Driving in Tenerife, Everything you need to know. Safety, rules of the road, car rental, insurance, fines etc
For most visitors or residents with a full driving licence, having access to your own car, van, motorbike, scooter etc is the most flexible choice. However, for the uninitiated coming from more ‘organised’ cities and towns around Europe, a modicum of patience and a sense of adventure is a distinct advantage. The standard of driving is not exactly the highest in Europe. Locals tend to either dawdle along at their own pace, or speed around impatiently. In both instances, there can often be a total lack of awareness or disregard for other road users. Many locals also use their vehicle’s indicators sparingly or incorrectly, leaving other road users constantly guessing.
Then add in a healthy mix of tourists from 30 different countries who get behind the wheel of a rental car with no clue as to the sometimes strange Canarian road layouts, or indeed where they are actually going and in many cases, a similar lack of road-sense to some of the locals.
Traffic has increased significantly on the island in the last few years. Drivers can now experience traffic jams at any time of day. There are the usual hotspots that flare up at rush hour (e.g. the TF1 motorway between Costa Adeje and Guaza), but some can be worked around or avoided with a bit of planning and journey flexibility.
The good news is that fuel prices are currently the lowest in Europe. For most of 2019, diesel has been available for between 85 – 90 cents per litre and petrol from 86 – 92 cents per litre. You can check current average prices for petrol and diesel for the different boroughs in Tenerife HERE
N.B. Petrol stations along the popular tourist routes tend to charge disproportionately more for petrol than diesel. The fact that 95% of rental cars are petrol is surely just a coincidence!
The cost of renting a car from either of Tenerife’s airports is often ridiculously cheap in comparison with other European locations. Economy car offers on the internet are advertised from as little as €4 per day, although such headline price will most likely be subject to various hidden extras. There are also numerous official and unofficial sources to rent a car for a longer term (1 – 6 months). Prices vary depending on the standard of vehicle and whether insurance is included.
Scooter and motorbike rental tends to be rather more expensive, no doubt due to the increased insurance cost. The following are some of the Scooter and Motorbike rental providers in Tenerife:
Parking in Tenerife is an ever-increasing nightmare. As in most European towns and cities, the local authorities appear to do everything possible to make life difficult for drivers, despite not really providing any viable alternative. Parking places mysteriously disappear every year to be replaced by pretty (but useless) flower beds or ugly concrete decorations. Delivery drivers often have to park hundreds of metres away and haul their deliveries to their destination by hand. Meanwhile, traffic levels continue to rise, leaving more and more drivers chasing fewer and fewer parking spaces. Many drivers on a tight deadline have no choice but to resort to expense paid parking options, which typically run at around €0.03 per minute (€1.80 per hour). For locals on a limited wage and tourists on a tight budget, this is often not economically viable.
For visitors renting a vehicle, it is also highly recommended to check with your hotel or apartment complex as to the availability of local parking. Many hotels in built up areas are surrounded by a sea of yellow lines, so if the hotel cannot guarantee on-site parking, you could be in for a long walk to and from your accommodation if you plan to use your vehicle regularly.
From Tenerife South airport, the main rental providers with kiosks located inside the terminal building are:
THRIFTY (Tenerife North only) (TFN – Los Rodeos)
There are also many off-airport providers and various re-sellers potentially offering better deals than the main providers above. In all cases, renters should pay close attention to the pick-up arrangements, fuel-return policy and what is actually included in the small print.
Most providers supply the vehicle with a full tank of fuel and require it to be returned full. However, as with most rental companies, there are often differing options at additional cost. There is a petrol station 100m from the terminal building, another slightly cheaper station on the opposite side of the motorway from the airport plus a couple of even cheaper stations within a 5 kilometre drive.
DRIVING IN TENERIFE
In theory, driving in Tenerife shouldn’t be much different to in any other European country. On the whole, signage and rules of the road are similar or identical to many other countries. However, when it comes to Tenerife, practice is sometimes different to the theory.
First and foremost, you should ensure that you have a valid driving licence. For most EU citizens, this isn’t a problem. Simply bring your home driving licence. Photocard licences are now universally requested throughout Europe, so don’t expect to rely on your old paper licence alone. In Spain, driving without a licence can now land you in jail for 3 to 6 months or a ban of up to 2 years with potential community service on top!
In the event of an accident, the procedure is fairly logical and similar to those in other European countries.
To assist with the following, it is recommended to keep a pen and paper handy in the car. Your mobile phone camera should also prove sufficient to take a photo of the position of the vehicles and the damage etc.
1. Make a note of the other driver’s name and their NIE/NIF number, preferably by requesting sight of their I.D (it is not unknown for uninsured drivers to make up a name!)
2. Note down the other vehicle’s licence plate number.
3. Ask for details of the other driver’s insurance. Given that it is a legal requirement to keep it in the vehicle, the driver should be able to show you this on request, particularly if he or she is vague about their insurance details.
4. Take photos of all relevant aspects of the accident. If necessary, take written notes to remind you of the key facts before you forget.
