Driving in Spain - Always Expect the Unexpected
By Tony Roberts
Driving in another country can be a breeze if it weren't for the other drivers. When it comes to driving there is only one word to describe how the Spanish drive – Infuriating. Northern Europeans are usually disciplined drivers, they understand that it is a serious business and if you do not pay due care and attention, both people and vehicles can get seriously hurt. Unfortunately, some Spanish drivers still need to grasp this and whilst all the laws are in place, many local drivers constantly ignore them. Don't assume a one way street is just that, always look ahead of you and as for indicators, they are just a novelty to some and still haven't caught on.
Although in the UK laws have been put into place regarding the use of mobile phones whilst driving, they have yet to filter through to many countries in mainland EuropeSpain. The Spanish love talking, and at first, I always thought how wonderful to have such lengthy and obviously interesting conversations. However, the talking carries on into the car and if they are not talking to each other whilst driving, then they have the obligatory mobile phone strapped to their head. Whilst this is going on they are totally unaware of what is going on around them. If it is a casual conversation then they will drive at a reasonable speed, but if it is a more serious conversation then the car will travel at walking pace. It is not uncommon should drivers who know each other and meet whilst travelling in opposite directions to stop their cars and start a conversation. Everybody just patiently waits in the traffic queue until their conversation is concluded. My advice would be, like the Spanish, be patient until the conversation ends.
Parking can also be a problem, pretty much the same as in the UK. Everybody seems to own a car and spaces are at a premium. This can be quite difficult when you live in an apartment block as many of these car owners seem to do! Most apartment blocks have a resident superintendent, a kind of caretaker, who is supposed to look after the property and its residents.
Our particular superintendent liked to park his car immediately outside the entrance to the apartments and he pointed this out to everybody who attempted to park in the vicinity. One Sunday afternoon I watched as the Superintendent tried to park his car in his favourite spot as usual but it was a bit tight. Nevertheless, with a metal tow bar on his car, he reversed his car into the space and used the tow bar to push the other parked car backwards. The other car was mine and I promptly told him he was paying to have the car repaired.
You will notice when travelling in Spain that the bodywork on most cars is damaged with various dents and scratched paintwork, this is because the Spanish have great difficulty parking a car in a confined space. In fact, it is not uncommon to find that most parked cars do not have the handbrake engaged and when you come to park or move your car, you simply get out of your car and roll the offending car away. It comes to rest against the car in front or behind and you have more space to get in or out – marvellous. Should you visit a car park where the parking bays are marked out, for example supermarkets, you'll find most cars ignore the lines – but are still parked straight! This practice alone would cause chaos in Asda or Tesco, but here it is the norm.
Finally, a quick mention about scooters. In Spain the minimum age to ride one is 14 years and although wearing a helmet is compulsory, it is obviously not cool for a fashion conscious teenager. If you are driving it is best to be vigilant and watch out for these motorcyclists. Even though they do not wear the helmet, they carry them instead whilst riding! Should they see a policeman or ride past a police station then the hat is plonked on the head only to be removed immediately when the police officer is out of sight!
Overall, the whole experience of driving in Spain has taught us to be extra careful and adhere to the rules even though the Spaniards might not. Keep an eye out for rogue drivers and be careful where you park your car! There are various rules in place for both foreign and Spanish drivers which we have put together for you along with helpful websites to get more information.
• The most obvious being always drive on the left. This means the Spanish left turn is like the UK right turn, watch out for oncoming traffic.
• Generally, traffic on the right has priority. Normally where a minor road intersects a major road there's a sign reading Stop or Ceda el Paso (give way); if such a sign is not in place, the traffic on the major road still has priority.
• Documentation required to drive in Spain is as follows: always carry your driving licence, vehicle registration document (V5), and certificate of motor insurance. If your licence does not incorporate a photograph ensure you carry your passport to validate the licence. If the vehicle is not registered in your name, carry a letter from the registered owner giving you permission to drive.
• Don't drink and drive, anything over 0.05 per cent and you could face anything from a severe fine, withdrawal of your licence, up to imprisonment.:
• And speaking of fines: Foreigners must pay fines on the spot unless they can present an address of a Spanish friend or company who will guarantee payment of the fine. If the fine cannot be paid or guaranteed, the vehicle will be impounded and the driver detained until the fine is paid. There's usually a discount of 20 percent for immediate settlement. The police will issue a Boletin de Denuncia which specifies the offence and the amount of the fine. Check carefully that the fine amount noted on the document matches the amount you paid. Follow the English instructions on the back of the document if you want to dispute the charge; you have 15 days to file a written dispute, and you can write your argument in English.
• With regard to fuel, all grades of unleaded petrol (benzin), diesel (gasoleo 'A') and LPG are available as well as lead substitute additive.
• When parking your car be careful. In some cities a blue line on the street indicates resident-only parking; in other cities, check for signs. Don't leave anything of value in a parked vehicle. Parking garages are a safer alternative to the street, but check the price first. Do not park within 5 metres of intersections or entrances to public buildings.
About the Author
Tony Roberts has lived in the southeast of Spain since 2001. He is now an established estate agent in the region of Costa Calida and has written a free e-book "How to Buy a Property in Spain", to receive your copy contact Tony at http://www.pocomed.com
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