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DRIVING

The essential road signs you need to understand in Spain

Spain is different. Especially when it comes to its road signage, which can be confusing to the “just visiting” or “newly arrived” in Spain.

The essential road signs you need to understand in Spain
Photos: DGT/Depositphotos

Certain road signs are important to know for practical reasons, others say a lot about Spain itself.

Animal signs


Photos of signs: DGT

It's pretty typical when driving in any country to come across signs warning about farm animals and wild fauna in rural areas.

But in Spain, alongside goats, cattle and deer signs you might well see signs warning about wild boar, and it’s a problem you need to take seriously, especially if driving at dusk.

Wild boars are not restricted to rural areas and have proliferated hugely even in urban environments on the outskirts of towns and cities.

They are now the animal that causes the most road traffic accidents in Spain, accounting for 35 percent of insurance claims in cases that involved animals on the roads, overtaking deer, according to a report by AXA insurance company.

Look out also for signs depicting Iberian Lynx which you will find in pockets of countryside around Andalusia, Extremadura and Castilla-La Mancha where the cats have been reintroduced.


Photo: AFP

Road deaths are still the biggest threat to the animals which now number over 600 in the wild.

During the past five years alone, close to 100 animals have been hit by cars and found dead at the side of the roads, a fact which conservationists hope to limit through the building of culverts and ecoducts that cross under or over highways.

Beware of the jellyfish…

Despite what it looks like, this isn’t another animal sign; this time warning of a swarm of jellyfish ahead.

This sign is seen on the approach to a tunnel and is a reminder to the driver to switch the lights on.

Make sure to take heed of this advice because not having headlamps on in a tunnel can result in a penalty fine.

Ninjas? 

This sign isn’t warning about motorcycle riding ninjas trying to creep up on you but on the very real danger of getting too close to the vehicle in front, especially when there might be a heavy vehicle straining to get up an incline ahead.

Spanish drivers have a tendency to drive very close to the car in front, especially in the fast lane (even if you are travelling at the speed limit overtaking a slow vehicle) and will often flash their headlights at you to move over.

Beam me up?

This sign might appear to be warning that you are approaching a dark force of some kind (possibly a UFO?) that is about to suck your vehicle towards it.

Instead it is warning that measures are in up ahead to patrol the speed limit. It could be radar, cameras or speed trap, so modify your speed and stay below the limit.

Take a right to make a left

These signs explain a common traffic solution in use in Spain. Often when you need to make a left turn across oncoming traffic and there isn’t a dedicated lane to allow you to do it, or a roundabout, then you will need to Cambio de Sentido – change direction – by using a lane to the right and then wait to cross over.

 

No horns

Spend any time on the roads in Spain and you will soon realise the love that Spanish drivers have of the horn.

You’ll hear it the moment you are a split second late pulling away at a traffic light and you’ll even hear it as a sign of greeting between friends.

But in certain places marked by this sign, you are not allowed to sound it. Unfortunately though, rules won’t allow you to install one of these in the road outside your bedroom window.

Carts and carriages

The first one signifies that hand carts are forbidden from entering and the second horse carriages. The latter are not just a throwback to the olden days but are in place in cities where there are still traditional horse and carriage rides, such as Sevilla and Palma in Mallorca.

Many Andalusian towns stage romerias – the most famous one being the pilgrimage to El Rocio held at Pentecost – when hundreds of horse-drawn carriages will transport pilgrims for the fiesta.

Roundabouts

We all recognise the sign for a roundabout but few in Spain actually understand how they work.

Read The Local's guide on how to navigate them safely.

Everything you need to know about driving around roundabouts in Spain

Explosive loads

This sign is important to know for those who plan to drive around Spain transporting explosives.

The one on the left shows that you have a dedicated lane while on the sign on the right prohibits entry to vehicles with explosive materials.

This might sound like an unusual cargo but must be more common than one thinks as firework displays frequently form part of the celebrations at local fiestas and we all  now how many hundreds of them there are across Spain each year.

P is for…

This is a sign that you will see a lot when driving on highways across Spain.

It may appear to be a man sitting on a toilet but this is entirely deceiving as these areas, often little more than laybys off the main highway, more often than not, don’t actually provide bathroom facilities.

They are a place to park up and stretch your legs and, may even include a picnic table, but little more.

Yellow arrows or shells


Photo: Frescotours/Flickr

Across Spain you will find signs pointing out the Camino de Santiago. They take the form of scallop shells, sometimes in cast bronze embedded un the pavement or more often yellow daubed symbols on a wall or post, or just a yellow arrow indicating the direction.

These indicate walking routes, so don't be tempted to follow the signs by car.

Bulls


Photo: AFP

You wouldn’t be driving in Spain if you didn’t occasionally see a giant silhouette of a bull appear from time to time along the roadside.

These are Osborne bulls that signify nothing particular to the driver but symbolise a strong Spanish cultural tradition. To find out more read the explainer here. Osborne bulls: The story behind Spain's iconic roadside silhouettes

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Member comments

  1. The ‘Take a right to make a left’ is actually to tell you that at the next junction on a motorway you can exit and crossover, via the bridge or underpass, to go back on the opposite carriageway. Very useful if you have missed your turn-off.

