Essential Guide to Driving in Spain for UK Drivers: A Comprehensive Overview

Embarking on a driving adventure in Spain can be exhilarating, especially in picturesque locales like Torrevieja. However, it’s crucial for UK drivers to understand the differences in driving laws between Spain and their home country. From the side of the road you drive on to unique roundabout rules, this guide covers everything you need to know to make your Spanish driving experience safe and enjoyable. We start with the most fundamental aspect: the driving side.

Understanding the Basics: Driving Side

One of the most significant adjustments for UK drivers in Spain is the driving side. In Spain, like most of Europe, driving is on the right-hand side, opposite to the UK’s left-hand driving. This switch can be initially challenging, particularly at intersections, roundabouts, and overtaking. If you’re renting a car, choosing a familiar model can ease this transition. In this context, understanding the layout of roads and junctions in Spain, along with practising in quieter areas before hitting busy streets, can be immensely helpful.

Navigating Roundabouts in Spain

Roundabouts can be particularly tricky. Unlike the UK, where drivers give way to traffic from the right, in Spain, the rule is that the vehicle already on the roundabout has priority. This can be confusing at first but paying attention to road markings and signs at each roundabout is key. It’s also important to note that in multi-lane roundabouts, you may need to switch lanes within the roundabout to exit, so staying alert and signaling your intentions early is vital.

Identification Requirements for Drivers

In Spain, both driver and passengers are required to carry identification at all times, along with a driving license. This is a stricter requirement than in the UK and non-compliance can result in fines. It’s a good practice to keep your passport and driving license within easy reach but secure while driving.

Alcohol Limits: A Stricter Approach

Spain has more stringent regulations regarding alcohol consumption for drivers compared to the UK. The limit in Spain is 0.5 grams per litre, lower than the UK’s limit of 0.8 grams per litre. For new and professional drivers, the limit is further reduced to 0.3 grams per litre. These limits are strictly enforced, and the penalties for infringement can be severe, including heavy fines and loss of driving privileges.

Child Safety on Spanish Roads

Spain also has specific laws regarding child safety in vehicles. Children under 12 years old and less than 135 cm tall must use an appropriate child restraint system and are not allowed to sit in the front seat unless all back seats are occupied by younger children. This regulation is more specific compared to the UK and is designed to ensure the utmost safety for young passengers.

Speed Limits and Their Enforcement

Understanding and adhering to speed limits in Spain is critical. Speed limits in Spain may change more frequently than in the UK, especially in residential areas, which often have a 20 km/h limit. Speed cameras and traffic patrols are commonly used for enforcement, and fines for speeding can be hefty. Being vigilant about speed limit signs and using a GPS system that indicates speed limits can be very helpful.

The Use of Horn and Lights

The norms for using horn and lights in Spain differ from those in the UK. In Spain, flashing headlights are usually a warning or a sign of annoyance, rather than an invitation to proceed. The horn is restricted in urban areas and is meant for emergencies only. Misuse of these signals can lead to misunderstandings or even fines, so it’s advisable to use them sparingly and only as intended.

Unique Parking Rules

Some Spanish cities, including parts of Torrevieja, have unique parking rules where you must park on the side of the street with odd house numbers on odd days of the month, and even numbers on even days. This rule, aimed at facilitating street cleaning and maintenance, is quite different from the more consistent regulations in the UK and requires attention to avoid penalties.

Adapting to Traffic Signals and Signage

Navigating the roads in Spain requires an understanding of local traffic signals and signage, which may differ from those in the UK. Spanish traffic signs follow the standard European format, which can be unfamiliar to UK drivers. For instance, a stop sign in Spain requires a complete halt at the line, much like in the UK, but the yield signs and rules might differ slightly. Paying close attention to these signs is crucial, especially at intersections and pedestrian crossings. Also, be aware of the blue signs indicating ‘recommended’ speed limits, which are advisory and different from the mandatory speed limits shown on white signs.

