Culture,  Preparing

What to Expect from Spanish Drivers

Dear Mario,

Although driving in Spain follows the same obvious patterns as the US (i.e., driving on the right side of the road) there are definitely a few idiosyncrasies of Spanish drivers that are sure to catch your attention once you arrive from abroad. In order to prepare you for some of these surprising differences, I’ve compiled a list of six small but strange things I’ve noticed drivers in Spain doing.

Roundabouts aren't the only thing different about their roads―the drivers have different tendencies too!1.) Parking on the wrong side of the street: At least where I come from in the US, we have rules about parking your car in the direction of traffic. Therefore, all parked cars are facing the same way as they were all parked on the right side. This is not the case in Spain, however, so don’t be surprised if traffic needs to be stopped in both directions in order from someone to get out of their spot.


2.) Parking on the pavement: There also seems to be an unwritten rule that it is okay to pull up onto the sidewalk if you are loading your vehicle, waiting from someone to return, etc. I can’t imagine that this is legal, but I have seen far too many people do it without any problem. Perhaps this is a side-effect of so many entrances to parking garages that need to be accessed by a short ride upon the sidewalk. If there’s not a bollard preventing entry, the sidewalk’s seen as fair-game by most Spanish drivers.


3.) Double-parking: This will forever be the big one that I can’t get over. It just blows my mind how normal it is for Spaniards to ‘pull over’ just about anywhere―a main city street, a blind curve, one-lane side street, you name it. It doesn’t seem to matter that they’re blocking traffic and creating hazardous obstacles. I kid you not, I have had a university professor once explain to me that, as long as someone is using their hazard lights, there is nothing wrong with this procedure! Curious to know the legality of all this, I asked a Spanish friend who recently passed his driver’s exam and he explained to me that paradas, or stops, of less than two minutes, during which the driver does not exit the vehicle ARE permitted, but unfortunately many people take liberties with the rule. I’ve seen people double-park to get out and use an ATM or run into the pharmacy as well as drop passengers off―but then proceed to get out and give dos besos to all four of them!


4.) Running red lights: I know a lot of speedy drivers back in the States who like to cut it close and speed up when given a yellow light, often pushing the envelope as the light turns red mid-intersection. Still, they’ve got nothing on the Spanish drivers who will plow through dead-reds without batting an eye. Of course, this is not true of EVERY Spanish driver (thank God!) but the probability that it will happen is far higher here―take care as a pedestrian, cyclist*, or fellow driver!


5.) Stopping in roundabouts and on highway exit ramps: You read that right, these high-speed and accident-prone parts of the road are actually really common drop-off and pick-up spots for Spaniards. In my experience with carpooling, drivers have stopped in these areas more often than not. So, don’t be surprised if it happens to you as a passenger (my Bla Bla Car driver asked me to meet them where!?) or the unfortunate, unsuspecting driver in the car behind. Be careful!


6.) Disregarding the rules of the road as a motorcyclist or cyclist: This seems to be a common theme worldwide, but I still feel the need to include it. Motorcycle drivers here have a tendency to weave in-and-out of traffic at all times. However, I find it especially frustrating when they do so at red lights, taking the opportunity to get to the very front of the line. I have seriously seen some intersections that have a special section right behind the pedestrian crossing labeled as ‘motos’ so perhaps this practice that drives me crazy is actually legal(!?). However, what is surely not allowed is when motorcyclists and/or bicyclists don’t stop at red lights or tap their breaks and then carry on, but it happens so keep alert!




*On a positive note, Claudia does a lot of biking around the city and she assures me that she has always felt surprisingly safe on the roads. So, while you should keep these behaviors in mind, don’t let them dissuade you from doing your thing!



    The motorcycles are allowed to get to the front of the queue at red lights, but they definitely are not allowed to start moving when it’s still red, or take to the sidewalk to pass lights as if they were pedestrians, both of which they do. And like you say they often just ignore red lights if nobody is about, as I guess they think they’re so small that it hardly matters.

  • Sincerely, Spain

    Thanks for the clarification, Jim!

    Very interesting about getting to the front of the line- I’ll have to remind myself of that the next time I’m getting frustrated with the motorcyclists!

    You’re right about the driving up onto the sidewalk to ‘cut corners’ too- I forgot to mention that. I’ve actually almost been hit by a motorcyclist who decided to drive up onto the sidewalk and then down a one-way street, the wrong way!

    Seems that my mom’s driving advice to "always expect the unexpected" is valid in every country!

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