Driving in Spain can be a pleasure. Once you put the city centre behind you, you can find long stretches of motorway without a traffic cone or tailback in sight. Spanish motorways seem to be extraordinarily free from road works and are generally enjoyable to drive on.
There are two types of motorway in Spain:
- The autovia which is an ordinary motorway identifiable by beginning with an ‘A’ followed by a number (e.g. A7)
- The autopista which is a toll motorway and begins with the letters ‘AP’ (e.g.AP7)
The well-known AP7 runs all the way down the Mediterranean coast and shorter stretches of toll motorway pepper Spain. If you have had the pleasure of travelling on one of the toll roads you will know just how quiet they can be. At certain times of the year you can be driving for miles without encountering another vehicle. There is a reason.
They are expensive. In the summer high season in particular the cost of travelling on some of these pay-as-you-go motorways can seem extortionate. The irony is that as fees are increased to help ensure the profitability of the motorway, so fewer people use them. A real Catch 22.
The decision has been made this year that perhaps a price frieze is what’s needed. In 2015, motorway toll prices will be frozen for the first time in five years. This will be welcome news too for those who suffer from the disturbance of motorists taking shortcuts and back roads to avoid the high tolls and congestion of the public roads.
How tolls work
The word for toll is ‘peaje’ and signs will warn you as you approach one. When you arrive at the toll you have a choice of paying by card or with cash. If you have a VIA-T then you pay automatically. This is a device that is stuck to your windscreen and the amount to pay registers automatically as you pass through the specifically labelled lanes.
On some stretches of road you receive a card that you then keep in your car until the next toll. On other stretches there might be a toll as you exit from the motorway.
Some tolls are fixed rate and for others you are charged according to the distance travelled. If you have an AP motorway locally you will become familiar with its idiosyncrasies and work out the best methods of getting the benefits without paying an arm and a leg.
Usually the speed limit on a Spanish motorway is 120km/h but do be careful, this is reduced in some key areas. For example, in a tunnel the speed limit is reduced and on an approach to a toll your speed must drop gradually.
You will find speed cameras too on Spanish motorways although not as commonly as you do in many other European countries. You usually do have a warning that speed cameras are in use and you will be sent a fine to your house if you are caught breaking the speed limit. Fines can be paid quite easily online by accessing the DGT website.
A new law in Spain introduced in 2014 bans in-car radar detectors that identify mobile speed traps. However, you can still use warning devices designed to indicate fixed speed traps.
There are service stations on Spanish motorways. They tend to be a little smaller than in some other European countries but are, overall quite reasonable places to stop for some refreshments and can actually serve some decent food.
There are reports occasionally of travellers being targeted at service stations and thefts occurring. It is sensible to be on the alert and take precautions such as keeping an eye on your possessions and not leaving items in your car on clear view.
Overall, if you do have some distance to travel in Spain, the motorway network provides a very good means of covering the miles.