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La seguridad vial no es sólo una preocupación importante , pero de hecho, una preocupación que requiere la atención inmediata de las Naciones de todo el mundo
The Spanish drive on the right-hand side of the road (when not driving in the middle). It saves confusion if you do likewise! If you aren’t used to driving on the right, take it easy until you’re accustomed to it. Be particularly alert when leaving lay-bys, T-junctions, one-way streets and petrol stations, as it’s easy to lapse into driving on the left. It’s helpful to have a reminder (e.g. a luminous sign saying ‘Keep right!’) on your car’s dashboard.
When driving outside Spain, you must affix the nationality letter ( nacionalidad) ‘E’ ( España) to the rear of a Spanish-registered car unless it has a number plate that incorporates one. Drivers of foreign-registered cars in Spain must have the appropriate nationality plate affixed to the rear of their cars; you can be fined on the spot for not displaying it.
All cars must carry a reflective waistcoat (to be worn if you stop at the side of the road), two approved red warning triangles (to be placed around 10m in front of and behind the vehicle – or both behind on a dual-carriageway – if you must stop at the side of the road), a full set of spare bulbs and fuses, a spare wheel and the tools for changing a wheel. If you don’t have the above when your car undergoes its ITV inspection (see page 248), it will fail. It’s also advisable (but not mandatory) to carry a fire extinguisher and a first-aid kit.
In towns, you may be faced with a bewildering array of signs, traffic lights, road markings, etc. If you’re ever in doubt about who has priority, give way to emergency (ambulance, fire, police) and public utility (electricity, gas, telephone, water) vehicles attending an emergency, trams, buses and all traffic coming from your RIGHT.
Most main roads are designated priority roads ( prioridad de paso). All secondary roads have a stop sign or a give-way sign, the latter often with the words ceda el paso (give way) beneath it. An obligation to give way may also be indicated by a triangle painted on the road. When roads have equal status and no priority is indicated, traffic coming from the right has priority. The priority to the right rule usually also applies in car parks, but never when exiting from car parks or dirt tracks. Failure to observe the priority-to-the-right rule is the cause of many accidents.
Traffic flows anti-clockwise round roundabouts (traffic circles) and not clockwise, as in the UK and other countries where driving is on the left. When approaching a roundabout, you must give way to traffic on the roundabout (coming from your left). There’s usually a give-way sign (which may be painted on the road) on all roads approaching the roundabout. Bear in mind that what appears to be a roundabout isn’t always one, so check for ‘give way’ or ‘stop’ signs.
The wearing of seat belts is compulsory on all roads at all times and includes passengers in rear seats when seat belts are fitted (rear seat belts have been compulsory in new vehicles in Spain since 1st July 1994). Children aged under 12 or less than 150cm (5ft) tall must travel in the back seats of cars unless the front seat is fitted with an approved child seat. Failure to wear a seat belt can result in a loss of three points from your licence and an on-the-spot fine of €90, and subsequent offences may mean increased fines or even the loss of your licence. If you have an accident and aren’t wearing your seat belt, your insurance company can refuse to pay a claim for personal injury.
Don’t drive in bus, taxi or cycle lanes, identified by a continuous yellow line parallel to the kerb, unless necessary to avoid a stationary vehicle or an obstruction (you can lose three points and be fined for doing so). Be sure to keep clear of tram lines – i.e. outside the restricted area, marked by a line.
For left-hand turns off a main road with traffic lights, there’s often a marked filter lane to the right, where you wait to cross the main road at right angles.
The use of horns is forbidden at night in towns, when lights should be flashed to warn other motorists or pedestrians of your presence – and not for any other reason (Spanish drivers sometimes warn other motorists of police radar traps and road blocks by flashing their headlights, although this is illegal). In towns, horns should be used during the day only in emergencies. If you use a horn ‘unnecessarily’, e.g. to wake the driver in front when the traffic lights change to green, you can be fined up to €60, but judging by the noise of car horns on Spanish streets this penalty is rarely applied!
Headlamps must be used when driving at night, in poor visibility during daylight and in tunnels at any time (you’re reminded by a sign). Be extremely careful when driving in tunnels, some of which have very poor (or no) lighting. Your headlamps must be dipped ( luces de cruce) at night when following a vehicle or when a vehicle is approaching from the opposite direction. Failure to dip your lights can result in a fine.
A vehicle’s hazard warning lights must be used to warn other drivers of an obstruction, e.g. an accident or a traffic jam, or if the vehicle is forced to drive at below the minimum speed. Warning triangles and reflective waistcoats must be used as appropriate (see above).
Most traffic lights are situated on posts at the side of the road, although they may also be suspended above the road. The sequence of Spanish traffic lights ( semáforos) is usually red, green, amber (yellow), red. Amber means stop at the stop line; you may proceed only if stopping may cause an accident. (Take care before stopping at an amber light when a vehicle is close behind you, as Spanish drivers routinely drive through amber – and even red – lights and may be taken by surprise if you stop!)
