Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Spain and Andorra, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
Traffic in Madrid and Barcelona is faster paced than in U.S. cities and can be unnerving because of unfamiliar signs or motorbikes weaving between traffic lanes. Drivers should always obey the traffic light located at their stop line, as there are separate traffic lights for each side of the intersection. For example, the traffic light at the stop line of an intersection may be red, but across the intersection the light may be green, allowing for right/left hand turns only. An amber flashing light indicates that drivers must yield to pedestrians. Drivers should be alert when driving at night in urban areas because of the possibility of encountering drivers or pedestrians under the influence of alcohol. Night driving in isolated rural areas can be dangerous because of farm animals and poorly marked roads. Rural traffic is generally heavier in July and August as well as during the Christmas and Easter seasons.
Traffic regulations in effect in Spain include the prohibition on the use of a mobile phone without a hands-free device while driving a car. There is a fine of 300 euros for violation of this regulation and loss of driving privileges. In addition, all drivers and passengers are required to carry a reflective vest and put it on if they need to stop on the roadside. A reflective triangle warning sign for a vehicle stopped on the side of the road is also mandatory. Liability insurance, at a minimum, is also required to legally operate any car or motorcycle. Those renting vehicles are encouraged to check with the rental company about traffic regulations and safety equipment. U.S. citizen tourists must obtain International Driving Permits prior to their arrival if they plan to drive in Spain. Those Permits are only valid for one year. You are not allowed to drive on your U.S. license. While rental car companies may rent a vehicle to you without the International Driving Permit, this is illegal and, if pulled over for a traffic violation, your rental car may be detained and towed to the nearest impound lot. Pedestrians should use designated crossing areas when crossing streets and obey traffic lights.
One of the facets of Spanish traffic laws that many U.S. citizens find troublesome is traffic stops by the Spanish National Police or the Guardia Civil. Unlike in the United States, where drivers receive traffic tickets and then pay the court via mail or in person, Spanish police authorities may levy fines on the spot and issue a receipt for the payment. This is done to ensure the traffic fine is paid by foreigners who rarely come back to Spain to pay the fine.
Public transportation in large Spanish cities is generally excellent. All major cities have metered taxis, in which extra charges must be posted in the vehicle. We advise travelers to use only clearly identified cabs and to ensure that taxi drivers always switch on the meter. A green light on the roof indicates that the taxi is available. If you have a problem or suspect you are being over charged, ask for an official receipt. The license number for the taxi should be located in a metal plaque by the passenger window. This number identifies a specific taxi and can prove useful in the event of forgotten property or if you decide to file a complaint. Rail service is comfortable and reliable, but varies in quality and speed. Intercity buses are usually comfortable and inexpensive.
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