This is a general introduction that I wrote several years ago. It is still pretty accurate. The posts that follow it will simply be refinements or illustrations of the basics . . .
The two fundamental rules to keep in mind when driving in Spain are:-
1. In contrast to everything else in the country, the activity of driving must be carried out as fast as is humanly and mechanically possible, and
2. When you are in a car, you own the pieces of road you are on and about to drive onto. When on a motorway, this can apply to the entire lane. Others must be treated as if they have no right to be there. Which, of course, they don’t.
If you keep these two rules in mind, you will do well. And may even survive. Here are some pointers on the way to approach specific obstacles in the way of your driving enjoyment:-
If there is no one actually on the crossing, drive across it as quickly as you can. If there are people thinking of crossing, this puts them in their place. If there is someone already in the middle of your side of the crossing, quickly decide between your two options of swerving around them or braking to a sudden halt and then staring at them ferociously. If there is someone in the middle of the other side of the crossing, completely ignore them and, again, drive across at intimidating speed. With luck, they will remember you the next time and stay out of your way.
Generally speaking, you should stop if the light is red, as there may well be pedestrians crossing the road under the illusion that their green light means it’s safe for them to do so. As you sit in your car, keep your eye on the pedestrian light and, as soon as it turns red, place your hand just above your horn. Then, when your light turns green, instantaneously press the horn to tell the car in front of you that it’s time to go. Of course, if you are the first car in the line, you don’t need to do this and you can do whatever you like until your colleagues advise you of the change in the lights.
It is illegal but essential to use these while driving. The standard procedure is to keep your right hand on the steering wheel, take your phone in your left hand and then cross your hand over your chest and put the phone to your right ear. This maximises the risk, which is one of the main aims of driving in Spain.
These are places where you can test all the permutations of your indicators. Don’t worry about confusing other drivers when you do this. No-one will take any notice of your signals anyway. In practice, the preferred option is no signal at all.
These, as the name suggests, are streets in which you can only drive one way. But you are free do this in either direction.
These are painted down the kerbs of some streets. In some of these you will be towed away if you park. In others you won’t. It’s your call. Or, rather, it isn’t.
The use of these is optional. The only time it is obligatory to use them is when you have overtaken someone on a motorway and the only real option you have is to pull back in front of them. Use of the indicator is then nicely pointless. Which justifies it.
One special use of your right indicator is to tell other drivers that you want to pass them, even when they are in the process of overtaking another vehicle with the barrier on their left and so have nowhere to go. In these circumstances - and regardless of speed - you should drive within a metre of the vehicle in front of you and, if the indicator gambit doesn’t work, also flash your lights. A nice final touch is then to blow your horn and make a hand gesture as you pass the car that has had the effrontery to briefly occupy your lane. As a last resort – and to show who is boss – you can cut in front of them and deliberately slow down. This negates the objective you originally had of driving very fast but, occasionally, other things are more important.
If you wish to drive at speeds significantly above the motorway limit of 120kph, then the thing to do is to stay in the overtaking lane and keep your right indicator on permanently. This tells the drivers of inferior cars that you are the only one with the right to use this lane. It is permissible to do this even if you have an old car with a 1.1 litre engine and you are driving at 180kph. Spain is a very egalitarian country and stupidity is denied to no one.
This is a concept which is unknown in Spain. As are ‘Thinking Ahead’, ‘Gestures of Appreciation’ and ‘Consideration for Others’. These all bow down to what the Spanish call individualismo. Or what the rest of us call ‘selfishness’.
Spain’s excellent motorways give you the opportunity to test the maximum speed of your car and to check whether the car’s built-in speed regulators actually work. At all times remember to treat the speed signs you see as advisory, at best, or as minima, at worst.
In Spain, only cissies think about their exit before they are a hundred metres or so away from it. At this point – or, preferably, even later - you should swerve in front of the traffic on the inside lane and screech into the exit road, narrowly avoiding the barrier on the inevitable curve.
This approach to exits naturally leads to some spectacular cut-ins and, if you are not planning to leave at any upcoming exit, you should prepare for it by placing your foot just above the brake pedal and leaving it there until you have gone past the exit. With luck, no one will actually go past you and then start to reverse in your lane.
By some stroke of Spanish planning genius, some exit lanes cut across access lanes to the motorway you are trying to leave. This gives you plenty of opportunity to show who is boss.
If you are approached by a car which is flashing its lights, this usually means that there is a radar trap ahead of you. It is your duty to do the same thing when emerging from the other side of the trap. It is illegal.
The purpose of these is to scratch the bumpers of cars which get in your way when you are entering and leaving a parking space.
These are formed by white lines on the road. It is considered clever to straddle your car over one of these lines, thus denying the adjacent space to another car. This is a particular feature of towns where parking is difficult and where maximum irritation can be caused by your lack of consideration for others.
Since the purpose of having children is to indulge them so that they grow up to be ‘individualists’, they must on no account be constrained in the car. If they are in the back, they should be allowed - persuaded even - to stand between the two front seats so that they can go straight through the window in the event of a crash. This is much better for the driver and passenger than being hit by a missile in the back of the head. If the children are in the front, they can sit or stand on the passenger’s lap – leaning of the dashboard, if the mood takes them. If the car has automatic drive than, obviously, they should be encouraged to stand on the section between the driver and the passenger.
Since ‘free-range’ children are at risk of hurtling forward in the event of any sudden breaking, the passenger must act as a sort of ‘outrider’ who warns the driver not to give in to any tendency to stop for pedestrians on a zebra crossing. In Spain, even friends are vastly more important than strangers so there is absolutely no question as to who has priority if your own children are involved. Complications may arise if it is one of your close relatives on the zebra crossing. The general rule is - If in doubt, kill the person furthest away from the steering wheel.
Motorbikes, Scooters, Mopeds and the like
If and when you buy one of these, ask the dealer to remove the engine cowl and then to disable the silencer. This will not make your bike or whatever go any faster but it will allow you to make a significant personal contribution to ensuring that Spain stays the noisiest country in Europe.
Don’t forget that you must wear a crash helmet at all times, though it is permissible to vitiate its use by leaving the chin strap undone. You are also obliged to buy insurance and have your vehicle tested from time to time. But don’t get too exercised about this as the police in Spain are as pragmatic as everyone else and usually give plenty of notice in the press of when they are going to set up ‘surprise’ roadblocks.
Finally, please note that no other driving restrictions apply to two-wheeled vehicles, especially traffic lights and lines down the middle of the road.
It goes without saying that surplus children on these vehicles should be positioned on the fuel tank, in front of the driver. This may impede control but is good for balance.
This is called doble fila in Spain. It is both illegal and inconsiderate, so therefore very common. If you want to try to give the impression that you feel bad about blocking somebody’s exit from a legitimate parking space, then put your hazard lights on. However, the only person you will be fooling with this mock display of concern will be yourself.
When you have double parked, keep your ears open for the sound of a continuous car horn. This tells you that the owner of the blocked car or garage has returned. Finish your coffee or your shopping and then run out into the street, offering profuse apologies that you expect no one to take seriously.