Driving in Barcelona and Spain

Driving in Barcelona and Spain

Note: some information in this article is from 2007

Spain has one of the highest traffic accident rates in Europe according to figures from OECD's International Road Traffic and Accident Database (IRTAD)

However driving in and near Barcelona is not dangerous in our opinion. Traffic flows nicely, drivers are considerate and serious accidents are quite rare.

Here are some tips and advice about driving in Barcelona and Spain.

Glossary Spanish driving terms
DGT Spanish traffic ministry
ITV vehicle inspection

Right of way Spanish traffic

In Spain you drive on the right side of the road. When you overtake you overtake to the left side although some cars do overtake on the inside on motorways.  Cars coming from your right have the right of way. Cars that are already on a roundabout have the right of way. When driving on to motorways or dual carriageways keep in mind that many Spanish drivers are not overly helpful in making room for incoming cars.

You might have to come to a full stop in the entry lane. In city traffic be especially aware of the many motorbikes and scooters (called motos.) They can appear out of nowhere and some motos save time by driving inbetween lanes and cars.  This can create many dangerous situations and sadly scooters and motorbikes quite often collide with both each other and other vehicles. Speed is generally considered to be the main cause of accidents in Spain, but if you drive responsibly and keep your distance you will be fine.

What needs to be in car driving in Spain?

-Valid driving licence
-Two EU approved, red warning triangles. 
-Two approved reflective jackets that must be worn in an emergency situation on the highway outside the vehicle all any time of the day, but not in an incident in an urban street area. The jackets should be stored inside the car and put on before getting out.  The reflectivejackets should also be visible from the outside of the car. The jackets are inexpensive and can be bought at most bigger supermarkets and some petrol stations.
-A set of spare lamps/bulbs for your car and the tool/s to change them. 
-If you wear glasses for driving, you should have a spare pair. 
-Your number plate should be an EU one with the ring of stars and your country code, or a small plate/sticker with your country code (GB, etc) on the back of your car. 
-Valid third party insurance policy
-All vehicle documents or legally certified copies relating to the car ownership. If the vehicle is not registered in your name, you should obtain a letter from the registered owner, which gives you permission to drive. 

Spanish roads & speed limits

The motorways in Barcelona and Catalonia are among the best in Europe. The toll roads are quite expensive but generally not too crowded except during rush hour.  If you want to avoid 3 hour queues when leaving or returning to Barcelona in connection with week-end trips, then leave the city a bit  earlier than the residents of Barcelona, and come back a bit earlier too. Generally residents of Barcelona will not head off until 12’ish on a Saturday to go for a weekend trip and they will head back to Barcelona around 6 or 7 on Sundays, so that is when you will find the longest queues on both toll roads and free roads. If you are going on a longer trip, then toll roads are definitely worth the extra expense.

Autopista – motorway

A or E  in front of road number.
A roads are generally toll roads.
“Peajes” means toll roads
Speed limit is 120 kph (73 mph) (was 110km for part of 2011 to save fuel due to high petrol prices.)

Autovía - dual carriageway 

Speed limits vary from 80 to 140 kph.
Carretera Nacional – national/main road
N or CN in front of road number
Speed limit 100 to 60 kph.

Carretera Comarcal – regional/country road.

C in front of road number,
Speed limit 100 to 80 kph.

Carretera Local - highway

Speeds are as signed, but usually not more than 100 kph. 

Toll/ Peaje roads

Spain has over 2,000 km of toll roads of excellent quality. The tolls are quite expensive, especially in summer when the rates are doubled. The rates for cars are per vehicle irregardless of number of occupants and based on distances covered. Toll booth have several lanes. All open lanes will have a green arrow, closed lanes will have a red cross.

”T” means "telepago." This lane is for cars that pay automatically with a special chip on the windscreen.
”Automático” are lanes for drivers paying by credit card.
”Manual”  are lanes with an attendant who will take payment in cash or by credit card.

Fuel in Spain

Gasolina - Petrol
Gasoleo – Diesel
Super, unleaded = super or sin plomo 98
Normal unleaded = sin plomo 95
Diesel = gasoleo

Spanish traffic fines 

On the spot fines are issued. Make sure that you get an official receipt. Drivers who do not pay risk having their cars clamped at the side of the road. Do not drink and drive. The limit is 0.5 milligrams of alcohol per millilitre of blood. For new drivers the limit is 0.1 mg/l limit, which might as well be zero. The penalties are high including losing your licence on the spot and/or heavy on-the-spot fines. You will not be allowed to leave the area until you have paid any fine or appeared in court, including spending time in the cells if you cannot pay in cash.

