How Safe is Algarve Driving?

Algarve's Decorative Traffic Circles are often used as direction markers

Driving seems to be a major concern of North Americans as they plan their trip to the Algarve.  And the answer is an easy one:  it is as safe to drive in the Algarve as it is safe to drive at home.

Sure the cars are a whole lot smaller, and in general folks drive faster than we do.  But I also find that they are way more respectful and far less inclined to honk their horns, give you the finger or engage in otherwise aggressive behaviour.

But they drive on the same side of the road as we do and pretty much have the same rules as we’re accustomed to so the adjustment isn’t too demanding.

Probably the biggest driving challenges in the Algarve for North Americans (Quebecers excepted on the first one) are:

  • – remember to not turn right on a red light.  Wait for a green and then proceed.
  • – if you haven’t driven a manual transmission car before, prepare to pay a significant premium for an upgrade to Automatic, or take a few lessons.
  • – learn how to safely drive traffic circles.  The Algarve is full of them.

Tips for Safely Navigating Traffic Circles:

  1. Traffic already in the circle has the right of way.
  2. Signal with your left signal light that you are entering a traffic circle.
  3. Stay in the outside lane if you are exiting at the first possible exit, or if there are 2 lanes in the circle and at each exit.
  4. Signal with your right signal that you intend to leave at the next exit.
  5. If there are 2 lanes in the circle and you are in the inner lane but plan on exiting where there is only one lane, remember to check over your right shoulder before exiting.  Legally the person on the right has the right of way.  Most of the time the other person will give way to you.  But remember that you’re on vacation – and they have legal priority.  When it comes down to it, it is much easier and faster to give way and let someone else proceed than to (a) end up in an altercation (b) have an accident and all the associated hassles.
  6. Remember – you’re on vacation.  Leave your attitude, ego and need to be right at all times at home or on a beach somewhere!
  7. Enjoy the flexibility that circles provide – if you aren’t certain, go round a couple of times while you get yourself figured out!!!

The Speed Limit in towns & villages is 50 kph.  On highways (where it typically isn’t posted) its 90 kpm.  The EN 125 is the Algarve’s major east-west local highway.  Sometimes it is hard to tell if you are ‘on the way’ or ‘in town’.  Pay attention to how the locals are driving.  On the A-22 and other controlled access highways the limit is 120 kph, but expect almost everyone to overtake you.  It seems like those who drive BMWs, Mercedes, Saabs or anything with a significant engine don’t know there is a speed less than 150 kpm.  I just let them blow by me and proceed at the speed that feels safe and prudent given the size of car and my skills.

Always remember that folks from the British Isles are very fond of trips to Portugal.  They are accustomed to driving on the other side of the road from what is ‘normal’ for us.  Account for that in your timing decisions.  Be awake for folks who may make what appear to be stupid driving choices.  They are deeply ingrained to look what we would consider to be ‘the wrong way’ and to pull out of parking spots and entrances on ‘the wrong side’.  Be alert, be patient and be accommodating.

If you rent a car, make sure you have your Driver’s License with you at all times, as well as the rental contract from the rental agency.  Having a Passport with you is important too.

If you do have car troubles, make certain you put on the bright florescent vest you’ll find in the glove compartment.  It is illegal to not wear it.

And finally, while the Algarve is a place that is amazingly safe, be prudent with your belongings.  Leave bags and cameras covered up in the trunk.  And place them there before you get to your destination.  I met one couple who had foolishly put their cameras in the trunk at the parking lot to a hill-top walk they were taking.  Of course, the stuff was gone when they got back.  I’ve never had anyone tamper with my stuff on any trips, but you never know who is around so better to be safe than sorry.

Next, we’ll talk about the the best way to find where you’re going in the Algarve!

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