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Confused.com guide to driving in Portugal

Estrada Corda, PortugalGetting started

Get behind the wheel in Portugal and you risk a bad dose of culture shock. Though the Portuguese are a warm and welcoming people, many seem to drive with a casual recklessness that can be terrifying.

Dangerous overtaking, tailgating and speeding are all commonplace and help to explain why Portugal has one of the highest road-death rates in Europe.

That said, recent investment has produced an impressive network of motorways. These are mercifully free of traffic because locals consider the tolls expensive – e.g. €18.40 between Lisbon and the Algarve.

Hit the road

The most confusing aspect of driving in Portugal is the law that gives priority to traffic coming from the right. Negotiating roundabouts can be hair-raising.

Radar traps and unmarked police cars are used to enforce speed limits with most fines payable on the spot. You can be fined around €600 for using a handheld mobile phone and if you can’t pay up, the police may confiscate your vehicle.

If you’re caught driving over the blood-alcohol limit of 50mg you’ll be fined. More than 120mg and you can expect to be shown the inside of a Portuguese prison cell.

Star drive

The Douro Valley, where some of Portugal’s finest wines and ports are produced, makes for an intoxicating tour. The route from Porto through Amarante, Regua, Pinhão and Mateus is stunning and there are plenty of vineyards where you can drop by for a tasting. Drivers must spit it out, of course.

Best of the rest

Most visitors to the Algarve head straight from motorway to beach, but a tour down the back roads through the towns of Loulé, Silves and Monchique provides an atmospheric alternative away from the crowds. Alternatively, venture further north to the Alentejo, an area of expansive plains, whitewashed villages, olive groves and wheat fields. Head for Evora, Vila Vicosa and Estremoz.

Laws of the land

  • All car passengers must wear seatbelts if fitted
  • Children under 12 years old or 1.5m tall cannot sit in the front unless the car has only front seats or there are no seatbelts in the back. Only approved child seats or a suitable restraint system appropriate to a child’s size and weight can be used. If you have to use a child seat in the front, the passenger side airbags must be deactivated if using a rear-facing model
  • You must carry a warning triangle, reflective vest and photo ID
  • It’s illegal to run out of petrol when crossing Lisbon’s mile-long 25 de Abril bridge
  • For emergency services dial 112
  • Motorcyclists must dip their headlights during the day and wear crash helmets (including passenger). Passengers must be at least seven years old

Portuguese speed limits

Road type

Speed limit

Urban areas

50 kmh

Open roads/ outside built-up areas

90 kmh

Motorways

120 kmh (minimum 50 kmh)

Cars towing on open roads

70 kmh

Cars towing on motorways

100 kmh

In addition to the above, a maximum speed limit of 90kmh applies to those who’ve held a licence for less than one year

 

Local knowledge

If oncoming motorists flash their lights at you, take care – they may be signalling his intention to perform a reckless overtaking move.

In cities you should park in the direction of the traffic and not within 18m of a junction or 15m of a bus stop. You may see unofficial “attendants” who will direct you to spaces. Locals pay them a €1 tip to “look after” their cars. Park illegally and you can be clamped or towed.

Did you know?

It’s illegal in Portugal to strap cycles to the back of a car.

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