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

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.

motorbike on Spanish road overtakes
The rules for overtaking on Spain's secondary roads (carreteras convencionales) will stay as they are in 2021. Photo: Juanecd/Flickr

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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How to change the title holder of utility bills in Spain

When you move into a new property in Spain you will need to change the account or contract holder over, so that any future water, electricity or gas bills will be in your name. It's not as easy as you may think; here's how you go about it.

How to change the title holder of utility bills in Spain

Changing the name on your utility bills and the payment details should in theory be relatively straightforward, however you may come up against some common problems which can make the change pretty complicated.

Firstly, you will need to find out which energy companies have been contracted for your property.

You can do this by asking the previous owner themselves, contacting your landlord if you’re renting or asking your estate agent to find out for you.

When it comes to water, this should be provided by your local council or city, so you won’t need to contact the previous occupant for this one. 

How do I change the title over?

When you first move in, remember to note down the numbers on the gas, electricity and water meters, so you can give these to the utility companies and they can record how much you should owe, instead of having to pay for the previous occupant’s consumption as well.

Next, you will then need to contact the energy company supplying your property or water provider and ask for a cambio de titular a nombre del arrendatario o comprador (ask for a change of ownership in the name of the renter or buyer).

The process should be completely free for electricity and gas, but in some cities, you may need to pay a deposit for changing the title of the water bill, which you should get back when you vacate the property. The deposit can be anywhere between €50 and €100.

Contacting the energy company by phone may be the best way to make sure everything is done correctly, but some companies also have online forms where you can request a title change. When it comes to water, most cities will have water offices you can visit or specific e-mail addresses if you can’t contact them over the phone. 

There are a few pieces of information you’ll need to have on hand before you contact the company. These are:

  • The full name of the previous person who had the bills in their name
  • Your NIE / DNI
  • The address of the property
  • The date you moved in
  • The CUPS code (not needed for water)
  • Your padrón certificate (for water only)
  • A copy of the deeds of the property or rental contract
  • Your bank details

With all this information, they should be able to change the name over on the account relatively quickly, so that any future energy bills will go directly to you.

At this time, you can also change your tariff or amount of energy contracted to suit your individual needs.

How do I find the CUPS code?

The CUPS code or Código Unificado del Punto de Suministro (Universal Supply Point Code) is a number that identifies each individual property that receives electricity or gas. The number doesn’t change, so you could ask the previous occupant for this as it will be written on their energy bills.

Alternatively, if this isn’t possible you can contact your energy distributor – these are assigned by area and stay the same. By giving them your name, address and ID number such as NIE, they will be able to give you the CUPS code associated with your property.

What if I want to change to a new energy company?

If you’d prefer not to contract the energy company that the previous owner had, you can also choose to go with a new one. In this case, you will still need all of the same information and numbers as above, but you will contact the energy provider of your choice and the type of tariff you want to pay.

How long will it take to change the name over?

It can take between 1 and 20 days for the bills to be changed over into your name. The previous occupant will receive their final bill and then you will receive the new one from the date you moved in.

What are some of the problems I might come up against?

The most common problem is when the previous occupant is not up to date on paying their bills and has some outstanding debt. In this case, if you try to change the title over into your name, you will also be inheriting the pervious owner’s debt.

In this case, you will have to get the previous occupant to pay their outstanding bill before you can change it over into your name. If you have problems getting them to pay their bill, then you can show proof of the date you moved in by sending in a copy of your deeds or rental contract. This should in theory allow for the transfer of ownership without having to take on the debt, however it can be tricky process, often calling the energy company multiple times and waiting for verification of the proof.

What if the energy services have been cut off?

In the case that the property has been uninhabited for some time, the previous owners may have deactivated or cut off the utilities. If this is the case, then you will need to call the energy providers to activate them again. This will typically involve paying several fees to be able to get them up and running. The amount you pay will depend on the energy distributor and where the property is based in Spain.