Driving in Spain
Updated April 2016
Driving inside cities like Madrid or Barcelona is not very much different from the experience of doing it in London or Paris. Expect congested traffic in the rush hours, with the aggravation of having four rush hours instead of two, due to the siesta culture, that will take people home from work at around 1,30pm, to return some 3 hours later. Bear in mind, also, that parking is very difficult in the central areas and that the use of off-street car parks can be quite expensive.
Spain has an excellent network of high quality roads. Their extensive motorways, a great number toll-free, rank fifth in the world by length, and surpass those of many other Western European countries. If you add the fact that Spain has half the population of, say, Germany, you will be entitled to expect light traffic throughout the country except in the vicinity of large cities, like Madrid or Barcelona.
Speed limits and fines
The maximum speed limit on motorways is 120 km/h. There was legislation waiting to be approved to increase it in certain stretches of road to 130 km/h, while decreasing the maximum speed on roads that currently have a limit of 100 Km/h to 90 Km/h. However, at this time (April 2016), faced with opposition to the draft proposals, it was not passed during the last legislature, and during the current deadlock following the non-conclusive General Election of December 2015, it is not expected to come into force for some time, if at all.
The roads are well patrolled by the police, and excesses of speed, or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, as well as other serious driving offences, are punished with large fines and often imprisonment. Speeding on motorways carries a minimum fine of €100 (if caught below 150 Km/h), and a maximum of €600 for would-be racing drivers... Foreign cars must pay fines on the spot to the police officer, either in cash or credit card, against an official receipt.
Drink-drive laws are strictly enforced in Spain: maximum allowed is 0.5 mg/ml, (lower than the UK's 0.8 mg/ml) usually the alcoholic equivalent of ONE SMALL BEER. Besides, the limit for professional drivers and those who have their driving license for less than two years is 0.3mg/ml. The minimum fine is €1000. You may also be detained. Beware!
European Union driving licences are valid in Spain, providing that they are the new type (credit card size), Otherwise, it is recommended that you obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) to carry alongside your home driving licence. The IDP is obligatory for holders of most non-EU driving licenses. Drivers who wear glasses must carry a spare set. Reflective visibility vests are compulsory for each occupant and must be worn in the case of a break-down. Spanish registered vehicles must carry two warning triangles; foreign registered cars only need one, but it is recommended that you take two, just in case the police officer interprets the law differently.
British cars without Euro plates (with GB and 12 stars already included ) must have a GB sticker. Headlight adapters must be fitted on right-hand drive vehicles.
Finally, bear in mind that under new EU legislation fines that have not been paid (for instance, those resulting from speed cameras) are sent to the authorities of the EU country where the vehicle is registered. The driver is not only obliged to pay them but will have the appropriate penalty points added to the licence. The good old days of ignoring speed limits abroad are definitely gone!