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Traffic Police

DRIVING IN SPAIN

Driving in Spain is very much like driving elsewhere, except that some of the laws relating to driving are somewhat unusual and sometimes not found in other countries. The rules and regulations in Spain are said to be the most rigorous in the whole of Europe, and the Traffic Police do their best to uphold them, but judging by many Spanish drivers, these laws don't exist, as they do just what they want without consideration to others who use the roads.

It is very difficult to find any official government documentation giving guidance to all the Spanish driving laws like the 'Highway Code' in the UK, so below are listed some of the obvious and not so obvious ones.

 

As a EU citizen and a tourist, in order to drive a foreign registered vehicle in Spain you must have the following with you in your vehicle -

  • Your passport.
  • A Current driving licence (preferably the EU type).
  • Two EU approved red warning triangles.
  • An approved reflective jacket(s) that must be worn day or night (by everyone) while outside the vehicle at the side of any highway (but not in roads with street lighting) in the case of accident, breakdown or something similar. The jackets have to be kept inside the car so they can be put on before going outside.
  • A set of spare lamps/bulbs for your car and the necessary tool/s to change them.
  • A spare pair of glasses if you need them for driving or reading.
  • Your number plate should be the EU type with the ring of stars containing your country code, or a plate/sticker with your country code (GB, etc) should attached to the rear of the car.
  • Valid insurance certificate. (This may not be necessary as traffic police are beginning to use equipment to access a national database of all insured vehicles - if you are driving and not on this database there will be an instant fine and possibly instant disqualification).
  • All vehicle documents relating to the car (legally stamped copies are acceptable).

If you are from outside the EU, you will need all the above, plus an International Driving Licence issued in your home country. There should be at least one page of information in Spanish. Your 'tourist status' in Spain will usually only apply for three months as far as insurance is concerned. If you intend to stay in Spain for a longer period, make suitable insurance arrangements before you leave your home country.

 

A foreigner resident in Spain must have all the above although a Residents Card or Document can be used used instead of a passport.

If you are a tourist and stopped by the Traffic Police for an driving offence, you can be fined on the spot. If you can't pay, prison is an option. Residents in Spain (able to provide their residential papers) are usually given a piece of paper listing the amount of the fine to be paid into a bank or via the Internet. In this case, a discount for quick payment of the fine, is sometimes available.

Very heavy fines are handed out for foreign persons resident in Spain, with cars bearing foreign registration plates.

Most driving regulations are the same as in other countries, such as seatbelts, not using mobile phones or similar, or navigation aids where you have to take your eyes of the road to view. Limits for drinking and driving are low to zero - beware.

Some of the more unusual laws - One concerns pedestrians having to step onto a pedestrian or zebra crossing and show a driver the palm his/her hand as a request to stop, before the driver has to do so (although this is almost never seen), no reversing of vehicles unless in exceptional circumstances, no three-points turns, having lights on in rain (even in the lightest rain with perfect visibility), having lights on in tunnels, however short (even when the tunnel is brilliantly illuminated). The EU have recently introduced a law to enforce that all new cars sold in Spain (and the EU) have their side lights on at all times when the engine is running. This may also infer that eventually all (older) cars must use there side lights at all times.

Be fully aware of Spanish traffic signs. Most are universal but with Spanish wording, while others simply beggar belief. As an example, you may find signs for traffic slowing 'bumps' described in any number of ways (depending on the local authority), and Stop signs side-by-side with traffic lights. Traffic lights with zebra crossings where it's not clear who has the right of way. Zebra crossings which lead to a blank wall. Roads with no speed 'ending' signs, such as the end of a motorway or road works, while others simply don't give you enough notice of a situation. A blocked road may only be signed at the blockage itself and not at the beginning of the road. Beware of signs that don't make sense, such as directions to a car park which means you have to drive down a 'no entry' road, signs to something that has long time gone or been removed, and speed signs that vary every 100 meters or so along a road, making it difficult to remember which applies where you are driving.

While driving in Spain, be fully aware of Spanish drivers who hurtle along at break neck speeds and others who seem to be in a daze and oblivious to others using the roads - often more interested in talking to the other occupants of the car, viewing the surroundings or (illegally) talking on their mobile phone. The Spanish people generally are a happy, friendly and helpful people, but put them in a car and they have been described as 'maniacs from hell'. BE AWARE.

Because the Spanish drivers speed, park badly or in the wrong place, hold up a long queue of cars to talk to someone in the road, etc., don't follow suit. BEWARE: Spain in thought to be the only European country where it is illegal to criticise the Police or other authorities (although they are civil services and your taxes help pay their wages), the penalty for which is a prison sentence and which is said to be a throw back from the General Franco days. But there have been many reports that the police will catch tourists and foreigners first because with the usual lack of Spanish language, it makes them an easy catch, whereas the local Spaniards will often try to argue their way out of being fined. Another habit of the police is said to be watching a driver park in a not to obvious 'No Parking' place and when the driver walks away from his car, then stick a parking fine on the windscreen (usually 200€).

If it's raining you have to have your sidelights on, even if it's a bright sunny day, but where there are a handful of drops of rain on your windscreen. Remember, you can try to argue about the situation, but don't officially complain.

A recent newspaper report stated that one Spanish Province took over 10,000,000€ in traffic fines in one year and was about to move some traffic policemen to other jobs if their fine rate was too low. That speaks for itself !  A recent sequel that -

Two Guardia Civil officers from Benicarló (Castellón)  lost their monthly productivity bonus because they only issued half as many motoring fines as their colleagues have won a court case after a magistrate declared the decision to be illegal, saying that it was "unacceptable" to consider police officers as mere "money-grabbers" whose purpose was to find excuses to fine the public.

A very large proportion of drivers in Spain are not insured. They take a chance that they will not have an accident or get caught. Be prepared for this situation if you are involved in an accident, make sure you are covered by a fully comprehensive insurance policy if possible. Generally vehicle insurance costs are greater in Spain to make up for those owners who do not insure, but rely on your comprehensive insurance to cover accident costs, etc. A national system has been introduced whereby roadside police can instantly check if your car is insured. All insurance companies have to enter your vehicle insurance onto this national database, so the uninsured situation is changing, but don't rely on it.

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