As in any country, motoring in Spain brings both challenges and pleasure …
I think it’s fair to say that some of their motoring laws are overly complex and the roadsides are awash with signage which only leads to confusion for the non savvy motorist. Basically, there are speed restriction signs at the approach to most junctions outside urban areas, then once passed the junction, further signs reminding you of the maximum permitted speed. This also applies on motorways, so the countryside appears full of lollipops wherever you travel! On the plus side, many of the main routes and motorways across Spain are maintained to a far higher standard than in the UK but still fall short of the quality of road surfaces across much of France. On the downside, some of the minor roads are actually devoid of tarmac in places, simply resembling dust tracks! However, that simply adds to the charm of motoring in Spain, coupled with the complete lack of traffic on many secondary roads. Only recently, I drove in excess of 45 kms over mountain roads and only encountered four other vehicles in that distance, so saying many roads are quiet is something of an understatement.
One thing that won’t escape an astute motorist, however, is the average age of motor vehicles on the roads. According to a recent survey, the average age of a car on Spanish roads is now 11.5 years, compared with 8.89 years in 2008. This equates to some 11 million vehicles, and if the trend continues or simply stabilises, this figure could rise to 16 million by 2017. The average age is far higher than in the other four major European markets of Germany, UK, France and Italy. Statistically, 29% of cars on the roads of Spain are between 11 and 15 years old whilst a staggering 24% are over 15 years old!
The recession that took hold in 2008 is probably the main reason for this situation. Many families have struggled to make ends meet, especially in Spain where average earnings are considerably lower than in much of Europe, so updating a motor vehicle has either been unaffordable or lacked priority. A lesser factor is that cars actually last longer in Mediterranean climates as bodywork does not corrode as a result of adverse weather conditions. In an effort to try and encourage people to purchase a new vehicle, the Spanish government has run an incentive discount scheme, similar to that promoted by the UK government several years ago. Unfortunately, unlike the success of the UK scheme, buyers in Spain have not been quick on the uptake, so the scheme has been relaunched on several occasions, the latest version having started in March 2015. This will run for 12 months or until allocated funds have been exhausted, and will entitle buyers of qualifying new cars to a discount of up to €3000 (£2300).
People may well question the need to update an old car if it still serves their purpose. However, there are several major factors to consider when driving a vehicle considered to be past its sell-by date. The number one factor is safety. In tests carried out by the Royal Automobile Club of Spain (RACE), an impact between two vehicles with an age gap of 20 years saw the occupants of the new vehicle suffer serious but not fatal injuries, whilst those in the old car were killed outright. RACE stated that the chances of an accident increase proportionately to the age of the vehicle, as does potential fatality. Studies show that in a motorway accident in a car less than 4 years old, the fatality rate is 1:74 (one fatality for every 74 incidents) whereas in a car over 15 years old, this increases to 1:36. On ordinary roads, the comparable figures are 1:41 and 1:19! A second factor is the cost of running an older vehicle. On average, a newer vehicle consumes 30% less fuel and its emissions are 95% less, so it’s also kinder to the environment. It is acknowledged that perceived savings in fuel will depend greatly on the annual distance driven. Newer cars are also much safer with multiple airbags affording driver and passengers more protection, superior crush-proof zones, and often come with facilities that aid the overall driving experience. If Spain’s target figure of old vehicles were replaced with new models, in excess of 300 million litres of fuel will be saved each year, thereby preventing the import of over 1.96 million barrels of oil per annum.
Despite the recession, sales of new vehicles have continued to be quite buoyant in the UK market, with a particularly good performance in the first six months of 2015. However, unlike much of mainland Europe, the UK has a very large fleet of company cars, with many businesses updating their fleet every 2-3 years. The sale of these vehicles obviously impacts heavily upon monthly statistics which do not accurately reflect the number of private purchases. With more and more British families being squeezed nearer or below the poverty line, there is every chance that a higher percentage of older cars will ultimately be gracing the roads of the UK in the coming years.
Wherever in the world you may live, drive carefully and happy motoring!