5. Try to get details of witnesses. If the accident involves any substantial damage to either vehicle or any personal injury, call the police and ensure everybody waits for them to arrive. A police report may prove invaluable in any subsequent insurance dispute. If anybody needs an ambulance, dial 112 immediately.
6. As in any country, don’t admit liability, even if you believe you were at fault. In some instances, insurance companies may try to avoid liability where their insured client makes certain prejudicial statements on record without first consulting with them.
Once you have dealt with all of the above, check carefully if the vehicle is driveable. If not, call a tow truck, which is usually a complimentary service provided by your insurer. For this reason, it is a good idea to keep the emergency assistance number handy in the vehicle or programmed into your mobile phone.
PERIODIC VEHICLE INSPECTIONS – THE ‘ITV’ (MOT TEST).
The ITV (pronounced ‘Eee-tay-oo-bey’) must be carried out on all road vehicles. For private cars and motorcycles, the first ITV is due when the vehicle is 4 years old (from the date it was registered, not from the date of manufacture). Thereafter, an ITV must be conducted every 2 years. However, for private cars, once the vehicle is 10 years old an ITV must be carried out every 1 year. An ITV may also be required after a serious accident or damage to the vehicle.
In Tenerife, All ITV inspection stations are run by Applus. There are stations in Adeje Town, Las Chafiras and Guimar.
Appointments can be booked online here: http://www.applusiteuve.com/en/Home
Bear in mind that Spain is somewhat stricter regarding the technical specifications for a vehicle. For example, in the UK, modifying a car by adding bigger or wider wheels, or installing a ‘sports exhaust’ is common. However, in Spain such a modification can result in a failed ITV, as the dimensions of the wheels and tyres do not match the details in the Ficha Tecnica. Many Canarian ‘Boy-Racers’ get around this by keeping their original parts and actually swapping them back over just to get through the ITV test. However, please bear in mind that this practice is illegal and likely to void your insurance cover, not to mention attract unwanted attention from the police!
COMPULSORY DOCUMENTATION TO CARRY IN YOUR VEHICLE
In some countries like the UK, immediate production of all documentation is not required as the police will issue a ‘producer’ with a time limit. However, in Spain, the police require that you carry all relevant documents and items with you whilst driving the vehicle. These include:
- Permiso de circulacion (white card, equivalent to a ‘Log-Book’ in the UK)
- Ficha Tecnica – (green card detailing the technical spec for the vehicle)
- Insurance Policy
- A valid Drivers Licence for the category of vehicle you are driving
- Passport or Residencia card
- A spare pair of spectacles (if you need them for driving)
- 2 warning triangles
- 2 reflective jackets (inside the vehicle, not in the boot/trunk)
- Fire extinguisher
- First Aid Kit
Whilst the first 5 items are likely to be inspected closely, some Canarians claim that they have never been asked to show the other items on the list in 40 years of driving here. However, ‘sod’s law’ dictates that you will be the exception to the rule when pulled over for a check!
Changing your licence when moving country
Contrary to some rumours, your UK, Irish, French or Italian driving licence does not have to be changed upon moving to Spain. It remains completely valid for use in Spain until the stated date of expiry printed on the licence. The fact that you no longer live in the issuing country is irrelevant.
UPDATE: For those concerned about the effect of Brexit on their UK driving licence in Spain, please see our article HERE
When the licence naturally expires, the licence holder should then apply for a replacement licence in the country in which they are resident at the time of the application.
Meanwhile, Trafico (the equivalent of DVLA in the UK) has a procedure whereby you can inscribe your foreign licence with the Spanish authorities. This is a purely voluntary procedure whereby a piece of card is attached to the back of your licence, essentially registering you in the Spanish system. There have been numerous instances where the police (typically the Policia Local) try to insist that drivers have to go and inscribe their licences by law, but the reality is that it is purely voluntary.
This voluntary procedure would appear to be a ‘lose-lose’ for licence holders. Not only is the procedure bureaucratic and time-consuming, but it immediately allows the Spanish authorities to deduct points from your licence for driving infractions (in Spain, you start with 12 points and lose them, as opposed to the points gaining system used in the UK and Ireland).
Without such inscription in Spain, there is currently no reciprocal system of points enforcement between EU countries; hence whilst Spain can now issue and enforce a money fine throughout Europe for a driving infraction in Spain, they cannot impose points. The European Union has discussed harmonising the penalty points system to facilitate this, but so far, reaching agreement on every aspect of driving offences between 28 countries has proven impossible and is unlikely to be resolved any time soon.
Whilst Tenerife Guru most certainly does not recommend committing driving infractions whilst in Spain in order to evade penalty points, there is certainly no logical reason for foreign drivers to inscribe or change their licence in Spain until they are legally required to.
Some sources also quote the misleading information that it is an offence to drive on a licence that shows an incorrect address. Whilst it is illegal to present such licence with an out-of-date address for the purposes of address verification (e.g. when applying for a loan), it is physically impossible to update your foreign licence with a Spanish address, as each country will only permit a registered address based within its own jurisdiction. For those in doubt, the safest course of action is to carry supplementary identification showing your correct current address, which for foreign residents in Spain will typically be the green Residencia card.
