For British drivers who find themselves behind the wheel in Spain, there are a few important things to consider. From different road rules and signage to adapting to the local driving culture, navigating Spanish roads may require some adjustment. In this blog post, we will explore what it’s like driving in Spain for a British driver, providing useful tips and insights to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience on the road.
Generally, the road signs are roughly the same, just remember that distances and speeds are all measured in kilometres – not miles! If you are in a local hire car that should not be a problem, but if you have driven your car down from the UK, then all your guages will be in miles.
The quality of roads and the amount of traffic is usually a surprise to the British driver. Many roads are less than 20 years old, and do not have anywhere near the kind of traffic volumes that we are used to in the UK. Also, because there is less freezing winter weather, and less wear and tear there are much less potholes, and road maintenance necessary. This means less road closures, and smoother driving.
Of course, like anywhere, there are exceptions, and some rural roads may be better suited to tractors!
Driving Side and Road Rules:
In Spain, as in most European countries, driving is on the right-hand side of the road. This change alone can take some getting used to for British drivers accustomed to driving on the left. It is crucial to pay extra attention when merging, turning, and overtaking until you adapt to the new driving orientation. Familiarize yourself with Spanish road rules, including speed limits, right-of-way, and traffic sign meanings, to ensure compliance and safe driving.
Roundabouts and Traffic Circles:
Roundabouts, known as “rotondas” in Spain, are commonly encountered on Spanish roads. Understanding how to navigate roundabouts is essential for a smooth driving experience. Remember to yield to traffic already on the roundabout, signal your exit when leaving, and be cautious of other drivers’ behavior, as approaches to roundabouts can vary. Remember to give to traffic coming from the left – not the right! Also, I would add that Spanish drivers seem to be confused with roundabouts. I often see drivers in the wrong lane, quickly changing lane and not using their signals at all! In the office of the DGT (the Directorate-General for Traffic) there were posters specifically to educate drivers on how to properly use roundabouts so I do think it is an issue in Spain that the government is trying to address.
Speed Limits and Traffic Enforcement:
Spain has specific speed limits that vary depending on the type of road and location. General speed limits are 120 km/h (75 mph) on motorways, 100 km/h (62 mph) on dual carriageways, 90 km/h (56 mph) on rural roads, and 50 km/h (31 mph) in urban areas. In accident black spots or near schools the speed limit may drop to 30 km/h and be enforced with brutal speed bumps to ensure compliance (atleast if you value the suspension of your car!). It is crucial to adhere to these limits as exceeding them can result in fines and penalties.
Be aware of speed cameras and traffic enforcement, as they are used to monitor compliance with speed limits. In the Murcia region there are no fixed speed cameras, but mobile cameras are set up from time to time in trouble spots.
Parking and Zona Azul (blue zones):
Parking regulations in Spain can vary from one city or town to another. It is common to find designated parking zones, known as “Zona Azul” or blue zones, where parking is allowed for a limited time with the use of parking discs or payment. Pay attention to parking signs, parking meter instructions, and time restrictions to avoid fines or towing. Utilize public parking lots when available, especially in city centers where street parking may be limited. You generally have no trouble parking in Spain, except maybe in the cities. Everywhere else parking is plentiful and generally free.
Toll Roads and Payment:
Spain has an extensive network of toll roads (called Auto-Pistas), particularly on major highways and motorways (called Auto-Vias). These tolls can significantly reduce travel times, but they come with a cost. Prepare for toll charges by having cash (euros) or a compatible credit card ready for payment. Plan your journey ahead, including the possibility of toll expenses, to avoid surprises. Google maps is your friend here and in the route options can be told to avoid tolls.
Having said that, many roads which are number AP-something, ie auto-pistas are currently not charging tolls. Whether this is a temporary thing to help people with their cost of living or a change of policy I am not sure. Certainly it is possible to drive 500 km all the way down the Mediterranean coast motorway without paying any tolls.
In the cities, you will need your wits to keep an eye out for scooters (petrol and electic) as well as drivers who fail to indicate their intentions. Use your mirrors a lot, and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Just because someone is indicating, do not assume it is correct. Let them pass, then set off!
One thing that is noticeably absent though is the sound of car horns. If you have driven in New York or Rome, the sound of horns is something you become used to you. In Spain, in my experience, everyone is a little more patient, and very rarely need to use the horn.
A very welcome feature of Spain is the cost of fuel. At the time of writing diesel (gazole) costs around 1.30€/litre (petrol usually costs about 0.20€ more). This compares well with the UK, which is currently about 1.50€/litre.
Driving in Spain as a British driver may require a period of adjustment, but with a little preparation and awareness, it can be an enjoyable experience. Understanding the differences in road rules, adapting to the driving culture, and staying informed about specific regulations and practices will help ensure a smooth and safe journey. So, buckle up, embrace the adventure, and enjoy the beauty of Spain from the driver’s seat. Safe travels!