalty notice is cancelled. If you have a hire car take this seriously because otherwise a large fine could hit your credit card months later.
Traffic fines in general
If you do get a ticket, take this seriously. If you are a UK national you might be stopped from leaving the country if you have an unpaid fine registered against you.
The usual rules about stopping on the road apply, however be prepared! It is quite normal to see cars stopped (sometimes parked even) on pedestrian crossings, on roundabouts, across and at junctions. In the middle of road -and anywhere you might think its dangerous, apart from just causing an obstruction. It probably is, so just exercise caution at all times.
Until very recently the only vehicles that used blue lights were the three police services. That has now changed, and all emergency vehicles are required to show blue lights. However there is a two year change-over period, so you may see ambulances or fire vehicles using orange lights. Be prepared to give way as you would to any vehicle showing blue lights. Unlike many other countries, Spanish police tend to have their blue lights on at night in a constant mode rather than flashing, this indicates a police vehicle on duty rather than responding to an emergency.
Some other emergency vehicles are also now showing blue lights on at night but in a constant mode, rather than strobing or flashing. This isn't a requirement to give way.
On a more general note whilst police and fire vehicles are easy to recognise you may find ambulances more challenging. There is an equivalent to a state ambulance service, but many private operators are part of the provision. This means that visual identity is quite diverse, however this is slowly improving. ('Ambulancia' and 'UVI', all indicate emergency medical vehicles) In addition the Spanish Red Cross and the local Civil Protection units all integrate into the ambulance service.
BonaSOL wishes you safe and happy motoring during your stay, in the event of an emergency you can call our 24hr number for assistance. (951 2139 394)