Driving in Spain is generally a pleasant experience. Road conditions are good, gasoline is relatively cheap, and Spain boasts of one of the most extensive highway networks in the world. However, there are a few things you should be aware of when driving in Spain.
Starting in the 1980s, Spain began to invest a huge amount of money in its infrastructure and in the growth of its road networks. New roads and bypasses were built, existing roads were widened, lanes added for heavy traffic, and signs and road markings improved. The road-building program (and provision of parking spaces) has, however, failed to keep pace with the increasing number of cars in some areas.
Driving long distances is usually cheaper than using public transport, particularly when the costs are shared between a number of people and you avoid the high tolls on motorways. In any case, unless you’re travelling between major cities, you will have little choice but to drive, as public transport can be quite poor in rural areas.
Driving can be enjoyable in rural areas, particularly outside the tourist season, when it’s possible to drive for miles without seeing another motorist (or a caravan). If you live in a city, particularly Madrid or Barcelona (where public transport services are excellent), driving is to be avoided if at all possible. A recent nationwide survey found that on an average working day it takes eight minutes to travel one kilometre in a large city. Some cities, such as Madrid, have restricted traffic from entering the city’s historical centre in an effort to reduce pollution.
Beware of rush hour
As a result of the siesta, Spain has four rush hours (horas puntas): 8 to 9.30am, 12.30 to 2.30pm, 3.30 to 5pm and 6.30 to 8.30pm; the quietest period is usually between 3 and 5pm. Traffic jams (atascos) are particularly bad in cities such as Madrid and Barcelona, where the rush ‘hour’ lasts all day.
Jams are also common on coastal roads and in resort towns during summer and on roads heading south out of Madrid and Barcelona, particularly at the start and end of holiday periods, when some 12 million Spaniards and foreigners take to the roads.
Safety on the road
Spain has come a long way as far as road safety. The country, who used to have the worst accident record in the European Union, now has less fatalities than the EU average. This is because the government, in the past decade, has made reducing the number of car accident victims one of its top priorities. To this end, a licence points system was introduced, stricter laws were implemented, and police vigilance on the roads was increased.
This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain.