Driving in Spain - everything you need to know

  • What are the latest regulations for driving in Spain?
  • Check up before you leave the UK
  • New clean air zones in major cities introduced for 2019

Driving in Spain for business or pleasure? There are some rules and regulations you need to know about – some particular to Spain, and others specific to certain regions. As ever, Parkers has you covered with the best advice.

From knowing the blood alcohol levels, to how many warning triangles you need to carry in your car, remember that driving in Spain isn’t as straightforward as just popping to Tesco in your old reliable runaround.

New environmental regulations introduced in November 2018 mean that if you want to enter large cities that are covered by Zero Emissions Zone ruling will need to display stickers, similar to those needed for driving in Paris.

Driving in Spain after Brexit

Depending on the outcome of Brexit, you might need different documentation to before: you’ll probably need an Insurance Green Card and an International Driving Permit. You will also need at least six months on your passport. 

Stay up to date with how Brexit might affect foreign driving by checking the latest government advice on driving in the EU after Brexit.  

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Speed limits in Spain

In built-up areas, speed is limited to 50 km/h, except when signs indicate a lower limit.

On motorways and dual-carriageways in built-up areas, speed is limited to 80 km/h except where indicated by signs.

In residential zones, which are indicated as such, the maximum speed limit is 20 km/h.

Outside built-up areas, the following limits apply, except when signs indicate a lower limit:
Motorways and Dual Carriageways: 120km/h
Roads with more than one lane in each direction: 100km/h 
Ordinary roads: 90km/h

Latest regulations for driving in Spain 

  • Updated emissions regulations regarding driving in Madrid require compliance stickers. The easiest rule of thumb is just don’t take your car into the capital, especially as there are no provisions to sell these stickers to overseas-registered cars. For more information, scroll down.
  • You cannot drive a car or ride a motorbike until the age of 18 in Spain, even if your own driving licence qualifies you at home.
  • Alcohol limits: The general limit for drivers of private vehicles and cyclists is 0.5g per litre. For drivers of commercial vehicles, and those with less than two years’ experience, the limit is 0.3g per litre. Both are lower than the UK limit of 0.8g per litre. After a traffic accident, all road users have to undergo a breath test.
  • Talking on your mobile phone is banned, as is using an earpiece, but you can use a completely hands-free kit.
  • Speed camera detection devices are banned

Test your knowledge – take our Driving Abroad Quiz!

In case of emergency while driving in Spain 

In the event of an accident you should call 112 and in case of assault or criminal offence on the road, it may be reported in English by calling the police on 902 102 112. 

What to carry with you while driving in Spain

Warning triangle used for driving in Spain

  • Full, valid driving licence
  • Proof of insurance
  • Proof of ID
  • Proof of ownership (original V5C document, not a photocopy)
  • Reflective jackets – it’s not compulsory to carry them, but you must wear one if you have an accident and leave your car
  • Two red warning triangles
  • Spare wheel
  • Headlamp beam deflectors
  • A GB sticker, or EU number plate
  • Safety helmets for motorcyclists and their passengers
  • Spare pair of glasses if you use them for driving

Driving on the right in Spain

Driving in Spain

Be confident, keep up with the traffic flow, and remain alert to making manoeuvres the opposite way around to usual.

Pay particular attention when overtaking, which will be on the left, especially on single carriageway roads where it might prove difficult to see around a slow-moving truck in your right-hand drive car. A front-seat passenger might be able to assist, but remember responsibility always remains with the driver.

Roundabouts can prove tricky the first few times you encounter them but before long it feels second nature. Remember to give way to traffic already on the roundabout.

Pollution restrictions in Madrid and Barcelona

When air pollution levels are high, there might be temporary restrictions on car usage in the city. When in force, only cars with a number plate ending in an even number are allowed to circulate on even dates, and cars with number plates ending in an odd number on odd dates.

Madrid exclusions

The easiest thing to do is just don’t take your car inside Madrid’s M30 inner ring road. Only Spanish vehicles displaying the ‘Madrid Central ZEZ‘ stickers will be allowed in. There will also be parking bans for vehicles with the B and C badges. Restrictions apply within the city boundaries (within the M30) between 6.30am and 9.00pm. For more information you can follow Madrid Town Hall on Facebook and Twitter.

Barcelona has a progressive low emissions zone scheme, plus congestion and emissions based emergency restrictions in place until December 2018, both of which require qualifying vehicles to be identified with a sticker. Stickers can be bought at Spanish post offices, listed here.

Barcelona exclusions

Barcelona city restrictions limit petrol cars registered before 2000, diesel cars registered before 2006, and vans registered before 1994 to the hours of 20:00 – 07:00 during periods of high pollution on weekdays. From 2019, Greater Barcelona will restrict cars registered before 1997.

Towing in Spain

If your camper van exceeds 12m in length, of if your car and caravan/trailer combination exceeds 12m, there must be one or two reflectors (either one long reflector, about 130x25cm, or two shorter 50×25 cm reflectors), yellow with red borders, at the rear of the camper van or caravan/trailer.

Penalties and on-the-spot fines in Spain

Driving in Spain in a SEAT Ateca

Police can issue on-the-spot fines, and as a visitor you must pay your fine immediately, unless you can nominate someone in Spain to pay the fine for you.

Cross-Border Enforcement means if you commit a speeding offence in Spain, or a number of EU countries, your licence details are available to the authorities in the country the offence was committed. So don’t assume that because you’re abroad, the authorities can’t access your details and chase you for a fine.

Hiring a car in Spain

When you’re considering hiring a car in Spain, be sure to do your research to get the best value possible. For example, you may find that choosing an off-airport company offers much lower hire rates than one situated on-site, so it could prove cheaper to travel there and hire a car.

Furthermore, watch out for insurance premiums that allow a damage waiver to be paid. These often have many exclusions written in the smallprint meaning you won’t be covered for damage to wheels, tyres, interior trim or windows. This makes them far worse value. Parkers recommends buying a third party – and often significantly cheaper – policy.

You may find the SEAT Alhambra one of the best seven-seater cars to hire in Spain

In Spain it’s normal for car hire firms to charge a full-to-empty charge for fuel, meaning you collect the car with a full tank and can return with nothing in it. If you give the car back with some fuel left, very often they’ll refund you the value of said fuel, but with an admin charge applied.

Do you need to add a seond driver to your policy? If so, this can significantly increase the cost of your booking. Some companies in Spain charge over £10 per driver per day for this alone.

And as ever when hiring a car, be sure to take a full set of pictures of the vehicle when you collect it to avoid any nasty surprises when you return it. The rental companies will go over the car with a finetooth comb, so ensure you do all you can.

Take our Driving Abroad Quiz!

How much do you think you know about driving in Europe? Take our fun quiz to find out!

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