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DRIVING

Operación Salida: Everything you need to know about driving during Spain’s worst travel period of the summer

This weekend marks the start of the big summer exodus when people flee the cities and drive to the countryside or the coast for their holidays. Here's what you need to know if you want to avoid traffic jams and other problems on the road.

Operación Salida: Everything you need to know about driving during Spain's worst travel period of the summer
Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

With some 48 million people estimated to be hitting the highways throughout August 2021, traffic jams at peak times are inevitable.

This is after all Operación Salida, the name Spaniards have given to the ‘great exodus’ that occurs every year as millions head to the coast for their summer holidays. 

There’s nothing like being stuck in traffic on a hot highway for hours and hours to put a dampener on that holiday feeling, but help is at hand.

Here’s what you need to know to avoid the busiest travel times, find the best routes, and avoid difficulties as you head off for your summer break.

When are the roads at their busiest?

Spain’s traffic authority (DGT) has provided these handy infographics to help you know where to expect traffic jams. 

The first map shows where in Spain most cars are expected to be on the roads and motorways from Friday July 30th until Sunday August 1st . 

And this second map shows where the heaviest traffic will be over the course of August. Note that neither map includes data of Catalonia, which is a very popular tourist region during the summer. 

The roads will clog up again around August 15th which is a national holiday across Spain (observed in lieu on August 16th in some regions as the 15th falls on a Sunday), and then the return journey on Saturday August 28th and Sunday August 29th, which will see the biggest number of cars on the roads returning to the cities.

The worst times, according to the DGT are heading away from the cities on Friday afternoon between 15:00 and 22:00, Saturday morning between 9:00 and 13:00 and between 19:00 and midnight on Sundays driving away from the coast.

The following table shows the motorways/highways in each Spanish region that will have the highest traffic density during Operación Salida

For live traffic information visit the DGT website  HERE

Spanish traffic authorities will add additional lanes in peak rush hour times, halt all road construction work and prevent slow vehicles such as lorries from driving during these periods of heavy traffic.

Apps to avoid worst of the traffic

A choice of apps can be utilised to warn you of traffic hotspots in real time, help find alternative routes, warn of police controls and steer you away from motorway tolls or locate the best-priced fuel on your route.

Google Maps

It’s most likely already on your smart phone. It provides real time info on traffic jams and offers faster alternative routes.

Waze

This is one of the best apps for Operacion Salida, providing real time traffic and alternative routes, it also allows users to share information on accidents, police checkpoints and other roadside dangers or annoyances. This app also offers comparative prices at fuel stations along your route.

DGT

The official app from Spain’s traffic authority provides info on speed cameras, and up to the minute trouble spots along your route.


File photo of traffic jam on a motorway in Madrid. Photo: AFP

SocialDrive

This app is an information sharing platform that relies on drivers sharing info on traffic in real time.

RACC

This app doesn’t just provide minute by minute updates on traffic congestion, it also allows you to plan your journey to beat the traffic, calculating the best time to leave. It also provides info on service stations along the route and parking at your destination.

Via Michelin

The Michelin app gives real time traffic updates, will advise you of a route to avoid tolls and can also calculate how much fuel you need and the cheapest place to buy it on the way.

Truck Parking Europe

This app is the Tripadvisor equivalent for rest stops advising on good places to eat at roadside service stations and where to find the best facilities.

Eyes in the skies

Traffic helicopters and drones will likely be patrolling the skies over Spain’s busiest roads and at known traffic hot spots to look out for dangerous driving, traffic accidents and tail backs.  

The drones are equipped with cameras to beam live footage back to road traffic monitors who will use the information to alert ground patrols to traffic problems such as accidents.

One drone will be deployed on the Canary Islands and another over the Balearic Islands to monitor holiday traffic.

There will also be 15 undercover police vans on the roads to keep a close eye on drivers. 

Roadside patrols and speed traps

Photo: AFP

The Civil Guard have said there will be more than 1,800 patrol cars out on the roads during the busiest periods of Operacion Salida and at peak times leaving beach resorts.

Expect to see roadside checks where you could be asked to present your papers (car registration/insurance/driving license) and to see random breathalyser tests to check for drunk driving.

Speed traps are installed across Spanish roadsides to check for speeding vehicles. Keep to the speed limit or you may find you come back from holiday to a rather nasty speeding fine.

Handily, the location of all speed traps can be found here:

Check your car before your journey

Spain’s car owners club, RACE, warns that the majority of car problems resulting in roadside assistance come from battery and tire problems.

Make sure that you check your tire tread (it should be a minimum of 1.6mm across the central ¾ line of the tire) ahead of the journey and that you have a functional spare tire in the vehicle.

Also check tyre pressure at the start of your journey, and the fluid levels of oil, windscreen cleaning liquid and radiator coolant.

READ MORE: What you need to know if you are in a road traffic accident in Spain

Drive safely and wear a seat belt!

Last summer 260 people lost their lives on Spanish road during the months of July and August with the DGT recording that 23 percent of those that died were not wearing a seatbelt.

Take regular breaks

The DGT advises drivers to stop at least every 200km to stretch their legs, have a drink and use the toilets and get some fresh air to prevent tiredness.

During a previous Operación Salida, the DGT also produced this handy guide to outline the responsibilities of everyone in the car.

Driver: Drive, concentrate on the road, focus on the destination, don’t stress about the traffic.

Front seat passenger: Stay awake, responsible for the music, responsible for Google maps, Waze etc, warn driver of any dangers.

Back seat passenger: Chief distributor of sweets, issue complaints about air conditioning, hit the front seat passenger to make sure they don’t fall asleep, sleep like a bear.

READ ALSO: How to survive summer in the city in Spain

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DRIVING

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.

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