Driving in Spain: Understanding the New Traffic Laws

On May 9th, 2014, a new wave of laws came into effect on Spain’s thousands of kilometers of roadways. From small adjustments to major overhauls in legislation, the new laws are outlined in the long-winded Ley 6/2014 modificando la Ley sobre Tráfico, Circulación de Vehículos a Motor y Seguridad Vial 339/1990.

COMO Consulting Spain_Driving a Car in Spain

Spain’s roads are controlled by the DGT, or Departamento General de Tráfico. All licensed drivers over the age of 18 are expected to know and comply with the rules of the road. If you want the long version, you can read the hefty document here.

COMO brings you the highlights of the new law, free of Spanish legalese, and digestible so that you can avoid fines and help save lives on the road:

  • All bike riders under the age of 16 must wear a helmet and small children (under 1.35m tall) may not ride in the front seat of a car or taxi. Children and babies under 15 kilos must be restrained in an approved car seat. The Guardia Civil has the right to seize any vehicle not in compliance.
  • Radar detectors are now illegal, as they interfere with systems already in place. However there’s no reason to fret if your GPS incorporates a database of speed cameras and notifies you to slow down. In fact, on most major highways, zones with fixed radars are indicated by signs and the DGT themselves provide a downloadable APP to help you remember where they are!
  • Drug use while or before driving is illegal, except in the case of prescription drugs. Any driver presumed to be under the influence will be required to undergo a roadside test. Offenders will be fined 1000 Euros if they are found under the influence of drugs or alcohol at twice the legal limit. Caught drunk driving double over the limit a second time in the same calendar year it doubles to a 2000 Euro fine.
  • Speed limits may change slightly, pending approval in June. If passed the limits on some highways will be raised to 130km/h (others will remain at the previous limit of 120km/h). Also remember, surpassing this speed limit by 1 kilometer can result in fines or loss of points.
  • However, don’t forget to pay your fines early! Spain offers a 50% discount for fines paid within 20 days, up from the previous 15-day period.
  • The Guardia Civil has the absolute right to note a vehicle’s license plate number and prosecute without any other evidence or flagging over the vehicle if they suspect wrongdoing on the road.
  • And finally, any vehicle caught committing any driving offense will be reported to the EU country where it is registered under the new EU Directive.

Remember that, as an American, your driver’s license is NOT valid in Spain. If you wish to own a car, you’ll have to get a Spanish driver’s license, or carné de conducir. COMO does not recommend driving without one (or a AAA International Driver’s Permit for those on their 3-month Shengen visa and simply traveling through Spain), as fines can be steep. Trust us, we’ve been there.

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Have questions about Spanish roads or getting your driver’s license in Spain? COMO Consulting can help you! Email us at hola@comoconsulting.com or leave us a message!

Author: Cat Gaa

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    • Fran, we appreciate your clarification! Thanks for letting us and our readers know the difference – we’ll rectify the article immediately.

      Post a Reply
  1. We’re moving to Spain in July for at least a year and will not own a car. We would, however, like to periodically rent one to get out of town when we feel the need. Do you think an International Driver’s Permit will be suitable for us?

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Jed. Great question. The AAA International Driver’s Permit should work fine in your case. Only those who have been living in Spain with a valid NIE for longer than 2 years are required to get an EU Driver’s license. Happy travels!

      Post a Reply
  2. I read that Americans who are residents in Spain must get a Spanish license within 3 months of arrival.

    Does an American staying in Spain for 9 months on a student visa count as a “resident”? I have an IDP and my state drivers license but wondering if that will work once I get an NIE/TIE when I arrive.

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Autumn,

      As a student, you are a temporary resident, so there’s no need to get a license. Plus, it’s ridiculously expensive to do so! Classes are upwards of 500 euros, which include testing fees. If you’re planning on staying in Spain for a year or two, it’s not worth it. You can, however, get an IDP and bring your state license and use that to rent cars. It is valid for a year, but technically only three months once you enter the country, but in the event of being pulled over, there’s really no way to calculate how long you’ve been in the country unless you have your passport on you.

      Americans like us who have been in Spain for TWO years or more are required to get a license if they want to drive, so you’re well under that limit! This law changed in January 2013…just after Cat got a ticket for not having an international license.

      Good luck!

      Post a Reply


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