By Matt May
If you are driving in Portugal for the first time, you may be apprehensive due to the country's somewhat chequered reputation in terms of driving safety. However, the roads in Portugal are generally very quiet compared to the UK, and the larger roads are well maintained (even of you do have to pay to use them).
Below is some information which may help to make your experience of renting a car an enjoyable one:-
The wearing of seat belts is compulsory in the front and back of vehicles where they are fitted.
Children under 12 are not permitted to sit in the front seat unless in a child seat or restraint
Baby/child seats must be used for babies/toddlers up to 3 years old.
Use of mobile phones when driving is prohibited in Portugal.
The legal limit for blood/alcohol is lower in Portugal than in the UK at 0.5 mg per ml or 0.05% (which is equivalent to a small beer). There are visible police checkpoints at many roundabouts and motorway junctions in the Algarve to discourage drink-driving.
If you have an accident involving a rental car, you will need to report the accident to the police in Portugal for insurance purposes.
When driving a car in Portugal ensure that you have your driving licence, insurance papers, vehicle registration documents and passport with you at all times. In Portugal this is a legal requirement.
The largest vehicle that can be legally driven (or rented) in Portugal on a normal UK/EU licence is a 9 seat vehicle such as a minibus.
It is a legal requirement to carry a warning triangle, reflective jacket and spare bulbs in the vehicle. If you are hiring a rental car these items should be provided (it is worth checking where they are in the vehicle).
Maximum motorway speed limit for cars in Portugal is 120km/h (75mph).
Maximum speed limit for cars in non-built up areas is 100km/h.
Maximum speed limit for cars in built up areas and rural roads in Portugal is usually 50km/h (unless sign posted).
Remember that on roundabouts you must give way to the left (the opposite to the UK). There is a big roundabout at the exit of Faro Airport...so be prepared to look left!!!
Dial 112 in case of accident or emergency
On motorways, stay to the right initially, you will then be in the slower lane.
Multi-lane roads (dual carriage-ways) often have traffic lights to allow traffic to cross.
Buying fuel - "gasolina sem chumbo" is unleaded fuel
Drive carefully - allow yourself plenty of time to react to other drivers
With the steering wheel on the left hand side, ensure that you allow enough room on the right hand side of the car to pass stationary/moving vehicles (it is easy to under-estimate the clearance on the passenger side).
The heat in summer in the Algarve can be intense. Air conditioning from May to September is advisable.
Always have a bottle of drinking water in the car in case of breakdown.
Sun glasses are recommended for driving due to the light intensity, especially in summer.
For information on the Algarve's A22 toll motorway, see our A22 toll road page.
10 useful Portuguese phrases for drivers.
AA guide to driving a car in Portugal (requires pdf reader)