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DRIVING

Driving in Spain: The new rules and fines in force from March 21st

A new set of traffic laws and fines come into force in Spain on Monday March 21st 2022, including changes to overtaking, electric scooters and alcohol limits.

Driving in Spain: The new rules and fines in force from March 21st
Spain's traffic authority has toughened exisiting rules and introduced new ones in a bid to reduce road deaths in the country caused by speeding, distractions and other road infractions. Photo: Alina Lelikova/Pixabay

Using or holding a mobile phone 

Spain’s DGT traffic authority is trying to reduce the number of fatal traffic accidents caused by distractions at the wheel, the reason for road deaths in 31 percent of cases in the country. 

Driving while holding your mobile phone in your hand now results in the loss of six points from your driving licence, three more than previously. 

As for the fine,  it’s still €200 as well as the loss of three points if the driver uses their mobile but doesn’t have it in their hand.

It remains legal to use wireless or other approved devices if they don’t involve the use of hands or helmets or headphones.

Motorcyclists can have such devices on their helmets for communication or navigation purposes, as long as they’re not a safety risk. However, this doesn’t include keeping a mobile phone device lodged between the helmet and your head while driving, an offence which carries the loss of three points.

Littering

Throwing objects on the road such as cigarette butts will carry a penalty of 6 points and a €200 to €500 fine, instead of the previous 4 points.

Not wearing a seatbelt

Not using your seat belt or doing it incorrectly will be punished with a €200 fine and the loss of 4 points; one more than previously.

According to the DGT, one in four deaths in traffic accidents in Spain are people who were not wearing a seatbelt.

Overtaking bicycles and mopeds

It will be mandatory to change lanes when overtaking cyclists or moped users on roads with more than one lane in each direction.

Endangering or hindering cyclists when overtaking or without leaving the mandatory minimum separation of 1.5 metres will now result in the loss of six points from one’s driving licence rather than four. The fine will continue to be €200. 

Stopping or parking your vehicle in a bus lane or a cycle path will now also be considered a serious violation and could result in the same penalty as for not overtaking cyclists properly.

Half of the 1,370 people who died in traffic accidents in Spain in 2020 were pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists. 

Overtaking on secondary roads

It is no longer possible to surpass the speed limit of carreteras convencionales (secondary roads) by up to 20km/h when overtaking other vehicles. 

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

From March 21st 2022, anyone who surpasses the speed limit of a carretera convencional will be penalised and fined according to their excess of speed.

The DGT has reported that in 2019, 239 drivers died in road accidents in Spain as a result of these overtaking manoeuvres. 

No drink-driving by minors 

People under the age of 18 in Spain will not be allowed to use an e-scooter or moped if they have drunk any alcohol at all. 

Even though the legal drinking age in Spain is 18, up to now minors were included in the same categories as adults, for whom the limit is 0.25 milligrammes of alcohol.  

No e-scooters on the pavement 

For the first time, personal mobility vehicles such as electric scooters, segways and similar devices have a special category in Spain’s traffic laws, which also apply to bicycles. 

The new rules that come into force on March 21st 2022 include two important changes for users of these devices that are becoming increasingly prevalent across Spain. 

It is now mandatory for users to wear a helmet and it is expressly forbidden to ride on the pavement, motorways or highways.

Either of these infractions will be punishable with a €200 fine. 

The legal framework for stricter rules for personal mobility vehicles to soon be adopted have also been introduced, namely that by July 2022 new devices will have to include a breathalyser for users to be able to use them. 

Recovering lost points 

If you’ve lost points off your licence, there’s a positive change that is now in force. If for two years you don’t commit any further driving offences, you can now recover all 12 points automatically. 

Previously there was a three-year wait for those who had committed a serious driving offence.

It will also now be possible to recover two points by carrying out a driving safety course. 

READ ALSO: Electric scooters in Spain – What are the rules and latest changes?

Cheating in driving exams 

Using unauthorised intercommunication devices (cheating, in other words) during the theory or practical test in Spain now carries a €500 fine and a six-month ban from resitting the driving exams. 

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UNDERSTANDING SPAIN

Why does tap water taste strange in some parts of Spain?

If you live in Spain or spend time here, you've probably noticed that the tap water tastes pretty bad in some parts of the country. Why is that? And where in Spain is the best (and worst) tap water?

Why does tap water taste strange in some parts of Spain?

A common query of foreign tourists abroad is ‘can I drink the tap water here?’.

Often these kinds of instincts come from memories of over-protective parents on summer holidays, but fortunately for us it isn’t really a relevant one in Spain.

Despite what some overly cautious people might say, at least 99.5 percent of Spain’s water supply is safe to drink, according to the Spanish Ministry of Health.

In Spain there are over 1,200 dams and 100,000 kilometres of distribution network that supplies tap water across the country.