Emergency Protocols on Spanish Roads

In case of a breakdown or emergency, knowing the protocol on Spanish roads is essential. You are required to wear a high-visibility vest if you exit the car on the road or the hard shoulder, a rule that is strictly enforced. Place the reflective warning triangles to alert other drivers — one in front of and one behind your vehicle, at a distance as per the legal requirements. Familiarizing yourself with these practices can enhance safety in emergency situations.

Tolls and Motorway Driving in Spain

Many motorways (autopistas) in Spain are toll roads. Tolls can be paid in cash or card at toll booths, or via electronic systems for frequent users. The cost varies depending on the length of your journey and the type of vehicle. Driving on these roads offers a swift and more relaxed journey compared to the free roads (autovias), which might have more traffic and slower speed limits. Planning your route in advance and being prepared for toll fees is advisable, especially on long journeys.

Parking Etiquette and Regulations

Parking in Spanish cities can be challenging. In addition to the odd/even street side parking rule, there are various parking zones, each with its own regulations. Blue zones usually require payment during designated hours, and each city may have its parking meter system. Green zones are often reserved for resident parking. Always check the signs for payment instructions and time limits to avoid fines. In many tourist areas, like Torrevieja, public parking spaces fill up quickly, so consider using monitored parking lots or garages for convenience and safety.

Exploring Spanish Scenic Routes and Rural Driving

Driving in rural Spain offers an opportunity to explore the country’s breathtaking landscapes. However, rural roads can be narrow and winding, often with limited visibility around bends. Caution is advised, especially in mountainous areas. Watch out for cyclists and farm animals, common sights in these parts. Scenic routes are well worth exploring, but they require careful driving and a bit more patience.

Cultural Nuances and Local Driving Habits

Understanding local driving habits and cultural nuances is key to a seamless driving experience in Spain. Spanish drivers are known for being expressive and passionate, which can sometimes translate to assertive driving styles. Adaptability and patience are essential, especially in busy urban centres or during popular holiday seasons when roads can be particularly congested.

Final Words of Advice for UK Drivers in Spain

Driving in Spain as a UK driver can be a fulfilling experience, offering a new perspective on this diverse and beautiful country. By respecting local laws, adapting to cultural driving norms, and staying alert to the unique aspects of Spanish roadways, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable journey. Whether you’re visiting the historical cities, coastal regions like Torrevieja, or the scenic countryside, the roadways of Spain offer an adventure worth exploring.

For detailed information on vehicle options suitable for your travel needs in Spain, consider exploring our Vehicle Selection. Should you have any further questions or need assistance, our Customer Support is always ready to help.

Remember, each journey is an opportunity to create lasting memories, and Spain, with its rich landscapes and vibrant culture, provides the perfect backdrop for an unforgettable driving experience.


Understanding these key differences in driving laws is essential for UK drivers in Spain. It’s not just about legal compliance; it’s about embracing the driving culture of Spain, ensuring safety, and enjoying the journey. Whether you’re cruising the coastal roads of Torrevieja or navigating the bustling streets of Alicante, being aware of these nuances will enrich your driving experience in this beautiful country.

For more information on driving in Spain and car rental options, visit our Car Rental Page. If you have any queries or need assistance, feel free to Contact Us. Remember, driving in Spain can be a delightful experience with the right knowledge and preparation.

Useful Links

  1. Dirección General de Tráfico (DGT) – Spain’s Traffic Department:
    • Website:
    • Description: This is the official website of Spain’s Traffic Department. It provides comprehensive information on driving regulations, traffic updates, and important notices for drivers in Spain. It’s a crucial resource for understanding local driving laws, speed limits, and safety regulations.
  2. UK Government – Driving Abroad:
    • Website:
    • Description: The UK government’s official portal offers detailed guidance for UK residents driving abroad, including in Spain. This resource is particularly useful for understanding the legal requirements and preparations needed for UK drivers before they travel to Spain.
  3. Royal Automobile Club of Spain (RACE):
    • Website:
    • Description: The RACE is a leading automobile club in Spain that provides a range of services, including roadside assistance, traffic information, and driving tips in Spain. Their website is a valuable resource for understanding local driving customs, road safety tips, and getting assistance while on Spanish roads.
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