Spain eyes fines for drivers distracted by phones, even if they’re not using them

Spain’s traffic authority wants to clamp down on short distractions on the road by fining drivers who have their phones close to them even if they’re not technically using them.

Spain eyes fines for drivers distracted by phones, even if they're not using them
Sending someone a short voice message or reading a message could soon cost drivers points off their licences and €200 fines.Photo: Roman Pohorecki/Pexels

Spain’s Directorate General of Traffic continues with its plans of toughening the country’s road laws, just days after the speed limit for most urban roads in Spain was reduced from 50km/h to 30km/h

The DGT is now seeking approval from the Spanish Parliament to increase the criteria that constitutes a punishable offence for using electronic devices at the wheel. 

As part of this reform of Spain’s Traffic, Driving and Road Safety Law, shorter distractions than texting or speaking on the phone would also be considered a “serious” offence which incurs the loss of 3 points off one’s driving licence and a €200 fine.

Therefore, whether a driver has the phone on their lap rather than in a safe and correct place, if they’re holding it in their hand while driving or they simply pick it up for a second to look at a message, this will be considered a punishable distraction. 

Up until now, mobile-related offences considered “serious” were texting or using your hand to talk on the phone.

If approved, those caught speaking on their mobiles or texting at the wheel will be deemed to have committed a “very serious” infraction rather than “serious” and lose 6 points off their license. 

The news has so far been covered by La Sexta TV channel and by Spanish road and driving specialists, who have called into question the ease of policing these different scenarios in which a driver is not necessarily ‘using’ their phone or other devices but is engaging in behaviour that may still affect their driving. 

If the tougher measures are adopted, it is also likely mean that those caught using headphones or a GPS or navigation system with their hands while driving will lose 6 points rather than 3, as the same punishments apply for GPS and headphones usage as to those of using a mobile phone (texting or talking) at the wheel.


According to DGT data, distractions at the wheel are the cause of an average 300 lives lost on Spanish roads every year. 

In March 2021, the DGT appealed to drivers to keep their eyes on the road, by revealing the distance a car travels while a driver is distracted for just a few seconds, hundreds of metres in which an accident can take place if they’re not paying attention. 

  • Sending a WhatsApp message requires about 20 seconds: 600 metres travelled
  • ‘Googling’ something requires 14 seconds: 466 metres travelled
  • Picking up the phone to answer takes an average of 8 seconds: 266 metres travelled
  • Setting a radio station takes 6 seconds: 200 metres travelled
  • Lighting a cigarette can take 4 seconds: 133 metres travelled

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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.