When driving in Spain or its islands (Lanzarote, Ibiza etc) I have noticed that the locals tend to drive around roundabouts in the outer lane, ALWAYS, even when going all the way around.

Whereas in England we would tend to take the inside lane if going more than half way around (eg 3rd/4th exit on a 4-way roundabout)

Is this part of their highway code? It's not a problem, as long as you know to expect it!!!

  • I've never understood the British approach. Question asked.
    – gerrit
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 11:31
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    some people drive like brittish / french / german, aka: civilized drivers, and others like the highway code states, always-on-the-outside, which hasn't been updated on roundabouts since the 50's, when they were all 2 lanes roundabouts exiting into 1-lane roads designed to merge long, 1way for each side, national roads on town connections.
    – CptEric
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 12:32
  • Rule of thumb: In Spain a roundabout is like a normal street, only extremely curved. Same rules apply as if you where moving in a straight line. Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 22:04

7 Answers 7


I can't say this is official, but sounds like a good explanation.

The following explanation is taken from the Spanish equivalent of the Highway Code.

“When there is more than one lane on a roundabout, you will normally travel around the roundabout in the right hand lane – the outside of the roundabout”

So what exactly is the inside lane for?
“to carry out an overtake or if the lane is signed for your direction of travel”

I translated the above into spanish and searched google for the wording. I came across this site which seems to be an official Spanish traffic site with an explanation and a graphic.

Edit: From comments this is a particularly unusual type of roundabout. See image in Jcl's link.

Not sure if that helps though!

Another forum dicussing the issue with conflicting information about what is actually taught in Spain.

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    Apparently so. Bizarre! erikras.com/2011/08/05/roundabouts
    – Berwyn
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 9:00
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    lanes are not marked. this is what the code looks now : ep01.epimg.net/verne/imagenes/2014/10/20/articulo/… blue, green = good. the rest = bad.
    – CptEric
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 12:36
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    I like the fact that the highway code specifically authorizes overtaking in a roundabout!
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 13:31
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    @AnderBiguri only if it was just causing traffic jams. The problem I see in Spain about roundabouts is that if you use the inner lanes, you still need to move back to the outer one much earlier than what the majority does. Cutting drivers on the first lane by going to an exit from the second lane is something I see every day. Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 11:13
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    Note that this image refers to a specific type of roundabout, "glorietas partidas", where the road continues inside the roundabout. The image showing traditional roundabouts linked in CptEric's comment and in Jcl's answer is a better fit for this question, in my opinion. Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 14:30

I found this article from the National Department of Traffic saying that most of the drivers don't drive correctly through roundabouts. I quote:

75% of the drivers ignore the use of each one of the lanes. 68% of drivers drive in an inadequate lane, affecting traffic fluidity, mainly using the outer lane when they want to exit to the left or perform a U-turn. To this, we must add that when the roundabout has two lanes, 65% of vehicles do not position in the adequate lane. If we are going to exit the roundabout to the right (i.e. first exit) then we should stay in the outer lane, and if we are going to exit the roundabout to the left (i.e. 4th exit) we should position ourselves in the inner lane, as long as traffic allows it. In both cases, we should enter the roundabout in the outer lane and progressively advance to the inner lanes as we need to.

I don't have the driving license, but from family and friends that examined recently, the norm is pretty similar to the one in England OP described, it is just people are bad drivers.

EDIT: As mentioned in the comments, one big difference is that in England you can not enter a roundabout unless there is no traffic coming, while in Spain you can enter if the outer lane has no traffic, then move into the inner lane if necessary, and then back to the outer lane in order to exit. This then makes difficult going back to the outer lane to exit if there is a lot of incoming traffic, so in heavy traffic or in small roundabouts, drivers sometimes decide to stay in the outer lane so they don't get cut by other drivers in the outer lane.

