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DRIVING IN SPAIN

Can you cross the road in Spain when the traffic light is orange? Yes and no

Spain’s traffic authority is considering changing the country's unique traffic lights given that many drivers don’t understand or respect the orange light (static and flashing), resulting in a high number of pedestrian deaths and hospitalisations. 

spain flashing orange traffic light
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. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)

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.

Member comments

  1. When you say “orange,” it’s rather confusing. Everywhere I’ve driven worldwide has had yellow lights. Germany’s “traffic light coalition” is even red, yellow, and green. Regardless, just obey speed limits, and then stopping or slowing for a yellow light isn’t difficult OR time-consuming. What are you late for, anyway?

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DRIVING IN SPAIN

What are the drink driving limits and penalties in Spain?

Many people in Spain will be heading to New Year's Eve parties this weekend, but if you're driving you should remember the alcohol limits and consider the potential penalties and fines if you're over.

What are the drink driving limits and penalties in Spain?

Alcohol is one of the risk factors most frequently involved in traffic accidents in Spain and is found in between 30 and 50 percent of fatal accidents, according to the Directorate-General for Traffic (DGT).

As the amount of alcohol in the body increases, so does the risk of an accident. With a blood alcohol level of 0.5 grammes of ethanol per litre of blood, the risk of a crash is doubled, and with 0.8 g/l, the risk is five times greater, the DGT states. 

The risk is even higher in young drivers or those who have less driving experience.

What are the legal limits?

  • 0.5 grammes of alcohol per litre of blood, which equates to 0.25 milligrammes of alcohol per litre of air exhaled.
  • In the case of those who have only held a licence for under two years, as well as professional drivers, the limit is lowered to 0.4 grammes of alcohol per litre of blood, which is 0.15 milligrammes per litre of air exhaled.
  • Those under the age of 18 are not allowed to use an e-scooter or moped if they have drunk any alcohol at all. 

The DGT stresses that even below the legal limit, the risk of an accident may already be increased and that the only really safe limit is 0.0 grammes per litre.  

What does this mean in terms of number of drinks? 

For men who weigh between 70-90kg 

Beer: It’s safe to drink one 330ml beer, however, a second beer will take you nearer to the limit or possibly over. If you indulge in three beers, you will definitely be over the limit.  

Wine: It’s possible to drink two 100ml glasses, but a third will take you very close to the limit. For vermouth it’s similar.  

Liquor: If liquor is your drink of choice, you can drink two 45ml glasses, but again and third will be pushing it, apart from brandy where one is safe, but a second will take you very close to going over.

Mixed drink: For a drink containing alcohol combined with a mixer, such as gin and tonic or rum and coke, you can safely drink one 50ml glass, but another one may take you over the limit.  

For women who weigh 50-70kg  

Beer: Only one 330ml bottle of beer is safe to drink, two or more will take you over the limit.  

Wine: Similarly, only one 100ml glass of wine is acceptable.  

Vermouth: It’s only really safe to drink one 70ml glass of vermouth, a second will be pushing it and a third will definitely take you over the limit.  

Liquor: Like vermouth, drinking one 45ml glass of liquor is ok, but a second may take you over.  

Mixed drink: Even one mixed drink with 50ml of alcohol such as a gin and tonic could possibly take you over the legal limit, so be extra careful if you’re partial to these.  

The number of alcoholic drinks that are safe to consume according to the DGT. Source: DGT
 

What does the blood alcohol level depend on? 

Besides the number of drinks you have, as seen above, the type also greatly affects your blood alcohol level. For example, according to the DGT, the absorption of alcohol is slower in fermented drinks such as beer or wine than in distilled ones such as gin, rum or whiskey. Combing alcohol with fizzy mixers is also dangerous as it can speed up the absorption of alcohol.  

Age: Alcohol can affect younger people below the age of 18 and those above the age of 65 more, so they should drink even less or better still, none at all, if they are planning on driving. New drivers at whatever age are also at greater risk.  

Drinking with or without food: The DGT warns that drinking on an empty stomach is not a good idea and you should always eat something too.  

Time of day: The elimination of alcohol from your blood is much slower when you’re sleeping, so if you drink right before bed, it is possible that you could still fail a breathalyser test the next morning.

Personal circumstances: If you are tired, anxious, stressed or ill, it can also affect your blood alcohol level if you drink.  

What are the fines? 

If your alcohol level is between 0.25mg/l and 0.50mg/l you will be fined €500, plus have four points taken off your licence.

If it’s between 0.50mg/l and 60mg/l, you will be penalised by having to pay €1,000, plus have six points taken off your licence.

If you are found to be over 60mg/l, according to article 379 of the penal code, you could face between three and six months in prison, have to do one year of community service and have your licence taken away for a period of between one and four years.

Those who are repeat offenders and have been caught drink driving before will automatically be fined €1,000 and have either four or six points taken off their licence, depending on the level, providing it’s below 60mg/l.

If you refuse to take a breathalyser test, you could be sentenced to between six and 12 months in jail and have your licence taken away for between one and four years.

The DGT also warns that popular myths such as drinking coffee, consuming oil, doing exercise, chewing gum and smoking excessively will not help lower your alcohol level. 

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