Intersections: Different, How?

12/03/2021

The intersections in Spain are quite different than those you may be used to. There are large multi lane roundabouts and roundabouts with lights in the middle of them. Even the traditional light controlled intersections have twice as many traffic lights as North America. Sound confusing? Agreed. So how does it work? Let's get into it.

Traffic Light Controlled Intersections

In Basque Country traffic lights are at the far side of the intersection and traffic lights just before entering the intersection. There is a stop line for not entering into the intersection and another stop line for not leaving the intersection.

The first traffic light which is where the stop line would be in a North American intersection. The second traffic light is at the end of the intersection. Easy enough, right? Here is where it gets confusing. The two sets of lights operate differently from each other.

This first set of street lights are the ones you are to follow when coming towards an intersection. Do not get caught up looking at the traffic lights at the far side of the intersection. If you follow the lights on the far side of the intersection there is a strong likelihood that you will be running a red and finding yourself in an accident.

In Basque Country when the light is green you have the right away. You may drive forward, turn left or right. Traffic going the opposite direction will have a red light. There is no need to pull into the intersection to wait. If you're at a red light you must remain there. Turning right on a red light is not permitted.

If you're going through an intersection and the light changes you have to stop in the intersection. It is not like in North America where you always clear the intersection when signal changes. There are stop lines before leaving the intersections, just before the pedestrian crosswalks. If the light turns red you must stop at the closest stop line. If this means that you are in the middle off the intersection, so be it.

It may be hard to wrap your head around stopping in the middle of an intersection but you'll get used to it quickly. No one here will bat an eye that you're stopped in an intersection. 

When a light in an intersection starts to blink amber (yellow) then you may enter or leave an intersection if safe. That part is pretty much straight forward and the same as the North American road rules.

Roundabouts (Rotaries)

Roundabouts are common in Basque Country. Many of these roundabouts will be two or more lanes.

If you are unfamiliar with roundabouts they are essentially a large loop where vehicles enter and exit at specific points. They are used to move traffic through an intersection without the use of traffic lights. 

Roundabouts, when single lane, are pretty straight forward. When it's safe, enter and when you exit use your right turn signal, when you reach your desired exit.

Two or more lane roundabouts are where it gets complicated. You enter the intersection the same way you would a one lane roundabout. Once you are in the intersection things change quickly from the multi lane roundabouts in North America.

In North America if there is a two lane roundabout the outside lane must exit at the first approaching exit. This is not the case here. Vehicles in the outside lane are permitted to continue on until whichever exit they choose. The onus is on the vehicle in the inner lanes to make sure it is safe to merge outwards towards the desired exit.

Keep in mind that just because the roundabout has multi lanes does not mean that the exit is more than a single lane. Although different than in North America these roundabouts are very effective and you will be navigating them with ease in no time.

Lighted Roundabouts

This type of intersection is not that common and that's a good thing. The first time through may be a little nerve racking. After a few times through it won't be an issue at all. They are actually pretty easy to navigate once you are familiar with them.

Entering a lighted round about is simple. If the light is green you have the right away to enter. If the light is red you're not permitted to enter. Once you're inside the roundabout things get trickier.

Inside the roundabout if there is a light change that gives traffic on the outside a green light you must stop and give them the right away. This is the opposite of the non-lighted roundabouts. Usually vehicles trying to enter must give the right away to those already inside. That's not the case in these roundabouts.

On the pavement there will be white dotted lines showing where the edge of the entering lane is. Just prior to these dotted lines there is also a white yield sign painted on the pavement. The car travelling through the roundabout must stop prior to the white dotted line and overtop of the yield sign.

When it comes to leaving the intersection you may do so when your exit's traffic light is green. If the light is red you must stop at the stop line just before the pedestrian crosswalk. When the light turns green you have the right of way to leave the intersection. If it is flashing amber you can exit provided it's safe.

The intersections in Basque Country do have some unique aspects to them. At first they may seem strange or complicated. However, once you drive through them a few times it won't feel out of the ordinary. They'll become as normal and simple as the intersections you're used to.

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