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    Interesting. Can you interpret the image in my answer that is also from the same site? It seems to be indicating that the outside red and blue cars are staying in the outside lane all the way round?
    – Berwyn
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 10:26
  • The quote makes sense... until the last line: "In both cases we should enter the roundabout in the outer lane and progressively advance to the inner lanes"! If you want the inner lane on a roundabout, in the UK you'd enter on the inner lane. Entering on the outer lane, when you need the inner lane, is going to affect traffic fluidity by being in the way of people who actually need the outer lane.
    – AndyT
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 11:28
  • Yes in the UK, where there is a 2-lane entry, you would generally take right (inner) for anything past straight-over, or left lane (outer) for left or straight over. Unless its a dual carriageway... then, hmm...! its USUALLY marked on the road Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 12:36
  • @AndyT, I think that quote means that you have to enter the outer lane and gradually go to inner lanes, always using the (blinker?) properly, and not just cross straight to the inner lane from the lane you are coming from, that could cause accidents if you cross in front of cars circulating in the outer lane (Please edit or correct me as you please, I don't know a lot of vocabulary about driving and traffic...). Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 12:57
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    @AndyT: it sounds like the way it's supposed to work in Spain is that if there's only one car coming around the roundabout then it should already be in the outer lane, because it's supposed to use the inner lane only to pass where the traffic flow demands/permits that. So in the UK, if there's something coming in the inner lane but not the outer, that tells you it's turning right. Whereas in Spain it's the equivalent of a middle-lane driver on the motorway, they're in the wrong place and good luck to you dealing with that ;-) Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 17:36

As a Spanish, living in Spain and long time driver, I'd say the correct way is the one you describe you do in Britain (and it's the one I do when traffic permits)...

... with one caveat: don't know how it is in other places, but at least in Spain, on any collision, if one driver is switching lanes while the other is not, then the switcher driver is taken as "guilty" and its insurance has to pay the third-party damages (plus for most insurances, you won't get any payment for self-damages): so people just tends to make it on the safe (albeit incorrect) side: if you do the roundabout on the outer lane, you make sure you never switch lanes inside, so no matter if you hit anyone doing the correct thing, or get hit by someone else, you'll get paid for damages.

Yeah, it's absurd, but ask this question to spaniards, and you'll get this answer most of the time (I have).

Fun extra fact

In my specific region (Murcia, on the southeast), whenever there's not a high load of traffic (and sometimes even if there is), if you need to exit on the other side of the roundabout, people will tend to just drive straight (or almost) through roundabouts, so using basically all lanes. And yes, in folklore, we often get cricitised by it (and rightly so).

Additional "Official" fact

This is what the DGT (the transport principal in Spain, or Dirección General de Tráfico) says you should do on roundabouts (source, from 2014: http://revista.dgt.es/es/multimedia/infografia/2014/1008-Como-circular-en-glorietas.shtml ):

how to drive on roundabouts

Seems they are actually encouraging the usage of the outer lane (in the image, "Bien" means "Good", and "Mal" means "Bad"): The only cars doing it clearly good are the blue ones (car "A"). There's also car "B" which does it right, but it seems to come out of nowhere (it's already in the middle of the roundabout), and since "D" (which is what I described in the fun fact above) does it wrong by changing lanes, there's no other "correct" endorsed way.

I find all this very wrong (why would they make more than two lanes anyway, if using the inner lane would be always wrong?), but just adding it as it has some "officiality" to it.

There's also one animated video on this link (from May 2016)

  • The problem with the bad cars is that the inner lanes are used to move forward, but to leave the roundabout, you must be on the outer one (no matter what lane you take on the exit). All the bad ones cross lanes to the exit. If you check the green car, it uses the second lane, then switches to the first one, then leaves the roundabout. The key here is that you should never go through lanes, but switch to the outer lane before your exit. The only moment where you're allowed to cross lanes is when you enter, if you're already on an "inner" entrance lane and you don't put anyone in danger. Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 11:34
  • @Korcholis yeah, I get that, but that's not depicted: only cars that are "good" in the picture enter always through outer lane... all cars that switch a lane and are shown entering, do it "wrong", thus, attending only to the picture, to be able to use an inner lane, you must appear into it from nowhere :-) It's just a bad picture, I understand how roundabouts should be done, but it's just pretty badly explained there.
    – Jcl
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 18:51
  • check the green one. He's on the second lane, and then he switches to the outer lane at around the "south exit", but he leaves at the "east exit". Therefore, he switches to the outer lane much much earlier than when he wants to leave. That's good. Now check the red one on the left. He crosses not one, but two lanes too close to his exit, going through the green's trajectory. If he was coming from the south entrance, he should have taken the inner lane, and switch to the outer one at around the north exit. Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 19:29
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    Again, yes, but the green one is appearing in the middle of the roundabout, already in the middle lane. According to the picture, there's no good way to enter the roundabout and switch to the middle or inner lane, at all
    – Jcl
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 19:31
  • sorry @Jcl, I didn't understand you. If you reach the roundabout entrance through the second or third lane, you must also take the second or third lane in the roundabout (so that's the only moment where crossing lanes -and not simply changing them- is accepted). If you had to enter through the first lane, you can switch to the inner lanes in the roundabout, if needed. Basically they don't show how cars enter in the inner lanes, because all the cars (even the bad ones) but the orange properly enter in the inner lanes. The orange had to switch to the first lane before he entered. Commented Jul 20, 2016 at 7:41