Mobile telephones

The use of mobile phones while driving is prohibited. True hands-free kits are allowed, but they are not allowed to have ear piece attachments. Note that this law also applies at the side of the road. You must be completely off the road and away from any traffic before you start using a mobile phone. The same applies to earplugs for walkmans, I-pods etc. Only hearing aids are allowed. 

Driving licence Spain

Minimum age for driving cars and for motorcycles over 75cc in Spain is eighteen. The 50cc scooters can be driven from age fourteen, but without passengers. Non-residents/visitors can drive in Spain using their foreign driving license for a maximum of 6 months out of the total calendar year. If you are from another EU country, then you can drive on your existing EU license until it runs outs. When it does run out you must apply for a Spanish driving licence. Non-EU residents should apply for  a Spanish driving license after one year of living in Spain. If you are from outside the EU, you will need an International Driving Licence issued by the correct authority in your home country. It should have one page of information in Spanish. Holders of foreign driving licences can be given on-the-spot fines, but not penalty points.

Seat belts

Compulsory for all car occupants both back and front. Children under twelve can only travel in the front passenger seat if it is in a special rear-facing children’s seat.


Signposts can be quite confusing so bring a good map and be prepared to get lost sometimes. Be particularly watchful for lane changes. Sometimes you will find yourself directed to the right lane on a motorway in preparation for an exit. 100 metres further along on your exit will be on the left side two lanes across on the opposite side.

Parking in Barcelona

There are many underground parking lots around the city so you can park almost anywhere. Most onlines map in Barcelona will have an option to show where parking is located. Parking is not allowed in spaces with yellow stripes. Barcelona has introduced parking zones with meters throughout the city.  These spaces are marked in blue and a ticket can be bought from the nearest machine. These spaces are usually for two hours maximum period. Prices vary between zones. It is very common for cars and vans to switch on their emergency lights and double park while they unload or visit shop for brief periods. This is quite disruptive to the flow of traffic but unavoidable. If you park illegally, especially in a foreign car, you will almost certainly become a victim of the 'grua' - the city tow truck. If you get towed, they will leave a sticker on the curb with the phone number/address of your car’s new location. You can get your car back after paying a fine.
Parking lots Barcelona


Third party insurance is mandatory.

Road Tax

Road tax in Spain is charged once a year and calculated by the individual vehicle and the zone. It is paid to the local government. The fee is related to the individual vehicle and the area.

Vehicle inspection ITV

(inspección técnica de vehículos)
ITV is the safety and road worthiness vehicle inspection in Spain, which is required for all vehicles. Major towns and cities have many ITV inspection centres.  The actual inspection costs around 40 euros and can usually be booked from day to day. Payment is in cash. The inspection takes about 15 minutes while ITV inspectors check your horn, windscreen wipers, seat belt, turn on your flickers/indicators, check your brake lights and your exhaust emissions, all brakes and alignment of wheels. If you pass you will get a new sticker for your windscreen.

Find ITV centers Barcelona

Inspection times types of vehicles: (2007)

Motorcycles less than five years old - exempt from ITV inspection
Cars over five years old – ITV inspection every two years. Private Vehicles
Cars less than four years old - exempt from ITV inspection
Cars four to ten years old – ITV inspection every two years
Cars over ten years old – ITV inspection every year

An invalid ITV sticker will generate a substantial fine around 100 – 150 euros.  Your driving license could also be confiscated until you can document that your vehicle has passed the ITV  inspection within 10 days.

Car lights

Headlights are not required to be turned on unless you are in a tunnel or during conditions of poor visibility. Motorcycles and scooters should use dipped headlights at all times.


There are currently three different police forces in Catalonia.

Mossos d' Esquadra - police force of the autonomous community of Catalunya
Guardia Civíl - National police force under authority by the Madrid government
Guardia Urbana - Local and traffic police

The Mossos d'Esquadra are replacing Spain's Policia Nacional and Guardia Civil in Catalonia. This process began in 1994 and will be completed by 2008. The Policia Nacional and the Guardia Civil will keep some officers in Catalonia to help combat terrorism, immigration and other area in which the central government still has authority.

Emergency numbers

General emergencies - 012
Police - 091
Ambulance - 092
Fire Brigade - 080

Emergency numbers here:

Useful traffic and driving links

Traffic department Spain
Dirección General de Tráfico

European Road Safety Observatory

The Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP)

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Last Updated on Thursday, 07 April 2022 13:24