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Driving in Spain

Here's what you need to know

If you wish to see as much as possible of Spain then having your own car is certainly the best method of transport, even if it may take you a couple of days to feel confident about driving on the opposite side of the road. As an EU citizen and a tourist, to drive a foreign registered vehicle in Spain you must have with you, and you can be fined for not obeying the following: - your passport, current until after your return home.

Current driving licence, preferably the EU type with the ring of stars.
Two EU approved, red warning triangles.
Approved reflective jackets that must be worn by all outside the car at anytime, day or night, outside the vehicle at the side of any highway not in an urban (street lights?) area. The jackets must be kept inside the car so they can be put on before getting out and also must be visible from outside the car. The pocket in the back of the front seat is a good place. The jackets are inexpensive and can be bought at most supermarkets if you do not have them already.
A set of spare lamps/bulbs for your car and the tool/s to change them.
If you wear corrective glasses for driving, a spare pair.
Your number plate should be an EU one with the ring of stars containing your country code, or a small plate/sticker with your country code (GB, etc) should secured to the rear of the car.
Valid insurance.
All vehicle documents relating to the car (legally certified copies are OK).
Recommended, but not mandatory is a First Aid kit and a fire extinguisher.

If you are from outside the EU, you will need an International Driving Licence issued by the correct authority in your home country. It must have one page of information in Spanish.

Remember that your “tourist status” in a foreign country usually applies for only three months as far as insurance is concerned, so for any longer periods, do not forget to discuss this with your broker.

The roads in Spain vary from very poor to very good, the latter especially since Spain joined the EU and has benefited from the funding from other countries over the last 20 years. The main connecting roads are generally excellent. Roads are classified thus, and they can be easily clarified on a road map.

Autopista (motorway) - A or E - prefix to road number: these can be toll roads (peajes). Maximum speed 120 kph (73 mph).
Autovia - dual carriageway, not necessarily with a central reservation. Speed limits vary from 80 to 140 kph.
Carretera Nacional - N or CN - prefix to road number, main roads. 100 to 60 kph.
Carretera Comarcal - C - prefix, country roads. 100 to 80 kph.
Carretera Local - highway. Speeds are as signed, but usually not more than 100 kph.
Please note that the speeds are somewhat less for various classes of vehicles including towed trailers/caravans.
The traffic-lights (semaforas) in Spain are more often than not, situated only at your stop line for the junction and so you can see when they change when you are in the front of the queue, there is a set of smaller lights on the support post.

The Law for pedestrian crossings until recently is not as strict as in for example, the UK where a driver is always at fault if the vehicle hits a pedestrian on the crossing. You must step onto the crossing, remembering to look LEFT, and show the palm of your hand to any approaching vehicles. Previously, they still did not have to stop, but a new Law involving penalty points means that the drivers can be penalized now for not stopping. Many tourists are injured, some killed each year, for only looking right when crossing the road.

You may NOT overtake on the right (inside lanes) on the highways unless there is a slip road or another road indicated and you are taking it. I know this is the same elsewhere in the World where bad drivers insist on cruising in the middle lanes.

Give way to traffic from the left unless otherwise signed, especially on roundabouts. Do not pull into the middle of the road to turn left if there is a solid line in the road. There are often special lanes for this, signposted cambio de sentido (change of direction), especially on the autovias. All people in the car must wear seatbelts if fitted, and children must be in specially approved (EU) seats situated only in the rear due to possible injury by front airbags in the event of a crash. Do not drink and drive - the limits are about half those in the UK and the penalties very high including losing your licence on the spot, boosted by the new “rapid justice” Courts, as are heavy on-the-spot fines for traffic offences. You will not be allowed to leave the area until you have paid any fine or appeared in Court, including spending time in the cells if you cannot pay in cash.

As a general rule you may not park in Spain where the pavement curb is painted yellow or where a no parking sign is displayed. In major cities and now even the pueblos, non-metered on-street parking is difficult to find but in some areas, there are parking spaces marked in blue for which you should purchase a ticket from a nearby machine on the pavement usually topped with a blue and white “P” sign, or from an attendant. These spaces are usually for about two hours maximum. Penalties for parking infringements vary from town to town and can be heavy.

If you park illegally, especially in a foreign car, you will almost certainly become a victim of the 'grua' - the local tow truck, and if you suffer this, there should be a sticker left on the curb with the phone number/address of your car’s new location. Getting your car back will be a hassle and will cost you dearly in fines and fees, not to mention the possible problem of your not speaking Spanish. Where possible, look for underground parking with security attendance. It's worth paying that little bit more.

You will note however, despite all this advice, the Spanish will park wherever their car happens to come to a halt, even on crossings, pavements and roundabouts, but the new 2005 Laws now mean that penalty points can be given to parking transgressors.

Another expensive visit to the council pound.

New fine rates have recently been published, and over set limits in each location (autopista, town, etc.) you can be arrested on the spot. You are not allowed to have a radar speed detector in your vehicle, let alone use one. Speed traps are becoming quite frequent but not as bad as in the UK with cameras (yet; the salesmen are moving in). Fines for other offences are calculated on the severity of the offence and there is a table for the guidance of the police and Courts. Speed limits (general)

Autopistas/autovias. 120kph

Dual carriageways. 100kph

Country roads. 70/90kph

Urban roads. 50kph

Residential areas as signed or if no pavements. 30/20kph

If you are a tourist without assets in Spain, all fines are payable in cash “on the spot”. The legal drink-drive limit is currently 0,5 grammes per litre of air using a breathalyzer. The very high death rates in Spain (in the top 3 in the “old” EU) means that if caught with excess alcohol or drugs in your body, you can expect to lose your licence (in a special Court, possibly that same day) or, if a resident, have to attend a special school.
It is compulsory for all in the car to wear seatbelts, both front and rear where fitted. The driver is responsible for any fines where passengers are not wearing an approved belt. Children under 12 years of age are not allowed in the front seats (unless they are over 150 cm or 4 ft. 9 ins, then they can unofficially get away with it. It is apparently to do with being secure in the safety belt). Also, if seated in the back, the belt must fit correctly, or a special “raising seat” must be fitted. Animals must be restrained when in the passenger section and not allowed to jump around.

