6 essential tips for driving in Spain (2024)

driving in spain

Will you be driving in Spain? If the answer is yes, then continue reading. It won’t hurt to know more about the requirements and Spanish driving laws.

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Organizing a road trip in Spain is very easy. All you need is a rental car, a map and some free time. Spanish roads are safe and in good shape.

Know the types of roads and gas

Spain’s road system is made up of motorways and main roads:

  • Highways (autopistas) are marked with and A or E and the road number. Toll roads (autopistas de peaje) are marked with AP and the road number. All exits (salidas) are numbered.
  • Two-lane highways (autovías) are marked with an E and the road number. They do not always have a median strip between lanes.
  • National roads (carreteras nacionales) are marked with N or CN and the road number.
  • Country Roads (carreteras comarcales) are marked with a C and the road number.

There are 3 different types of gas in Spain:

  • Sin Plomo 95 = Regular Unleaded
  • Sin Plomo 98 = Premium Unleaded
  • Gasóleo = Diesel

Leaded gas was abandoned in 2006 and it’s no longer available. Sin Plomo 98 has a slightly better quality, but it’s also more expensive. Unless your rental car specifies it, go for the Sin Plomo 95.

The filling procedure for gas stations varies from brand to brand.

Generally, you first fill the tank yourself and then pay inside the store. Sometimes, you have to pay first. This applies during night hours (after 23:00 and until 6:00).

Gasoline is relatively inexpensive compared to other countries in the EU and Japan, but still more expensive than in the US.

Follow these safety tips when driving in Spain

In Spain, we drive on the right side of the road. This means that all traffic coming from the right has right of way (except when you are on a road that has right of way). You probably knew it already but this is a reminder for the left side drivers – you know who your are.

When driving on a highway, don’t overreact to cars flashing their headlights before overtaking you. It’s the law! It’s a warning sign to let you know they are about to pass.

Intersections of two highways typically have a roundabout under the higher one. So you can use it as a U-turn (completely forbidden in Spain) in order to start driving in the opposite direction.

Again, on a highway, never cross a solid white line. Wait for the broken line, and when overtaking, always indicate when you’re pulling out and back in. Spanish authorities are strictly enforcing this law, so don’t break it!

Respect the rules to avoid fines

Unfortunately, road accidents were the first non-natural cause of death until a few years ago. Therefore, the government and the DGT (Dirección General de Tráfico or Traffic General Direction) have severely increased driver’s obligations and traffic fines.

Here are a few traffic rules that you need to be aware of when driving in Spain:

  • While in most cases you could be driving in Spain using a valid driver’s license from your home country, I always recommend getting an international driving permit as it’s enforced by the Spanish law (depending on your nationality). They are handy if you get pulled over or as a second form of (unofficial) ID should something happen. Keep in mind it’s only valid if you have your original license with you.
  • You need to be at least 18 years old to drive in Spain and 21 to hire a car.
  • Driver and passengers must wear seat belts at all times.
  • Don’t drive if your blood alcohol level is above 0.5 g/l in the bloodstream (0.25 mg/l in exhaled air). Please don’t drink at all if you intend to drive. Spain has strict drink driving laws. Penalties include heavy fines, loss of license and imprisonment.
  • The speed limit on highways is 120 km/h (75 mph), 100 km/h (62 mph) on main roads or roads with 2 lanes (also called autovías), 90 km/h (56 mph) on all other roads and 50 km/h (31 mph) in urban areas (towns and villages).
  • Talking on a mobile phone while driving in Spain is strictly prohibited, unless you use a hands-free system.
  • Engines, lights, car radios and mobile phones must be switched off while refuelling. Authorities claim that mobile phone waves can cause an ignition (and an eventual explosion). People generally don’t speak on the mobile while refuelling but don’t turn it off.
  • If you wear glasses (not sunglasses), you must have a spare pair with you in the car.
  • A helmet is mandatory at all times when driving a motorbike and bicycle.

Keep the mandatory documents and gear in the car

You must keep the following equipment in your vehicle while driving in Spain.

If it ever occurs that you need to stop on the side of the road or hard shoulder (due to an emergency, accident or breakdown) use them.

  • Your home country drivers’ license (and your international driver’s licence if necessary).
  • The car’s insurance documents.
  • Ownership or rental documents of the vehicle.
  • A reflective vest. You must wear it if you need to get out of the car on the road or the hard shoulder, so always keep one in the glove box (not in the trunk!).
  • Two warning triangles. You must place one in front of your vehicle and one behind it after stopping.
  • A spare tire and tools necessary to replace it.
  • A set of bulbs and tools necessary to replace the bulbs.

Don’t panic if you’re stopped

In towns, the municipal police (Policía Municipal) are responsible for traffic control. On Spain’s highways the civil guard (Guardia Civil de Tráfico) are in charge, patrolling in cars, motorcycles and helicopters.

The first and most important piece of advice is to always follow the instructions of traffic police and be prepared to stop. The authorities often set up checkpoints and stop drivers at random to ask for their identity and vehicle documents. They are most of the time looking for drugs or criminals.

Spanish law says you must wear a fluorescent jacket whenever you stop by the side of a highway. So, if the Guardia Civil stops you, take your time to put it on before you get out of the car. Otherwise you’ll get an on-the-spot fine.

Pay your driving fines as soon as possible

Up to 300€ on-the-spot fines can be imposed for wide a range of traffic offenses. If you’re unable to pay an on-the-spot fine (multa) your vehicle can be impounded or immobilized. Alternatively the authorities may escort you to a bank’s ATM.

If you violate a traffic law in Spain you may lose points from the point-based driving license, apart from receiving a fine. The points’ lost will be applied to your drivers’ permit if your country uses this system.

Speeding fines depend on the degree to which you exceed the speed limit and it’s severely punished. You’ll receive a fine, could lose your license and up to 6 points, and even go to jail.

Being 30% over the limit is considered a very serious offense. If you’re caught by an unmanned radar trap, you or the rental company will be sent a photograph of your number plate. This picture is considered an irrefutable evidence of speeding.

If you’re fined, you receive a notification (boletín de denuncia) specifying the offense and the fine. Except in the case of an on-the-spot fine, you can pay at any post office, some banks or at the local traffic department. Always make sure that you receive a receipt for it.

This article is part of a complete tutorial about car rental in Spain where you can read all the information you need to organize your road trip around the country.

Here is a complete summary of all the guide:

1. Best way to travel across Spain: road trip or train?
2. Full guide on traveling to Spain by car
3. 10 epic Spain road trips to do on your own
4. How to book your rental car online
5. How to find cheap car rental rates?
6. 8 essential rental car tips to get the best deal
7. Drive in Spain with an international driver’s licence
8. Guide for getting around Spain: rental car
9. 6 essential tips for driving in Spain
10. Guide to car parking in Spain: tips, costs, and regulations

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