Flashing amber lights at the side of the road usually indicate that you’re approaching traffic lights or a built-up area with a restricted speed limit (e.g. 50kph/30mph). At the entrance to many towns, there are flashing amber traffic lights designed to slow traffic; double flashing amber lights mounted vertically are simply a warning to slow down, although some have a light mounted above them that changes to red if you approach them too fast, e.g. at more than 50kph. This would be an excellent (if irritating) way of slowing down traffic, except for the fact that many Spanish drivers are impervious to red lights and simply ignore them. You shouldn’t follow their example, however, as you risk a loss of four points from your licence as well as a heavy fine (e.g. from €90 to €600).
An amber or green filter light, usually flashing and with a direction arrow, may be shown in addition to the main signal. This means that you may drive in the direction shown by the arrow, but must give priority to pedestrians or other traffic. In towns, individual lanes sometimes have their own traffic lights showing a green arrow (indicating that you may use that lane) or a red cross (indicating ‘no entry’). Flashing amber lights are a warning to proceed with caution and may indicate that you must give way to pedestrians.
You occasionally see a flashing red light, meaning stop or no entry, e.g. at a railway level crossing. Two red lights mounted vertically one above the other indicate ‘no entry’.
Take care when approaching a railway crossing, indicated by a sign with a large ‘X’ or an engine in a triangle. You must take particular care at crossings without barriers, as several people are killed every year by trains at crossings without barriers. Approach a railway level crossing slowly and stop as soon as the barrier or half-barrier starts to fall, as soon as the red warning lights are illuminated or flashing or a warning bell rings, or when a train is approaching! Your new car may be built ‘like a tank’, but there won’t be much left of it (or you) if it collides with a speeding train.
White lines are used for traffic lanes. A solid single line or two solid lines means no overtaking ( adelantar) in either direction. A solid line to the right of the centre line, i.e. on your side of the road, means that overtaking is prohibited in your direction. You may overtake only when there’s a single broken line in the middle of the road or double lines with a broken line on your side of the road. No overtaking is also shown by the international sign of two cars side by side (one red and one black). Overtaking is prohibited within 100m of a blind hill and on all roads where visibility is less than 200m. It’s illegal to overtake on an inside lane on a multi-lane road unless traffic is being channelled in a different direction.
When overtaking, you must indicate before you pull out and again when returning to your lane. Drivers of trucks, buses and other commercial vehicles often flash their right indicator when it’s safe to overtake, but they could simply be about to make a right turn! The left indicator means ‘don’t overtake’. Always check your rear view and wing mirrors carefully before overtaking, as Spanish motorists seem to appear from nowhere and zoom past at a ‘zillion’ miles an hour, especially on country roads. If you drive a right-hand drive car, take extra care when overtaking (it’s advisable to have an overtaking mirror fitted). You’re forbidden to overtake a stationary tram when passengers are boarding or alighting. Illegal overtaking can result in a fine of at least €300 and the loss of four licence points or even a suspended licence.
A rule introduced in 2002 requires you to leave at least enough space for another car between you and the car in front. If you don’t, you may lose three licence points.
Be particularly wary of mopeds ( ciclomotor) and bicycles. It isn’t always easy to see them, particularly when they’re hidden by the blind spots of a car or are riding at night without lights. Many young Spanish moped riders seem to have a death wish and tragically many lose their lives each year. They’re constantly pulling out into traffic or turning without looking or signalling. Follow the example set by Spanish motorists, who, when overtaking mopeds and cyclists, always give them a WIDE berth . If you knock them off their bikes, you may have a difficult time convincing the police that it wasn’t your fault; far better to avoid them (and the police). It’s also common to encounter tractors, horses, donkeys and sheep in rural areas. Keep an eye out for them and give them a wide berth too.
In tunnels and underpasses, vehicles must use dipped headlights and follow any instructions on information panels or loudspeakers. If you must stop, turn off the engine, switch on your hazard lights and place your warning triangles in front of and behind the car. Unless there’s a fire, you shouldn’t leave your car. Overtaking is prohibited in tunnels unless there are two lanes, and you should keep a minimum distance of 100m or four seconds between you and the vehicle in front.
Three-point turns and reversing into side streets is forbidden in towns. U-turns can be made on main roads where signposted.
Studded tyres and snow chains may be used in winter in mountainous areas. Snow chains are compulsory on some roads in winter, indicated by a sign.
Cars mustn’t take more people than they have seats for and it’s a serious offence to grossly overload a car. You can lose four points and be fined €300 or more and the police may impound your car. Cars also mustn’t be overloaded with luggage, particularly on roof racks, and the luggage weight shouldn’t exceed that recommended in manufacturers’ handbooks. Loads on the back of a vehicle (e.g. bicycles) may only protrude by up to 10 per cent of the vehicle’s length and must display the appropriate sign (white rectangle with diagonal red stripes).
Drivers towing ( con remolque) a caravan or trailer must display a sign of a yellow triangle on a blue background on the front of their vehicle. Note that towing a broken-down vehicle is permitted only for a tow truck.
A dog must be restrained in a car.
The use of hand-held telephones and the wearing of audio headphones is illegal when driving, and you can be fined up to €300 and lose three points from your licence. ‘Hands-free’ sets are allowed, although they must be without earphones.
When filling up with petrol, you must turn off the engine, all lights, electrical equipment (including the radio) and your mobile phone.
All motorists in Spain must be familiar with the Spanish highway code ( Código de la Circulación), available from bookshops throughout Spain.