Navigating Spanish tunnels safely

by Lorraine Williamson

When traversing the intricate network of tunnels crisscrossing Spain’s landscape, there are hidden hazards that demand our attention. To ensure a safe journey, it’s crucial to familiarise oneself with these essential tips for driving through tunnels.

Despite recent improvements in tunnel safety, which include emergency enclosures equipped with SOS posts, fire detection systems, and evacuation protocols, tunnels remain points of heightened caution for drivers. Therefore, vigilance is of the essence. The DGT have put together a list of tips to help you stay safe while driving in Spain.

Tips for safe tunnel driving

The potential for being caught inside a tunnel, or even underpasses, due to an accident or breakdown underscores the importance of adhering to specific traffic regulations. These encompass prohibitions against stopping, parking, reversing, and changing direction. Here are some vital insights to consider:

Overtaking Restrictions

Overtaking within tunnels, underpasses, or road sections marked with the “Tunnel” sign (S-5) is only permitted when multiple lanes are available for the intended direction of travel.

Entrance Precautions

Special attention should be given before entering a tunnel. If a red traffic light is illuminated at the tunnel entrance, entry is prohibited. Similarly, if traffic is halted within the tunnel, signaling an emergency, drivers must halt before entry, activate hazard lights, and alert others from behind.

Brake Wisely

Tunnels often feature road surfaces with reduced traction compared to open roads. This can extend braking distances, necessitating a greater following distance.

Lighting and Visibility

Regardless of a tunnel’s length, it is mandatory to engage vehicle lights upon entry. Ensuring visibility, especially in the initial moments as your eyes adjust to varying light conditions, is crucial. If wearing sunglasses, remove them upon entering and don them again upon exiting. Moreover, you can be fined if you do not put your lights on when driving through a tunnel.

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Stopped Traffic Protocol

If traffic starts to halt within a tunnel, drivers must leave a safe gap from the preceding vehicle. Activate hazard lights, switch off the engine, and maintain position lights.

Guard Against the Wind

Exiting a tunnel might subject drivers to the “screen effect,” causing lateral displacement due to wind gusts. To counter this, grip the steering wheel firmly and slightly turn the wheels against the wind direction.

Optimal Safety Distance

Maintaining a safety distance is vital, particularly given limited options for maneuvering and emergency access. Drivers must adhere to a minimum distance of 100 metres from the preceding vehicle. For vehicles over 3,500 kg, the distance should be extended to 150 metres.

Responding to Breakdowns and Accidents

In the unfortunate event of a breakdown or accident within a tunnel, follow these steps:

  • Stay calm and, if feasible, move your vehicle outside the tunnel.
  • Activate hazard and position lights.
  • Park on the right-hand side to minimise traffic disruption.
  • Turn off the engine to prevent exacerbating the situation.
  • Contact emergency services via an SOS post or your mobile phone.
  • Put on a reflective vest and set up warning triangles (or V16) when safe.

Managing Fire Emergencies

Although rare, fires can pose a serious threat within tunnels. In such instances:

  • Illuminate hazard and position lights to alert others.
  • Park as close to the right side as possible for easy emergency access.
  • Refrain from reversing or attempting U-turns.
  • Exit the vehicle with keys left inside.
  • Put on a reflective vest for visibility and assistance.
  • Extinguish small fires if safe; otherwise, proceed to the nearest exit.

Safe passage through Spanish tunnels necessitates awareness, adherence to regulations, and quick, composed reactions in challenging situations. By following these guidelines, drivers can enhance their safety and that of fellow travellers on this remarkable road network.

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