This subject caused a small twitterstorm in September 2016 when the Guardia Civil (one of the Spanish police forces) published a badly done explanatory image which many people thought rather unhelpful. They followed up with a much better image (apparently produced by an insurance company, but tweeted by the official Guardia Civil account):

Four exits

So if you're turning right or going straight on, you should use only the outer lane; if you're turning left or doing a full 360 degrees then you should use the inner lane, but you must transition back to the outer lane before the exit, not cut across. And you should use your indicators, even though no-one else will.


While I was practicing to take my driving test, the teacher told me that the Highway Code had changed recently (I'm talking about a 2-3 years...I think) and now the inner lane of the roundabout was to be ignored.

Before that the use of the inner lanes were as you mentioned, use outer lanes if you are near to your exit or use inner lane if you are going to drive through more than half of the roundabout.

I don't really know why they changed the law, and I don't really see the sense of it, maybe it was to avoid crases or something... I don't know.

As Ika says there are a lot of spanish people who drive wrongly...it's a normal sight seeing a taxi switch lanes withouth using his blinker.

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    Did you actually see this written down in some sort of highway code? What's the 'highway code' called in Spanish?
    – Berwyn
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 13:47
  • código de circulación. but i's size is the one of a small library (>100 books) and it's not an enforced law, just a series of guidelines, some of which are laws and some not. for example, stopping in a stop is enforced by law, but not giving way to buses is a reccomendation and won't get you fined (unless you ram into them..). some are even tied to local laws, and city councils can change them at will, for example, the one that regulates roundabouts.
    – CptEric
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 14:49
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    a small example : google.es/maps/place/Plaza+de+Espa%C3%B1a,+08004+Barcelona/… in this one in barcelona, that has even some stoplights on it, it's a miracle nobody crashes daily due to the many lanes and arrows.
    – CptEric
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 14:52
  • @CptEric Nice! It's no wonder people just drive all the way round the outside faced with that!
    – Berwyn
    Commented Jul 18, 2016 at 15:12

I did my car driving test in Spain (Barcelona) in 2010, and my motorcycle test there in 2012.

In 2010, I was taught to always use the outside lane of the roundabout no matter which exit I was using, which is the situation as you describe.

In 2012, I was taught to use the outside lane when going less than half a circle, and the inside lane when going more than half a circle (and change to the outside lane before the exit, to exit from that lane). I asked about what I had been taught previously and was told that the regulations had changed, and that the new approach was what I was being taught.

These were with two different driving schools, so maybe it was also different styles of teaching, but I was lead to believe that the law had changed in the intervening period to make the approach more like in the UK.

I don't have any third party evidence to back this up, but maybe as an anecdote this might explain why different people have different approaches!

  • In 2013, what did they say to do if you were going straight across (half circle exactly)? In Gran Canaria in 2015 I saw a worrying number of near accidents where someone going straight cut across the inner lane then nearly rammed into the side of someone going around the outer lane Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 12:56
  • As far as I remember they said to use the outside lane if going straight ahead, but if there was a queue of traffic in that lane then you could use the inside one...
    – Edd
    Commented Jul 19, 2016 at 13:37

The problem is that, for decades, driving schools taught us drivers this:

Whenever two vehicles are inside a roundabout, the right of way ALWAYS belongs to the vehicle in the outer lane.

Because of that, most people use the outer lane to turn, because by doing that they (supposedly) keep the right of way and any other cars in the inner lanes have to let them pass.
Sure, they will get honked now and then, but better a honk than being the one to blame in case of an accident.

I wrote "supposedly" because that rule is nowhere to be found in the actual law that regulates driving code, but that's a different problem.

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