Driving in the city itself shows Madrid to be a network of one way streets and narrow old roads mixed elegantly with sprawling 6 lane rotondas...

Many people believe that how somebody drives not only tells us a lot about them, but also about the culture they come from: “Show me how you drive and I’ll tell you who you are.” Now I don’t know how true that is because I know people who are sweet and mild mannered only to transform into a rage-filled, profanity spluttering demons the moment someone overtakes them on the road. Ha ha!

However, there is some truth to the stereotypes of driving in different countries and Spain and Madrid is no exception. So, what is it like driving round the Spanish capital? Penned in on all sides by commuters and tourists vying for a spot on the road and making quite a racket whilst doing it, Madrid is a definite driving experience, to say the least. 

But what sets a Spanish driver apart from other nationalities?

What makes them tick? And how can you blend seamlessly into their busy roads without receiving a barrage of swearwords and curses and looking like a guiri (foreigner)? Contrary to what you might hear from certain tourists and expats, the Spanish are, in fact, not the worst drivers in Europe and actually far from it (this writer would personally like to give that award to the Italians ☺). But,  in my experience what really defines a Spanish driver is the noise they make! 

Spanish roads are a cacophony of horns, shouts, bangs and crashes. In fact, a recent European union survey of bad driving habits in Europe stated that 60% of Spaniards use their horn every day in the car compared to just 5% of British drivers. Now as a conservative and polite driver, you may well be wondering “what on earth could they be using the horn for so often?” Well the short answer is ……everything. The Spanish will use the horn to tell other drivers that the light has changed and they have taken 3 seconds longer than they should before moving. It can be used as a warning, as a greeting, as a friendly reminder that you left your lights on. The point is, if you are going to be driving in Spain and Madrid you need to become accustomed to that sound above all else. In the UK for example the horn is a seldom heard sound that is usually used in extreme circumstances, which can in turn lead to a sensation of PTSD when driving in Spain.

While manners don’t necessarily make someone a good driver, it is fair to say that good manners make driving a more pleasant experience. Manners in Madrid however, are not very easily found. If you are used to a kind wave of thanks or a flash of lights when you let someone merge or join your lane in traffic, you may find it sorely missing here. Likewise, a pedestrian won’t give you a second glance after you let them cross the street. On the contrary, be ready for someone to double park in front of your car and then abandon their own vehicle for as long as it takes them to buy something or run their errand. The flip side of this is that if they block in another Spaniard, that person won’t hesitate to return to their old friend the horn and blast it repeatedly for as long as it takes for the other person to come and move their car (often without embarrassment or shame). No matter what is around them a hospital, a school or sleeping children, the noise will carry on at all times of day until they are freed from their parking prison. 

Other differences about driving in Spain

Another big difference between Spain and many other countries is how Spanish drivers park their cars. In the UK, it is drilled into you by your driving instructor that to touch another car is the ultimate sin and of course will result in immediate failure in your test. This means that the art of parking is honed to the point where you can do it blindfolded and still leave a respectable amount of space for other drivers to easily manoeuvre out. The Spanish, on the other hand, appear to have no such care for the cars of others. In fact, they have perfected an art of parking that they call “parking with kisses” where they wantonly hit the bumper of the cars in front and behind to help them navigate the parking process. If someone has parked too close, which they always do, no problem! Just reverse into the car and gently hit their bumper and then pull away, guilt free.

 I have to admit that I always disliked the British worship of their cars. It is an odd thing to love and give so much reverence to. The Spanish on the other hand will happily sit on other peoples bonnets, drink a beer, have a smoke, and catch up with old friends. 

Driving in the city itself shows Madrid to be a network of one way streets and narrow old roads mixed elegantly with sprawling 6 lane rotondas (roundabouts) and like most capitals the residents dart in and out of lane incredibly close and with very little indication. Also, with the new Madrid Central restrictions, you can easily be fined for driving in a restricted area without even being aware of it! So, perhaps on reflection, we would recommend leaving your car in your overpriced rented garage spot and just walking or taking the very good and economical public Madrid transport when you come to your Spanish class at Hablamos Spanish School. 

Useful Driving Vocabulary

En la calle:

Rotonda/Glorieta – roundabout
Carril – traffic lane
Semáforos – traffic lights
Paso de cebra – zebra crossing
Parquímetro – parking meter
Línea continua – solid line
Peatón – pedestrian

Partes del coche:

Intermitente – indicator
Claxon – horn
Volante – steering wheel
Freno – brake
Espejo – mirror
Marchas – gears
Maletero – boot /trunk
Motor – engine
Cinturón de seguridad – seat belt
Parabrisas – windscreen

Tener carnet de conducir – have a driving licence
Aprobar el examen de conducir – pass your driving test
Clase de conducir – driving lessons

Hablamos - full-on Spanish! ☺