Laws are enforced by the police, set by governing bodies and adjudicated by the courts; not many of us get involved with all three. We all know this yet many of us fall foul of the law throughout our lives. “Not me” you indignantly say: then you are one of the lucky ones for every day most of us commit an offence, probably the most frequent of which is speeding; no I don’t mean screaming through urbanisations scaring the grannies and kids; most of us grew out of that long ago. But I defy any driver to say that he or she never strays slightly over the limit

I have been fined for speeding in Spain; on one occasion a whole line of us were pulled in by the Guardia after sailing serenely through a short stretch of road where the normal limit was reduced; the kind of limit that most people ignore. Fair cop, I committed the offence along with the others in the convoy so took the fine and so became a criminal, albeit a minor one. However, I was rather miffed one day when I was fined for a driving offence that I definitely did not commit, but bit my tongue to prevent me from spitting my dummy out and paid up.

Discretionary laws

Laws are set at many levels, generally to provide a set of guidelines and give us some form of protection from the mob; no not the Mafia, but the ferals that don’t give a toss about the rest of us. The police that enforce the law have wide discretion over whether to punish us, normally through an on the spot fine where the men in blue or green have become judge, jury and executioner. This discretion leads to the stories that we all love to hate, such as those fined for driving in flip-flops, having a miniature Chihuahua loose on the back seat or talking on the phone when they were eating a Mars bar. The copper may have been in his rights, but chose not to exercise discretion. Then there are the lucky ones that got away with just a rollocking for not wearing a seat belt, overtaking at speed or not being breathalysed after a vino too many. We all love these ones, but they demonstrate the discretion and discrepancies that surround enforcement of the law

What should you carry with you at all times?

Your passport or valid ID card issued by your government (whatever happened to those useful cards we once all had? – thanks goody goodies), residency document or NIE and useful but not compulsory your Padron as it shows your present address. These should all be originals, but as most people are understandably nervous about carrying these, then notarised copies should suffice

What do you need in the car?

Having been stopped a few times at random check points, this is what paperwork I was asked to produce:

Registration document (Permiso de circulacion), ITV card, insurance document, European driving licence

It is prudent also to carry the receipt for payment of last road tax and receipt for payment of insurance

In the car you need: Two warning triangles, at least two reflective jackets plus one for any additional passenger, a spare pair of spectacles if these are used for driving, a spare set of bulbs for the car. Recommended, but not obligatory are a fire extinguisher, a first aid kit plus a bottle of drinking water

Let me straightway say before I get the anoraks on my back that the law regarding proof of insurance payment and spare bulbs has been relaxed, but as enforcement of the law is arbitrary and changes are not always passed on, it is simpler to have them with you rather that try and argue your case with the officer concerned.

Hiring a car

OK, so let’s look at the issue of what should you have in a hire car as this is coming to the top of the agenda once more. Driving an unfamiliar car in an unfamiliar country means that the chances of you having an accident are statistically higher. You are clattered by a local at a junction and your car is causing an obstruction. Those of us living in Spain will know that we exit the car putting on our high-viz vests and strategically place the warning triangles to warn other traffic. But what if you are a holiday maker, unfamiliar with the laws in Spain and have no triangles or vests? The Guardia Civil turn up and slap you with a 200 euros fine. As you do not have the money on you, a quick march to the cashpoint is required to ensure that you pay before re-boarding “Easyair”.

You are pretty upset to say the least and explain that you were unaware that these items were compulsory. The officer replies in his best Spanglish words to the effect that ignorance of the law is no defence. “Just think if the Spanish man who caused the accident didn’t have the triangles and vests, more accidents may have happened”.

“Well” you reply “I have read that the hire car companies complain that the equipment is stolen, but if it is compulsory to carry it why don’t they provide it? Surely they know the laws in Spain?” “Senor, virtually all of the English people that I have met are decent people who would not think of committing a crime, it is difficult for me to understand why you would steal triangles and vests to take home with you. Why don’t they ask for a deposit to ensure that they get them back? Please let me give you some advice; any person or company that allows you to drive a car knowing that it is not fully legal is not good. You may have saved a little money by hiring cheaply, but next time whatever product or service you buy, pay a little more at the beginning for higher quality rather than risk paying a lot more later. Can you now pay me the 200 euros fine por favor?