Hubby stopped by the automobile club yesterday and picked up an International Driving Permit. He did this without my prodding which leads me to believe he feels some apprehension about driving in Spain and Portugal this summer. He never got one before when we rented a car in Germany. What is it about Mediterranean cultures that makes one feel as if one might be taken advantage of by la policía? Why is it difficult to imagine a highway cop in, say, Austria or Denmark or Belgium pulling you over on a dusty country road, leaning against your car whilst lighting a cigarette, and demanding an arbitrary fine in cash? Yet this is the impression some of us have of the law in particular countries.
Should you get an International Driving Permit if you're going to drive in Europe? It's not required, your American or Canadian driver's license is sufficient. But since it is possible - though not likely - that you could be asked for one either when you pick up your rental car or are stopped by the police, it doesn't hurt. An IDP costs only $15 at your local AAA office or can be applied for by mail.
The most prudent thing a potential driver in Europe can do is to familiarize himself or herself with international road signs and the motor vehicle regulations of the specific country in which one will be driving. Keep in mind that DUI laws and cell phone usage while driving laws are considerably more stringent in most European countries than they are here.
So, now that I've read up on the peculiarities of Spanish and Portuguese traffic laws, here are a few we'll have to keep in mind this summer:
1. In Spain, the most likely thing you will be fined for is not wearing your fluorescent orange vest when stepping out of the car alongside a highway.
2. In Spain, you're legally obliged to carry a warning triangle, a set of spare bulbs, and the tools to fit them. If you wear glasses to drive you must have a spare pair in the car.
3. In both Spain and Portugal, traffic fines must be paid on the spot. Police vehicles have a portable credit/debit card machine. Failure to pay will result in apprehension of the vehicle.
4. In Portugal, it is illegal to pass on the right in free-flowing traffic. The fine for this is 1,250.00 €.
5. In Portugal, speed limits are enforced by radar traps and unmarked police cars.
6. It is illegal to run out of gas when crossing Lisbon's mile long 25 de Abril Bridge.