Transport & Travel - Driving on the Costa del Sol
The image of the Spanish as a laid back people is shattered as soon as they get behind the wheel. As pedestrians, colleagues, friends and citizens in everyday situations, the stereotype holds true – Spaniards are warm, polite, friendly people who work hard, play hard and know how to relax. On the road, however, it’s a different story. There are exceptions, of course, but to a driver weaned on British and Irish roads, the typical Spanish driver will strike you as overly aggressive and erratic.
It seems that most Spanish drivers are forever in a rush. They honk their horns at the merest hint of a hold up, will speed and tailgate when given the chance, often fail to indicate when changing lanes, and – by and large – lack the common road courtesy that often defines driving in the UK, coming across as uncooperative and quite intolerant.
So if you are planning on driving in Spain (a good idea, particularly in the blistering summer heat when the shortest of strolls can leave you drenched in your own sweat), exercise a little more caution than you would otherwise. One good tip is to always assume that the car nearest to you is about to do something unexpected; that way, you are more likely to be able to react quickly.
Also, try not to lose your own sense of courteousness on the road. It is quite easy to do, because many Spanish drivers will give you a disbelieving look if you accommodate the needs of another road user. Elsewhere on this site you will find pages of advice on how to adopt the local customs, but on the roads, it’s safety first, so don’t feel bad if you never quite master the rather peculiar Spanish mentality towards driving.
If this sounds unduly unfair, it’s because it’s better to err on the side of caution. The roads of the Costa del Sol, particularly the highways, have been much improved in recent years, but there are still some shortcomings that new drivers should be aware of:
Slip roads on to the N340 – joining the N340 can be a hair-raising experience thanks to the incredibly short slip roads that connect at quite an acute angle. So not only do you have to come to a complete stop before joining, you also have to crane your neck a fair way to check for traffic. And then you have to accelerate. Quickly.
Concrete central reservations – instead of the typical crash barrier, parts of the N340 have solid concrete blocks as the central reservation, often pockmarked with telling black and silver scrapes alongside them.
No central reservation – along other parts of the N340, there is no central reservation whatsoever, often along stretches where the speed limit is 100km per hour, and lanes can appear incredibly narrow. Be extra vigilant during these stretches.
Mopeds and scooters
In and around the resorts and cities of the Costa del Sol you will never be far from the unmistakeable drone of a scooter. Spaniards, like many of their Mediterranean cousins, love mopeds and scooters as quick and inexpensive modes of transport that are ideal for city living. The problem, however, is that you can legally ride one from the age of 16, and so many Spaniards develop their driving culture in this way, which then graduates with them as they move on to driving cars.
Perhaps the locals have a reason to be so aggressive on the road – tourists. Millions flock to the Costa del Sol all year round, and a fair proportion of them will hire a car and set off on their merry way without so much as a cursory glance at a map or guidebook on driving in Spain. And then get lost, miss their turning, drive too slowly, struggle with traffic lights etc…they stick out like a sore thumb once you are fully ingratiated into the ways of the Andalusian road, so try to maintain your decorum when driving near them and remember: you were like that once.