Driving: Spain drops proposed ban on surpassing speed limit by 20km/h when overtaking

Driving: Spain drops proposed ban on surpassing speed limit by 20km/h when overtaking
The rules for overtaking on Spain's secondary roads (carreteras convencionales) will stay as they are in 2021. Photo: Juanecd/Flickr
Spain’s Council of Ministers on Thursday decided drivers in the country should not be prevented from surpassing the speed limit by 20km/h on secondary roads when overtaking a vehicle.

In September we reported how Spain’s traffic authority was putting the finishing touches to a set of new fines for drivers in the country which it hoped would be approved by the end of the month. 

One of the most controversial proposed changes was the ban on overtaking on carreteras convencionales (secondary roads), a driving manoeuver allowed on Spanish roads for more than 50 years. 

Carreteras convencionales are high-capacity single-carriageway roads which are a step down from motorways (with lanes in both directions, with or without separating barriers).

Spain’s Directorate General of Traffic (DGT) has pushed the national government to scrap overtaking on said roads, arguing that Spain is the only country in the EU which allowed surpassing the speed limit of 90km/h. 

According to the DGT, 77 percent of fatal road accidents in Spain take place on secondary roads, often as a result of overtaking manoeuvres where there’s one lane in each direction and two vehicles collide head on.

“There’s nothing wrong with driving behind a lorry,” DGT director Pere Navarro said about the proposed overtaking ban.

But on Thursday September 30th, a vote by Spain’s Council of Ministers saw the DGT draft measure rejected by a slim margin: 19 votes against (PP, Vox, ERC, Junts, PNV, Bildu and UPN) and 18 in favour (PSOE, Unidas Podemos-En Comú Podem-En Marea and Ciudadanos).

The decision means that drivers and motorcyclists will be able to continue reaching a speed of up to 110km/h to overtake on secondary roads in Spain, 20km/h more than the speed limit for the majority of vehicles (under 3,500 kg).

As Article 21.4 of Spain’s current Traffic Law, “the maximum speeds set for conventional roads, except crossings, may be exceeded by 20 km / h by cars and motorcycles when they overtake other vehicles that circulate at a speed lower than those.

On secondary roads with a barrier between traffic lanes in different directions the speed limit can be 100km/h, 120km/h if overtaking.  

driving speed limits spain
Driving speed limits in Spain depending on the vehicle and whether it’s a motorway or a secondary road. Source: DGT

Arguments against the ban on overtaking on secondary roads included the fact that getting rid of the 20km/h margin would increase the distance needed to overtake, as well as cause increased stress for drivers who would be forced to remain behind slow vehicles. 

Crucially, some road associations have pointed out that it could end up being more dangerous to overtake with the ban, as the chance for them to get past the other vehicle would likely arise at high-risk areas or bends on the road rather than on straight stretches of road.

“As things stand, scrapping the 20 km/h margin does not respond to any safety criteria,” The Royal Automobile Club of Spain concluded. 

“On the contrary, with that extra speed, overtaking is faster and therefore so much safer as fewer meters are needed to carry out the manoeuver.”

Spanish motorcyclists mutual insurance company Mutua Motera considered the proposed measure could threaten road safety as if the driver or motorcyclist starts to overtake and “comes across something unexpected” they must be able to “both brake and overtake”, adding that it didn’t seem fair to penalise anyone “if at any given moment they have to accelerate to avoid an accident.”

According to European Motor Vehicle Association president Mario Arnaldo, if this extra margin of speed had been reduced or eliminated, Spanish traffic authorities would also have to signpost “150,000 kilometres of roads in Spain” and “it would de facto ban overtaking on two out of every three roads”.

Depending on factors such as inclination that can result in heavy vehicles having to drive very slowly, carreteras convencionales can sometimes have an additional lane to allow for safer overtaking, but generally they only have one lane in each direction.


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