June 11, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Madrid, Trips to the US

I’ve been driving in Spain for a few years now and still marvel at the free for all that is the Spanish open road. There are many different rules of the road in this foreign home of mine, but I think the most consistently different one is that the rules very rarely apply.

Red lights, no parking zones, double parking, bumping into people’s cars, and cutting other drivers off are all reasonable methods of driving on a daily basis. Traffic signals in Spain are recommendations rather than rules – people regularly ignore them. Park where you want for the most part, especially on Sunday when the parking ticket people don’t work – that’s a particularly fantastic park-wherever-the-heck-you-want day. If you scrape up against someone’s car, no big deal – all the cars are full of dents and dings, so much so actually that regular car insurance usually covers you to have your car fixed once a year. Do you need to get into another lane? Skip the blinker and just start inching (centimeter-ing???) your way into the other person’s lane – it doesn’t matter how close you come to them, they’ll make room.

It’s actually kind of liberating. When I park my car, I don’t worry about tapping (eh hemm – banging into) the other car (these days, I typically use sound and feel to park rather than vision). Or if I park slightly over a driveway entrance, crosswalk, or otherwise I don’t have to live in fear that the DPT (the parking ticket people in SF) will come after me. If I cut someone off, I don’t feel bad (OK, maybe I do just a little). Or when I’m in the heart of Madrid and need to wait for someone or something, I love that I can just pull over in a massively busy rotunda and sit there in my car for hours while watching police drive by and not even give me a second look.

On the other hand, when you’re driving down a one-lane street and a car decides to just stop, throw on the blinkers and leave for awhile, you then don’t find it so amusing. For the most part though, I think the Spaniards are pretty good drivers. It’s disorganized, but people know more or less what they are doing and can zip around pretty well. Strangely enough, there is one rule that they do follow steadfastly – the rule of stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks. Even the craziest driver will slam on their brakes if a person is waiting to cross. I suppose since us Americans pretty much walk nowhere, we’re not so acquainted with the concept of people using their legs to navigate streets in order to get to places (in our defense though, we don’t have bakeries and cafes on every street corner like they do in Spain!).

I’m reminded especially of these peculiar differences in the ways of the road because I’ve actually just arrived back in the States for two weeks. First of all, I find myself speaking to everyone in Spanish because I’m incapable of flipping my English/Spanish switch. And then, I find it equally as difficult when driving to remember that yes, I can indeed turn right on a red light, and no, I can’t bang into other cars, and yes the speedometer in my car is in MPH not KPH therefore driving 120 is a really bad and very illegal idea.

So, for all our sake, here’s hoping that flipping my driving switch will be easier than flipping my language switch.


5 Responses to “Traffic laws in Spain: an interesting concept”

  1. JC Says:

    Tortuga, grab a taxi in Lisbon or Cairo and then you will think that we spaniards are amazing smooth and organized drivers! :o)

  2. Status Viatoris Says:

    I remember the first time I saw someone using the bumper method of parking in Spain (ie rolling backwards and hitting the car behind, driving forward and hitting the car in front, and repeat)! Priceless. Needless to say after eight years in the country, I drive in pretty much the same way now, which stands me in good stead for Italy!

  3. Rea Says:

    I always warn people that their first moments in Spain can be quite a shock. First a bunch of strangers kiss you. Then, the stuff you in the back of a very small vehicle and drive like bats out of hell to your destination. After my intial iniciation on the receiving end, I too am enjoying dishing it out.


  4. Erin Says:

    The worst part about the custom of kissing is when you go back to your respective country and accidentally start double kissing everyone you encounter…..yeah, I had a lot of awkward moments during my last couple of weeks in the US :). I’ll be following your blog Rea – little Yago is a such a cutie!

  5. nicolas Says:

    To the people that want to travel to Spain and especially Andalucía I give you a good tip. There is a great hostel where you can crash! In the White Nest Hostel in Granada, recently opened, you can find a young international group of like minded people, in fresh vibrant surroundings. You will have a great time to remember your entire life…..Based at the foot of the Alambra, the area is both central and historical.Full of tapas` bars really close and everywhere!!. I recommend you to stay in Hostels Granada and experience the life of Albayzin, Sacromonte and the heart of Granada itself.

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