Driving in Spain - Be prepared!
By Susan Pedalino
Driving in a foreign country is never easy. New roads, unfamiliar landmarks, unknown place names, different signs, and if you're from the UK you'll probably be driving on the other side of the road too.
If you've already driven in Spain then you'll be able to empathise with most of this article. If you haven't yet had the pleasure then this will prepare you!
The roads today in Spain are considerably better than they were just 10 years ago. Many of the infamously dangerous major single carriageways, such as the N340 spanning the Costa del Sol, have been made into decent dual carriageways and some superb toll motorways have been built. You still get the occasional pot-holed "I think I've destroyed my suspension type roads but these are gradually being replaced by new smoother roads.
However, appearances can be deceiving. Having to join a busy dual-carriageway from a standstill is never safe! Yet most of the exits onto the dual-carriageway are like this. Sometimes you'll even find that you are on a bit of a hill, at a stand-still, trying to get onto the road as quickly as possible but which usually ends up in a lot of wheel-spin and a slow crawl onto the motorway as a menacing lorry hurtles towards you at 100 kph. Nerve-racking to say the least! You also usually get the "I don't care what's coming type of driver who decides to pull out onto the road like a snail, risking their own lives as well as everyone else's. The crazy thing is that this type of driving is not really frowned upon, with no resulting road-rage and everyone carries on as normal having just braked so hard to avoid a collision.
Toll roads are great. Okay, they're not free but they are so empty! There is not such thing as "rush hour on the toll roads, you are pretty much guaranteed that you'll arrive at your journey at the time you planned.
What does surprise me about the toll roads is how narrow the hard shoulders are. You can just about park your car on it but you wouldn't want to be anywhere near it after that!
Saying that, generally the roads in Spain seem to suffer very little traffic (it tends to get a lot busier in July and August with all the holidaymakers). When I lived in the UK I used to be stuck in a traffic jam practically every day. Here, on the Costa del Sol, they are really very rare. There are a few bottlenecks, such as getting through San Pedro near Marbella, but these are few and far between.
Like in any country Spain has a mix of slow, "normal and fast drivers. The slow ones tend to drive special cars for which you don't need a licence. These are frighteningly slow as they can't do more than about 50 kph, so even buses and lorries have to overtake them.
The normal drivers tend to have their head in the clouds and not really aware of their surroundings.
Then come the fast drivers who have a driving technique I'd not known before (and which you may soon find yourself adopting). If you're in the outside lane and someone wants to get past you, the first thing they do is sit right on your back bumper"literally. Just millimetres away from you they will then put on their left indicator to tell you that they want to get past (as if you didn't already know this!). They are relentless (and crazy) when it comes to overtaking.
I have to say though, it works, cars just get out of the way, although I wouldn't really recommend this technique.
Most Spanish don't seem to have really grasped the concept of the roundabout yet (a bit like the Americans I suppose). Most do not understand that if you want to go round the roundabout (anti-clockwise) you need to be in the left lane as you approach it. The majority will simply dive unexpectedly from the right lane into the roundabout, cutting up anyone coming along in the left lane. You just don't expect it and I can't understand why they risk everything just to get round a roundabout. Just be careful and watch the car to your right of you may just lose the front of yours.
And forget indicating, most people don't bother.
Cars have right of way. That's the rule. If someone wants to cross a zebra crossing then they just have to wait. I once received some verbal abuse from an old man after I stopped to let him cross the zebra crossing, not realising that I wasn't supposed to stop.
When it rains in Spain the roads actually become quite scary. It doesn't rain often but when it does the heavens truly open and the roads become swimming pools (apart from my beloved toll roads which aren't really affected).
What makes the roads dangerous in these conditions is that the drivers are not used to driving in the wet and don't always compensate for it. The fast drivers will still sit on your backside trying to get past and you still have to pull out from a standstill onto a main road.
Even worse than the rain are damp roads. Even in dry conditions the roads in Spain tend to be quite slippery due to dust. When the roads are damp, combined with the dust, you really do have to take it easy.
Anything Else I Should Know?:
It's not all bad. The fact that it doesn't rain much and that the roads are rarely busy means that driving in Spain can actually be quite enjoyable. There seems to be less road rage than I experienced in the UK and getting around is quite easy once you know where you're going, although you really do have to keep your eyes open.
A word of advice, don't use your mobile phone whilst driving, it's a very big offence here, and don't drink, even though many people do. You can speed past police cars (I don't advise it) and they won't stop you, but if you're on the phone you're in trouble.
So, keep your eyes open, drive defensively and let those fast cars past. It takes a bit of getting used to but to be honest, since moving to Spain I have actually started to enjoy driving again.
About The Author
Susan Pedalino is Masters degree qualified in Intercultural Communication and teaching English as a foreign language. Susan regularly writes for Eye on Spain (www.eyeonspain.com). Having moved to Spain to set up a business and buy property, she has gained invaluable experience in buying off plan property in Spain.