Those of the 2 wheeled persuasion should also bear in mind that a standard EU driving licence typically only covers bikes up to 50cc (minimum age 15 years old and 18 years old to carry a pillion passenger). Those wishing to ride a 125cc must obtain the necessary qualification for category A1 (up to 15kw power, or typically 125cc), whilst those wishing to ride a bigger bike must obtain either category A2 (up to 35kw, or typically around 400cc) or category A (unlimited). Riders aged 16 and over can obtain an A1 licence to ride up to 125cc / 12kw bikes.
Bear in mind that those riding with an insufficient category licence or insufficient age will almost certainly have their insurance invalidated in the event of an accident/claim.
The good news is that drivers in Tenerife can now sit driving tests in Santa Cruz in English as opposed to Spanish, so there is no excuse for foreigners not to obtain the correct qualification. That would however require an application for a Spanish driving licence.
Practical considerations for Tenerife driving
Firstly, what used to be a fairly sleepy island to drive around is now relatively chock-a-block with traffic. Several hotspots up and down the island suffer from rush-hour gridlock. Unfortunately however, many locals do not seem to have adapted to the increase in traffic and still drive like they are in a pickle-lorry on a country lane.
Whilst the modern driving test in Spain (homologated to EU requirements) has raised standards to a degree, a large percentage of locals seem to throw the highway code book out of the window the moment they pass their test. Typical infractions include:
Failing to signal / signalling incorrectly
Indicators are often an ‘optional extra’ in Tenerife and many joke that they are disconnected on all new cars delivered to the island. A large percentage of drivers NEVER signal when turning left or right or changing lanes, which leaves other road-users guessing. Others that do bother to indicate (e.g. when entering a motorway) will then leave their indicator on for several kilometres, or even until they reach their next exit, before they actually notice. When you become accustomed to this, it becomes little more than an irritation that you learn to work around. Ironically, it perhaps causes fewer accidents than in other countries, because drivers here are always expecting others to turn or change lanes without indicating, hence they anticipate it and drive more defensively.
Rather obtusely, some Tenerife drivers believe there is only one acceptable use of their indicator, namely the ‘left’ signal. For some ridiculous reason, a custom has developed in Tenerife whereby if a driver is about to come to an unexpected stop (e.g. to let somebody cross the road) he will indicate ‘left’ (i.e. the opposite side to which one would pull over to stop in Spain). This is also used on the motorway when the traffic suddenly slows. Some stupid drivers even use this ‘left’ signal when tailgating another driver in the fast lane on the motorway, almost as a form of ‘flashing the other driver to move over’. Again, what becomes little more than a minor annoyance to the initiated can be downright confusing, or even dangerous, to a tourist driving on holiday.
Straying out of one’s lane
This is another ‘national’ sport among a percentage of locals. On a dual carriageway or motorway, it is largely just an annoyance and a good blast of the horn reminds the errant driver of where they are supposed to be. However, many drivers, particularly of larger vehicles, will not hesitate to veer across the middle white line on a tight bend, either because they were going too fast to actually negotiate the corner correctly, or perhaps they thought it was less effort or more fun to take the ‘racing line’. More than a few tourists have had their wing-mirrors (or worse) knocked off by these idiots.
Sadly, tourists are as guilty of this as the locals. For locals, slow progress typically indicates that they are looking for a parking space and don’t want to miss anything. However, increasingly it also means that they are on their phones making that all-important business call, whatsapping their friends or sending a tweet. Although mobile phone use whilst driving is a serious offence just like in most countries, enforcement in Tenerife seems to be virtually non-existent, unless you actually pull up alongside a police car whilst on the phone and wave at the policeman.
Meanwhile, a large number of tourists are also happy to dawdle along at a snail’s pace or just stop in the middle of the road. Many are simply lost, having been confused by Tenerife’s illogical road layout or infuriating lack of clear signage. Or perhaps they are drunk, on drugs, or maybe just embracing Spain’s mañana spirit. Either way, a respectful short press of the horn usually encourages them to get moving.
Parking can be a nightmare in Tenerife. As in many towns and cities around the world, there appears to be a determined drive to make life as difficult as possible for motorists. Illogical one-way systems, narrow lanes with no lay-bys, unnecessarily large pedestrian zones and ever-reduced parking space numbers have left an increasing number of motorists fighting over an ever-decreasing number of parking spaces. In some zones, if a delivery driver wishes to deliver goods or a coach driver needs to drop off passengers, they often have no choice but to block the entire road until they have completed their task.
In some areas of Los Cristianos, the vast majority of vehicles on the road just seem to be going around and around searching for a parking space. It is staggering to think how much time and fuel is wasted every day in this pursuit.
Independent car dealers do little to help the situation. In the prime locations e.g. opposite the main bus-stops in Los Cristianos between the Apolo and Valdes centres, there are typically 20 cars parked up for days at a time displaying ‘for sale’ signs, taking up valuable parking spaces that could otherwise be used by genuine residents and short-term visitors. However, Arona town hall seems either unwilling or unable to solve the problem.
Here is a more humorous take on Tenerife Drivers. It is intended as a light-hearted jibe and ‘Tenerife Drivers’ should not take the comments too seriously!