Road tax and vehicle inspections
If you are using your foreign registered car in Spain for a few months (no more than six months in any calendar year is allowed) then it must be legal as far as roadworthy, insurance and road taxes are concerned. You cannot get your car MOT-ed in Spain, or even in Gibraltar, and if the certificate runs out, not only will you be illegal in Europe, but also as soon as you arrive back in the UK. Spanish vehicles have to conform to inspections also, depending on the type and use of the vehicle.

Toll/Peaje roads
Spain has over 2,000 km of toll roads and more are planned. They are of excellent standard and all have service stations with cafes of an acceptable standard every 40km or so. The tolls are expensive, especially in summer when the rates are doubled and are usually calculated per km. Some toll roads, for long distance travelling allow you to collect a ticket at the start and then pay the total when you exit the road. They do however mean that you can drive relaxed and safer over long distances as the locals usually avoid them.

As you approach the peaje (toll booth), you will be confronted with several lanes. The telepago lane is for cars fitted with a special chip on the windscreen. Automatico is for paying by credit card or the exact change and the manual has an attendant who collects your fee. All useable lanes will have a green arrow, un-usable lanes display a red cross.
Fuel - Gasolina and Gasoleo
(Petrol and Diesel)

Normal, unleaded 95 octane

Super, unleaded 98 octane

Lead replacement 97 octane

Diesel, standard
and higher quality.

Mobile telephones
The use of a mobile telephone, other than a true hands-free, whilst driving is now banned in Spain, even at the side of the road. You have to pull off the road completely away from any traffic. You may also not have any device in your ears to listen to music or your mobile phone etc., only allowed is something for enhancing your hearing, i.e. a deaf-aid. Sadly, you still see erratic driving where a mobile is in use, but penalty points can now be awarded.
Navigation aids and DVD´s etc.
The driver must not use any screen based aid to navigation (or entertainment) while on the road. You must pull completely off away from traffic. (It makes sense really; after all, you are not allowed to drive down the road with a map on the steering wheel). DVD players and screen based devices other than those directly needed to operate the car must be positioned so the driver cannot see them.

Losing your licence
If you are stopped by the police or interviewed at the scene of an accident and you are showing signs of being incapable of driving the vehicle for any reason, the police are empowered to immediately take away your driving licence and you could lose it if found in breach of the Law. There are laws affecting penalty points that are different (more restrictive) for new drivers. The Spanish government is determined to reduce the high accident rates on the roads.

Motor Cyclists.
Moto’s, as motorcycles are called in Spain, are subject to the same Laws as other road users, including the reflective jacket rule, which most sensible riders wear all the time anyway. The headlight must be on dipped setting during the day, and an approved crash helmet must be worn, properly fitted and secured, at all times while riding. Penalty points can be awarded for transgressors. Otherwise, the Laws are similar to other EU countries.

Spanish plates
We get lots of E-mails from people wishing to put Spanish number plates on to imported cars. The general advice is, for right hand-drive cars, unless the car is a classic or is special to you for sentimental reasons, DO NOT BOTHER. It is better to sell it in the country of origin, or arrange to swap it with someone returning there.

If it is a motor-home or a medium to large right-hand drive commercial vehicle, you will not be allowed to anyway for safety reasons.

If you are coming from a right-hand drive EU country, then it is not so difficult, but unless you speak Spanish, use the services of a gestor or registered business advisor. It will save you a lot of sweat and heart-ache.

The following applies for new English speaking residents in Spain who wish to do it. First of all, it must be done within 30 days of your registering to stay here for more than 6 months (residencia) or if you are working for a local company they will organise this personal registration (residencia) for you).

You will need a certificate of permanent export from UK DVLA, or similar elsewhere, which is free.
An NIE number. This registers you to stay for up to six months in Spain, but the authorities may question why you are registering a foreign vehicle if you are only staying for less than six months. A residencia is up to five years at a time and signifies that Spain is then your main place of residence.
A certificate Nota de Empadronamiento from the town hall where you live. This is free or costs a few cents.
A Certificado De Baja from the British Consulate. This cost is over €100 Euros, and is not always asked for, but can save the payment of Spanish import tax if dates correspond with other paper work. If the vehicle is a moped or scooter with an engine up to 49 cc, you do not need to carry out this action as it is deemed to be personal belongings and free of any import duties.
Your Passport.
If you have owned the vehicle for less than six months, or did not register it in your home country and pay all relevant taxes (in the EU country of origin), a registration tax (impuesto municipal sobre circulacion de vehiculos) of 12% is payable on vehicles imported into Spain and is calculated on the vehicle's current value which is based on the price which would have been paid new in Spain.
A Spanish ITV (MOT); this is to ensure that the vehicle is technically OK. Remember that the front head-lights must be changed (“stick on papers” are not accepted) to dip right. Many modern cars achieve this by turning the lamp/bulb in the holder as designed by the manufacturer for this purpose.
There is a lot of running around to do, and if you do not speak Spanish fluently, you will need the help of a patient friend who does, or better still, use a gestor.
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