Drive on the right!
If you aren’t used to driving on the right, take it easy until you’re accustomed to it. Be particularly alert when leaving lay-bys, T-junctions, one-way streets and petrol stations, as it’s easy to lapse into driving on the left.
If you are driving a foreign-registered car in Spain, you are not obliged to register it unless you stay in the country for more than 6 months. If you are an EU national, it is mandatory to register your car only once you become a resident in Spain.
All cars must carry a reflective jacket (to be worn when getting out of the car on the side of the road), two approved red warning triangles (to be placed at least 50m behind the vehicle – or one in front and one behind on a dual-carriageway – if you stop on the side of the road), a spare wheel and the tools for changing a wheel. It is also advisable (but not mandatory) to carry a fire extinguisher and a first-aid kit.
If you’re ever in doubt about who has priority, give way to emergency (ambulance, fire, police) and public utility (electricity, gas, telephone, water) vehicles attending an emergency, trams, buses and all traffic coming from your right. If an emergency vehicle is coming through the middle lane and you are in it, you should stick to the right.
Priority to the right
Most main roads are designated priority roads (prioridad de paso). All secondary roads have a stop sign or a give-way sign, the latter often with the words ceda el paso (give way) beneath it. An obligation to give way may also be indicated by a triangle painted on the road. When roads have equal status and no priority is indicated, traffic coming from the right has priority. The priority to the right rule usually also applies in car parks, but never when exiting from car parks or dirt tracks. Failure to observe this rule is the cause of many accidents.
Traffic flows anti-clockwise around roundabouts (traffic circles). When approaching a roundabout, you must give way to traffic on the roundabout (coming from your left). There’s usually a give-way sign (which may be painted on the road) on all roads approaching the roundabout. You must also remember to use the right lane to take an exit. Most accidents in roundabouts happen when the vehicle driving on the left lane wants to leave the roundabout directly from the left by crossing the right lane.
The wearing of seat belts is compulsory on all roads at all times and includes passengers in rear seats. Minors who are less than 135cm tall must travel in the back seats of cars. Failure to wear a seat belt can result in a loss of three points from your licence and a fine of €200. If you have an accident and aren’t wearing your seat belt, your insurance company can also refuse to pay a claim for personal injury.
Don’t drive in bus, taxi or cycle lanes, identified by a continuous yellow line parallel to the curb, unless necessary to avoid a stationary vehicle or an obstruction. Be sure to keep clear of tram lines – i.e. outside the restricted area, marked by a line.
The use of horns is forbidden at night in towns, when lights should be flashed to warn other motorists or pedestrians of your presence – and not for any other reason (Spanish drivers sometimes warn other motorists of police radar traps and road blocks by flashing their headlights, although this is illegal). If you use a horn ‘unnecessarily’, e.g. to wake the driver in front when the traffic lights change to green, you can be fined €80, but judging by the noise of car horns on Spanish streets this penalty is rarely applied!
Headlights must be used when driving at night, in poor visibility during daylight and in tunnels at any time (you’re reminded by a sign). Be extremely careful when driving in tunnels, some of which have very poor (or no) lighting. Your headlights must be dipped (luces de cruce) at night when following a vehicle or when a vehicle is approaching from the opposite direction. Failure to dip your lights can result in a fine.
A vehicle’s hazard warning lights must be used to warn other drivers of an obstruction, e.g. an accident or a traffic jam, or if the vehicle is forced to drive at below the minimum speed.
Most traffic lights are situated on posts at the side of the road, although they may also be suspended above the road. The sequence of Spanish traffic lights (semáforos) is usually red, green, amber (yellow), red. Amber means stop at the stop line; you may proceed only if stopping may cause an accident. (Take care before stopping at an amber light when a vehicle is close behind you, as Spanish drivers routinely drive through amber – and even red – lights and may be taken by surprise if you stop!)