And it is heavily regulated and tested, experts say. According to the director general of the Spanish Association of Water Supply and Sanitation (AEAS) Fernando Morcillo, “it [water] is the food product that passes the most controls.”

Spanish tap water is, simply put, perfectly safe to drink and heavily tested.

READ ALSO: Drought forces water use rethink in Spain

The taste

Reassuring though it is that Spanish tap water is entirely drinkable and regularly tested, it doesn’t change the fact that there can be great variation in the taste depending where exactly in the country you are. 

So, why does the tap water taste a little strange in some parts of Spain when it should be odourless and tasteless? 

Speaking in general terms, water is collected locally in dams and swamps, and then filtered, chlorinated, and transported to wherever it is going before coming out of our taps.

The local geography of this process – that is, not only where you live but where your water is collected and where it passes through on its way – can have a big impact on how it tastes at the other end.

Water treatment also contributes to making it a ‘heavy’ tap water with hints of chlorine, and when it comes to desalinated seawater, leftover magnesium and sodium are common.

If you ask many Spaniards, they’ll tell you that the tap water is ‘bad’ or worse on the coast.

Tap water in places like Valencia, Alicante and Málaga usually has a chemical odour and taste and many locals prefer bottled water.

Why is that? After the filtering process, water on the way to the coast can pick up more sediment and chemicals. The taste of tap water has a lot to do with the terrain it is collected in and the type of earth and rock it passes through on the way to your house.

Let’s take the tap water in Catalonia, for example, which comes from one of two main sources: the river Ter and the river Llobregat.

The Ter has low levels of contamination, but the Llobregat does not. Therefore, if you drink water somewhere on the banks of Llobregat, it will have more of a noticeable chemical flavour than water from the Lobregat. 

Many people who live in Madrid swear they have the best tap water in Spain. Although not quite the best in the country, Madrileños are right that it’s better than most and it comes down to where the water passes through.

Unlike in Catalonia, Madrid’s Sierra de Guadarrama has an advantage over other areas because the stone is mostly made up of granite, which better facilitates the filtration of minerals.

tap water safe spain

Despite what some overly cautious people might say, at least 99.5 percent of Spain’s water supply is safe to drink, according to the Spanish Ministry of Health. Photo: Kaboompics/Pixabay.

Where the predominant rock in the earth is more calcareous, it will generally taste worse, since limestone is soluble and produces a very ‘hard water’ that doesn’t taste as good. That’s why the tap water in areas such as Alicante, Valencia and Murcia has a worse flavour, plus the fact that they are all coastal areas.

Talking in very general terms, if you were to draw an imaginary line that ran from Andorra diagonally across Spain all the way down to Cádiz, the ‘soft’ or better tasting tap waters will be the north of the line and the ‘harder’ waters the south and east of the line.

There are some exceptions, of course, depending on local geography and filtration processes. 

The best and worst

Spain’s consumer watchdog, the Organisation of Consumers and Users (OCU), took samples of the tap water in 62 municipalities across Spain and had them analysed for their degree of mineralization and ‘hardness’, their hygienic quality, and level of possible contaminants. They then produced a report ranking the results

So, where in Spain has the best quality tap water and which has the worst?

The best

Despite what many Madrileños will tell you, Spain’s best tap water isn’t in Madrid. According to the OCU’s testing, the highest quality tap water in Spain was found in:

  • Burgos – Tap water in the northern Castile and León municipality had very few minerals, no lime no contaminants of any kind.
  • San Sebastián – Another northern area, San Sebastian in Basque Country has water with very light mineralization and is excellent in all hygiene and pollution parameters.
  • Las Palmas – Surprisingly, despite being on an island, Las Palmas de Canarias snuck into the top three.

Generally speaking, and as outlined above, the broader Levant coastal area, as well as the Spanish islands, are generally the areas where locals say the tap water isn’t quite as good.

The worst

And what about the worst?

  • Lebanza – In Lebanza, Palencia, the OCU found the presence of E. Coli, an indicator of fecal and recent contamination, and was generally found to have a very poor water quality.
  • Ciudad Real: Tap water in the Castilla-La-Mancha city had traces of trihalomethanes, a substance that comes from the combination of chlorine with the organic matter of water during water purification. 
  • Palma de Mallorca: Hardly surprising as it’s an island, but the water in Palma de Mallorca proved to very hard and very mineralized, which gives a bad taste. The most worrying thing, though, was that the OCU’s testing found that it contained 26 mg/litre of nitrates. Inside the stomach, nitrates are transformed into nitrites, which can cause serious health problems for children.
  • Barcelona, Huelva and Logroño: all cities on or close to the coast, the OCU found a high presence of aerobic microorganisms in the water in all three.
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