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Maps of Spain by Data Spain  2006
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Driving in Spain


The Rules of the Road

Driving in Spain or Portugal is very similar to driving in the rest of Europe. The roads are reasonably maintained, their condition ranging from excellent to interesting. 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.

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. When you reach the toll point you can either use the 'automatico' (if you have the correct change, or if you are paying by credit card) or the manual booths, staffed with attendants.

a drink drive law... is now in place, so imbibers beware!

Legal Requirements

If you wish to see as much as possible of Spain then renting a car (or having your own car) is certainly the best method of transport. 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:

  • Driving license, car document and insurance be carried at all times.
  • Seat belts are worn front and back at all times.
  • Less than 25mg/100ml of alcohol be in the blood (much less than many other countries) read more...
  • Two EU approved, red warning triangles be carried.
  • Do not use a mobile phone whilst driving, unless using a fitted hands-free system - Bluetooth headsets etc are NOT acceptable.
  • Children under 12 are not permitted in front seats or on a motorcycle. They may also need some form of child seat.
  • Radar detectors are illegal (even having them in your car is illegal) as is warning other drivers ahead of a checkpoint.

If you are driving your own vehicle, you will also need:

  • All vehicle documents relating to the car (legally certified copies are OK).
  • 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 be secured to the rear of the car.
  • 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.

Recommended, but not mandatory is a First Aid kit and a fire extinguisher.

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.

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.  

Drinking & Driving

Spain has taken longer than most other European countries to introduce a drink drive law, but it is now in place, so imbibers beware! Couple these rules with the fact that many Andalucian roads require your undivided attention, and you can be sure that drink driving is no joke in these parts.

It's a well-known fact that when it comes to alcohol, everyone has their own particular level of tolerance, although - given their smaller frame and slower metabolic rate - women often come off worse. And you don't need to have been drinking all night to trigger a positive response if you're "breathalysed". A shared bottle of wine with your dinner, followed by 'one for the road' in a piano bar, and you could only too easily find yourself over the limit.

In fact, if you're driving home at 3am on a Sunday morning, even if your traffic skills are exemplary, it's more likely than not that the Guardia Civil will pull you over as a matter of course and ask you to take a breath test. If it proves positive, retribution is certain! The penalties are very high with the introduction of the new “rapid justice” Courts, and can include losing your licence on the spot, or 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.  So a good rule of thumb; if you are the driver, probably best not to drink!


If you are unlucky and have a car accident make sure you do the following:

  • obtain the licence plate, drivers name and NIF number and the name of the insurance company of the other vehicle.
  • Complete the blue form which you should carry at all times. This helps to record all relevant information and includes space to draw a picture of the accident.
  • If you are driving a hire car telephone the hire car company for assistance.
  • If you need an ambulance call 112.
  • If the car is not drivable check whether your insurance includes a Roadside Assistance element. If so call that number for a breakdown truck ("Grua") to take your car to the nearest garage or your destination.
  • At the earliest opportunity call the insurance company or agent and they will guide you through the claims policy.
  • There is no specific requirement to inform the Police.
  • Keep Calm. Do not say too much. Make notes in case you need to defend or mount a legal action.

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