To many male Spaniards, driving is like a bullfight and an opportunity to demonstrate their machismo to their wives and girlfriends. Foreign-registered cars (observing speed limits) are like red rags to a bull to some Spaniards, who must overtake them immediately, irrespective of their speed, the speed limit, road markings, adverse weather conditions or oncoming traffic.
Among the many motoring ‘idiosyncrasies’ you will encounter are a total lack of lane discipline (lane markings are treated as optional), overtaking with reckless abandon on blind bends, failure to use mirrors or indicators (especially when exiting from a motorway or dual-carriageway), driving through red lights and the wrong way up one-way streets, and parking anywhere it’s illegal. Many drivers routinely park too close to other cars and bang their doors up against them, damaging the paintwork. In Spain, nearly every car has a dent in it.
When driving in Spain, you should regard all drivers as totally unpredictable and drive defensively (although it should be noted, that not all Spanish drivers are mad or incompetent). When driving on narrow country roads, stay on your own side of the road at all times unless you can see a long distance ahead (if you don’t, you can bet your life that around the next blind corner will be a large truck with poor brakes and/or steering). Note that some Spanish drivers are confused by roundabouts (as are many other Europeans) and they don’t always give way to traffic already on roundabouts when entering them (previously traffic on a roundabout had to give way to traffic entering it).
When driving at night, watch out for bicycles, motorcycles, donkeys, and horses and carts without lights. Maniacs on ear-splitting motorcycles and mopeds are a menace to everyone in towns. Motorists should also keep a wary eye out for pedestrians, particularly older people, who often walk across the road without looking.
Although they aren’t among Europe’s worst tailgaters, some Spanish drivers sit a few metres (centimetres) from your bumper trying to push you along irrespective of traffic density, road and weather conditions, or the speed limit. Always try to leave a large gap between your vehicle and the one in front. This isn’t just to give you more time to stop should the vehicles in front decide to come together, but also to give the inevitable tailgater behind you more time to stop.
The most civilised drivers (relatively speaking) are to be found in the north of Spain (e.g. Catalonia), where most drivers follow at least some of the rules and even stop at red lights. In contrast to most car drivers, Spanish truck drivers are competent and courteous, and most use their right indicators to tell you when it’s safe to overtake and their left indicators to warn you that there’s an oncoming vehicle. Motorists also use their hazard warning lights when forced to slow rapidly, e.g. for an accident or road works.
Driving in cities can be absolutely chaotic and is to be avoided if at all possible. Inexperienced drivers should take extra care, as the accident rate for foreigners is quite high, particularly in Spanish cities. The Germans and the French have the most accidents, being speed-crazy like the Spanish (the sensible British drive more defensively).
Don’t be too discouraged by the road hogs and tailgaters on Spanish roads; driving in Spain can be a pleasant experience, particularly when you’re using rural roads, which are relatively traffic-free most of the time.
This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain.
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