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DRIVING IN SPAIN

Can the UK’s Blue Badge for disabled parking be used in Spain?

The UK’s Blue Badge scheme allows disabled drivers to park in special parking spaces closer to their destination, but can it be used if you're on holiday in Spain or living in Spain? The Local has spoken with the British Embassy in Madrid to find out.

Can the UK's Blue Badge for disabled parking be used in Spain?

The Blue Badge for disabled drivers issued by UK authorities features a symbol of a person in a wheelchair and should be displayed in the front of your car if you’re parked in a special disabled spot.

But can you use the same badge in your car in Spain?

When the UK was still part of the EU, these disabled badges for parking could be used throughout the bloc, but since January 1st 2021 when Brexit officially came into force, there have been some doubt regarding this. 

In other words, some disabled drivers visiting Spain who wish to rent a car or British residents living in Spain with UK disability cards are now uncertain as to whether their badges will be recognised here or not. 

In Spain, on roads and in car parks, parking places reserved for disabled people are marked with a wheelchair symbol.

The EU has its own parking card for people with disabilities and the recognition of the UK’s badge has always been an informal agreement between governments.

The advice from the UK government has always been for UK Blue Badge holders to check locally within the country they are travelling to, before using it abroad. 

The British Embassy in Madrid told The Local: “This advice did not change following the UK’s exit from the EU and to date no EU/EEA nation has specifically stated that it will not recognise a UK-issued disabled parking card”. 

However, the rules and advice are slightly different depending on if you are visiting Spain or living here. 

The UK government website states “You can use your UK Blue Badge when travelling in some European Union (EU) countries, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland”.

However, under the list of EU countries where you can use the UK Blue Badge, the UK government says Spain is “undecided” and asks drivers to check with the Spanish Embassy for more information.

This is causing a lot of uncertainty among UK Blue Badge holders and has sparked many debates on social media groups used by Brits in Spain. 

The British Embassy in Madrid has confirmed to The Local that: “Where the table states ‘undecided’, that doesn’t indicate that a particular nation has stated they will not recognise a UK issued parking card, merely that the UK doesn’t have a specific notification of reciprocity of the UK’s goodwill gesture”. 

This means that while Spain has not officially said that it will not recognise a disabled blue parking badge issued in the UK, there is no reciprocal agreement in place. 

While many British people visiting Spain say that they are continuing to use them without problem, others are reporting that Spanish authorities in some areas will not accept them anymore.

One member of the N332 Facebook group, (a group created by Spanish traffic police officers and volunteers) wrote: “To be honest I use my blue badge in Spain and it has not caused me any issues since Brexit. I think as long as a badge is displayed in the parking spaces no one will say or do anything”.

However, another commentator said that their friend was fined for using a UK blue badge in Spain.

According to the Spanish authorities, fines of up to €200 can be handed out for those who park in a disabled spot without the proper permit, although that’s not to say that a UK Blue Badge is not a proper permit.

So if you’re visiting Spain and have a disabled parking card, you should contact the local authorities first to find out if you can use your UK-issued parking card, otherwise you technically could be using it at your own risk and could be fined.  

In some places in Spain, you may find that authorities turn a blind eye, while in others may tell you that your badge is not valid.

Can you use your UK Blue Badge if you’re living in Spain?

The UK government website states: “If you have a UK Blue Badge and live in Spain, you must return it to the original UK issuing authority. You can apply for a new Spanish disabled parking card. The process is different in each region of Spain. Contact your local town hall or social services department for further information”.

So those who live in Spain should apply for the equivalent of the UK’s blue badge here. This is called the Tarjeta acreditativa de discapacidad or Tarjeta de grado de discapacidad, depending on where you live.

Examples of different disabled parking cards issued by Spain’s regions. Image: Fundación Once

The not-for-profit project Support in Spain warns that it can be a lengthy process to apply for the Spanish equivalent and that many have been waiting months or even years for their cards to be issued. This has left many foreign disabled residents in Spain in a difficult situation.

Another member of the N332 Facebook group wrote: “Why does it take so long to get a blue badge in Spain? My husband has advanced Parkinson’s and dementia. We have been waiting almost a year and our town hall tells me this is normal”. 

How to apply for Spain’s disabled parking card?

Firstly, in order to apply, you will need to make an appointment with your doctor in Spain to certify that you have a degree of disability that warrants a disabled parking card. Typically, applicants must prove that they have a disability of at least 33 percent in order to be eligible for the Spanish disabled parking card.

Your doctor may also need to refer you to a specialist. Getting this disability certificate, or reconocimiento de discapacidad as it’s called in Spanish, is the reason the process takes so long. This certificate is the same document you’ll need in order to apply for disability benefits in Spain too.

As mentioned above, the process of applying is slightly different, depending on what region of Spain you live in. Typically, you will have to go to your local Equality and Social Policies Department (Departamento de Igualdad y Políticas Sociales) or at your local town hall (ayuntamiento) and fill out the necessary paperwork.

This will then need to be submitted along with your disability certificate and any notes from your doctors, before your application can be processed. 

Those who are worried about how long the process will take should contact their local town hall to find out the average time frame in their area. 

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