Flashing amber lights
If you see these at the side of the road, they usually indicate that you’re approaching traffic lights or a built-up area with a restricted speed limit (e.g. 50kph/30mph). At the entrance to many towns, there are flashing amber traffic lights designed to slow traffic; double flashing amber lights mounted vertically are simply a warning to slow down, although some have a light mounted above them that changes to red if you approach them too fast, e.g. at more than 50kph.
Take care when approaching a railway crossing, indicated by a sign with a large ‘X’ or an engine in a triangle. Approach a railway level crossing slowly and stop as soon as the barrier or half-barrier starts to fall, as soon as the red warning lights are illuminated or flashing or a warning bell rings, or when a train is approaching!
White lines are used for traffic lanes. A solid single line or two solid lines means no overtaking (adelantar) in either direction. A solid line to the right of the centre line, i.e. on your side of the road, means that overtaking is prohibited in your direction. You may overtake only when there’s a single broken line in the middle of the road or double lines with a broken line on your side of the road. Exceptions to this rule include crossing a solid line for overtaking a cyclist, moped, pedestrian, animal, or a stopped vehicle as long as you leave at least 1.5m between you and the vehicle/person in question. Overtaking is prohibited within 100m of a blind hill and on all roads where visibility is less than 200m. It’s illegal to overtake on an inside lane on a multi-lane road unless traffic is being channeled in a different direction. It is also prohibited in tunnels unless there are two lanes, and you should keep a minimum distance of 100m or four seconds between you and the vehicle in front. No overtaking is shown by the international sign of two cars side by side (one red and one black).
Don’t forget to signal
When overtaking, you must indicate before you pull out and again when returning to your lane. Drivers of trucks, buses and other commercial vehicles often flash their right indicator when it’s safe to overtake, but they could simply be about to make a right turn! The left indicator means ‘don’t overtake’. Always check your rear view and wing mirrors carefully before overtaking, as Spanish motorists seem to appear from nowhere and zoom past at a ‘zillion’ miles an hour, especially on country roads.
You should have at least enough space for another car between you and the car in front. If you don’t, you may lose four licence points.
Watch out for bikes
Be particularly wary of mopeds and bicycles and give them a wide berth. It isn’t always easy to see them, particularly when they’re hidden by the blind spots of a car or are riding at night without lights. In cities, there is a new concept called ciclo-calle where bikers have priority over other vehicles and can ride in the middle of the road on roads with speed limits of 30km/h.
Overloading a car
Cars mustn’t take more people than they have seats for and it’s a serious offence to grossly overload a car. You can lose four points and be fined €300 or more and the police may impound your car.
Dogs must be restrained when riding in cars.
The use of hand-held telephones and the wearing of audio headphones is illegal when driving, and you can be fined up to €200 and lose three points from your licence. ‘Hands-free’ sets are allowed.
Filling your tank
When filling your gas tank, you must turn off the engine, all lights, electrical equipment (including the radio) and your mobile phone.
Driving under the influence
You cannot drive if your blood alcohol level exceeds 0.50 g/l of alcohol per ml of blood. If your license is less than two years old, the limit is 0.3g/l. Driving with double the allowed limit now means a fine of €1,000 euros, and those caught driving under the influence twice within the same year will face bigger sanctions that can be considered a "crime".
Campervans, cars towing caravans and trailers up to 750kg are restricted to 90kph (56mph) on motorways and dual-carriageways, and 80kph (50mph) on other roads (unless a lower speed limit is in force).
Obligatory speed restrictions are shown on round signs in black figures on a white background with a red rim. Recommended speed limits, e.g. at sharp bends, are shown on square signs in white figures on a blue background.
As of January 2019, the maximum permitted speed limit on the secondary road network, meaning on any roads where there are no other restrictions, is 90km/h.
Radar controls are in use throughout Spain (a large number were installed in 2006 and many are unmarked), and speed limits are also enforced by motorcycle traffic police operating in pairs.
To learn more about driving in Spain, visit N332's website for the latest information about Spanish traffic law.
Adapted from Living and Working in Spain.