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DRIVING

EXPLAINED: The rules for driving around roundabouts in Spain

Find out if you know how to drive properly around roundabouts in Spain (you could be steering clear of a €200 fine).

EXPLAINED: The rules for driving around roundabouts in Spain
One of Barcelona's huge roundabouts (rotondas in Spanish). Photo: Benjamin Voros/Unsplash

There are 38,000 roundabouts in Spain, making it the third European nation with the highest density per capita of this type of intersection (behind neighbours France and Portugal).

That means that if you drive in España, you’re pretty much certain to have to navigate your way round more than the odd “rotonda”.

Spaniards are by and large renowned for being good drivers, with less of a bad reputation than their Italian or Greek counterparts (not that stereotypes always ring true). 

However, one recurring complaint among foreigners in Spain is the locals’ haphazard understanding of the rules for driving inside a roundabout. Admittedly, this isn’t something that any particular nation is famous for having a complete grasp of.

More importantly, something that Spaniards and foreign residents most likely share in equal amounts is the fact that they don’t know that not driving the right way inside a Spanish roundabout can land them a €200 fine. 

Q&A: How to pass Spain’s driving test and get a Spanish licence

And it’s for good reason, as in the past five years in Spain the number of fatal car accidents in roundabouts has doubled. In urban areas, the rate of overall accidents has increased a worrying 86 percent according the European Drivers Association (AEA). 

The most common traffic violation according to Spanish police involves drivers ‘taking shortcuts’ by dangerously exiting and cutting through the lane of drivers who are in the other roundabout lanes. 

But that’s not all. According to logistical analysis company Foremaster, 75 percent of Spaniards don’t know what the purpose of each roundabout lane is and 60 percent of them don’t indicate properly in roundabouts either.

So how do I drive properly in a roundabout in Spain?

The rules are in fact no different to those of the majority of countries around the world, with the exception of course of those where you drive on the left. 

Firstly, you give way to those already driving inside the roundabout and when it’s clear you drive in through the right, as in anti-clockwise. 

Upon entering, you must position yourself in the lane that suits the exit you’re going to take. You should not indicate upon entering the “rotonda”. 

If you’re planning to take the first or second exit, stick to the outside lane and indicate to the right when you approach your exit (only if second exit).

Spain’s Directorate General of Traffic actually suggests that you don’t indicate to the right if you’re taking the first exit as it might confuse other drivers. 

If you’re going to take the third exit, choose the inside or middle lane and start moving over to the outside lane when passing the second exit, checking your blind spot for oncoming cars that aren’t following the rules.

Indicate when you’re getting close to your exit. You should not indicate to the left to indicate that you are still circumnavigating the roundabout even though this is a common practice worldwide. 

If you’re taking the fourth exit (often a 180-degree turn) enter the roundabout and head to the inside lane.

If there are three lanes, drive into the third (inside) lane. If there are two, take the inside. As soon as you pass the third exit, carefully make your way into the outside lane and indicate that you’re heading out of the fourth exit. 

Generally speaking, you must always exit a roundabout from the outside lane unless there’s a road sign that states otherwise. 

A cyclist or group of cyclists must always be given priority. 

The following diagram where each car’s trajectory is labelled bien (right) or mal (wrong) illustrates even further how to behave in Spanish roundabouts. 

Anything else to watch out for?

Spanish drivers don’t always give way to traffic already on roundabouts when entering them, so keep your eyes peeled at all times. 

Tailgating can sometimes be a problem in Spain as well so make sure you don’t make any sudden movements in roundabouts without first indicating in order to avoid possible collisions from the cars or in other lanes.

Under no circumstances should you cut the course of other vehicles using the roundabout in order to exit from it. Just go round again until your route is clear. 

Technically the roundabout’s inside lane can also be used to overtake. Use your indicator accordingly if you choose to do so.

Remember as well that in many city roundabouts, there are zebra crossings just after the exits, so keep your eyes peeled for traffic lights and pedestrians.  

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E-SCOOTERS

Is it legal for e-scooter users to ride on the pavement in Spain?

