Spain is the only country in the world that uses intermittent flashing orange traffic lights.
That means that the worldwide rule of a green light allowing cars to pass and a red light forcing them to stop is slightly more complex here.
Can you drive through an orange light in Spain?
According to Spain’s DGT traffic authority, if the orange light (also called amber or yellow) is static and not flashing intermittently, drivers must treat it like a red light and stop.
The only exception is if safely stopping the vehicle isn’t an option. For example, when fully pressing down on the brake pedal won’t get the vehicle to stop before the line, or breaking so harshly is a risk for the people inside your car, or there’s a risk that the vehicle driving behind will crash into you.
However, if the traffic light is flashing orange intermittently, drivers can proceed but always with extreme caution and always giving way to pedestrians and other road users crossing or about to cross the crossing.
Can I cross the road if there’s an orange light in Spain?
When there’s a static orange light for vehicles, pedestrians should wait for their pedestrian traffic light to go green (in other words, for the ‘green man’ to appear).
If there’s an orange light flashing intermittently, pedestrians have preference to cross before vehicles do. But as we will explain now, they should keep their eyes peeled whilst doing so.
What’s the problem with flashing orange traffic lights?
The flashing orange light doesn’t replace any other traffic lights, and that’s often where the confusion among drivers lies.
The aim of this intermittent light is to reduce traffic congestion and improve the flow of people and vehicles.
According to the UK’s Safer Roads Foundation (SRF), this flashing orange light is dangerous for pedestrians as it increases the risk of them being run over by vehicles on crossings.
The group successfully campaigned for the UK’s Transport Ministry to remove the flashing orange light from roads in London and replace them with just a red-and-green traffic light as well as a timer for pedestrians.
“That a child correctly following the ‘green man’ rule to cross can die due to the flashing orange light is extremely worrying,” argues Safer Roads Foundation head Michael Woodford.
According to DGT data, 47 pedestrians were killed and 317 were hospitalised in 2019 in Spain whilst crossing a zebra crossing with a traffic light.
The DGT (Dirección General de Tráfico) is taking into account the Safer Roads Foundation’s advice and is currently considering whether traffic lights in Spain should only be red and green.
They even recently published an article in their magazine titled “El problema está en el ámbar” (The problem is the amber light).
Upon seeing an orange light, many drivers in Spain speed up rather than slow down with the intention of saving time and not having to wait longer at a red light.
They should in fact be reducing their speed, but their actions are particularly problematic when they treat an intermittent orange light in the same way as a static orange one, as this is when pedestrians are at liberty to cross.
The DGT has asked municipal authorities in cities and towns across Spain to analyse which crossings are problematic and have a high number of pedestrians, with the aim of the orange light being removed.
For its part, SRF has commissioned a study in two locations in Spain, a roundabout in the northern city of Burgos and a busy road in Benidorm (Alicante).
The results, compiled by urban mobility consultancy company GEA21, found that in both cases a risk of pedestrians being run over by vehicles was recorded, and that scrapping the orange light would be advisable.
In the case of Benidorm’s Avenida de la Unión Europea , the report stressed that “drivers’ behaviour causes a continued risk of accidents, particularly in a context of the current change in mobility practices, with a greater presence of cyclists and e-scooter users”.
The DGT is yet to confirm whether it will completely scrap orange lights from its traffic light system or only do so on certain roads and intersections.
In the meantime, drivers and pedestrians in Spain should pay special attention to intermittent flashing orange traffic lights, a peculiarity of Spanish roads that not everyone understands.