They're increasingly popular across Spanish towns and cities, but is it legal for electric scooter users to ride on the pavement in Spain?

Is it legal for e-scooter users to ride on the pavement in Spain?

If you live in Spain, you’ll have seen the rapidly increasing popularity – and speed – of electric scooters. Often, users of electric scooters don’t ride in the road with cars and mopeds, but on the pavement with pedestrians or in bike lines.

Some electric scooters can reach speeds of up to 30km/h and collisions between scooter riders and pedestrians is an increasingly common occurrence in Spain.

In Barcelona, a recent survey reported that 60 percent of scooter riders in the city admitted speeding.

But what’s the law? Can electric scooters legally ride on the pavement? What happens if they do, and what happens if they have an accident?

The law

Simply put: no. According to the Royal Decree 970/2020, which entered into force on January 2nd, 2021, you can’t ride an electric scooter on the pavement. 

As electric scooters are a relatively new phenomenon, in the first couple of years of the craze managed to bypass legislation, but the government eventually caught up and included the electric scooters as part of its ‘Personal Mobility Vehicle’ regulations.

According to the Royal Decree 970/2020, it is forbidden to ride an electric scooter on the pavement, on crossings, highways, intercity roads or tunnels in urban areas.

The decree also states the maximum speed capacity of an electric scooter must be 25 km/h, although it is possible to tinker with the scooter to increase the top speed, something fairly common in Spain. If scooters exceed 25km/h, they are considered motor vehicles and they must comply with the rules of the road.

The exception

The law has just one exception. In pedestrian areas where vehicles can also enter with restrictions – known as Zonas Peatonales Compartidas in Spain – you can drive an electric scooter if you ride at a maximum speed of 10 km/h.

Fines

If you are caught riding an electric scooter on the pavement in Spain you are, in theory, liable to a €200 fine. Whether or not it will be enforced is a different story and depends where in Spain you are (more on that below) and many municipalities offer a 50 percent discount on the fine if you pay it promptly.

However, the fines can add up for more serious offences on scooters. Driving the scooter under the influence of alcohol or drugs can earn you a fine of between €500 and €1,000.

If you use your mobile phone as you’re riding a scooter, you could be fined €200. If you give someone a life, and there’s two of you on the scooter (as is often the case in Spain) you’re liable to a €100 fine and riding an electric scooter at night without lights or reflective clothing can also cost €200.

Fines and punishments for improper scooter use is always handled by the Policía Local, not Policía Nacional or Guardia Civil.

Regional enforcement

That’s the law. In reality however, enforcement is, like many things in Spain, very regional and depends on where you are.

Based on the decree 970/2020, each municipality has its own ordinances that road users must comply with.

Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia are the Spanish cities where electric scooters are most popular, and some of its particular regulations are below. 

Madrid

  • Minimum age: 15 years.
  • Allowed on the road, bike lanes, streets in which the maximum speed is 30km/h.
  • Rental scooters must be insured and used with a helmet.

Barcelona

  • Minimum age: 16 years.
  • Allowed on bike paths that cross the pavement and in 30km/h zones.
  • Parking is allowed in certain areas.

Valencia

  • Minimum age: 16 years.
  • Banned on all pavements except on shared pedestrian streets at 10 km/h. Allowed by road by cycle roads, one-way roads and by the road of streets of 30 zones at a maximum speed of 30 km/h.

Crackdown

Despite the ambiguity of the law between places and the confusion about the rules, some parts of Spain are already cracking down on scooter use, and the results suggest it is a problem across the country.

In just one week in Barcelona in 2021, over 1000 fines were given out to scooter riders and thousands of complaints received.

In Jaén last year, local police began a crackdown on improper electric scooter use that seized over 150 in the space of two weeks. 

In Santa Cruz de Tenerife, policed handed out 82 fines in just 15 days of enforcement. In the same period, 60 electric scooters were confiscated. 

In Cartagena, Murcia, local media has reported that one in three fines for electric scooter users is for driving in pedestrian areas.

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