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In Tenerife, on the road TF-21 near the Teide volcano, I've seen this sign:

enter image description here

It reads, both in Spanish and English:

ATENCIÓN
Linea discontinua solo indica eje carretera

WARNING
Broken white line only marks the centre of the road

I don't really understand what it means. Why does it only mark the centre of the road? What else should it do? Does it refer to overtaking? Is the sign saying that, contrary to its common meaning, this broken line does not indicate that it is allowed to overtake? It's my best guess, but I'm not convinced, because in that case I'd expect a solid line, not a broken one and a sign.

So, what does it mean? And if it's really about overtaking, why didn't they use a solid line?

  • 3
    Perhaps they didn't have enough paint and could not paint a solid line? This one really is strange... – Michael Hampton Nov 4 '18 at 20:02
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    Layman Hypothesis: This seems to be a mountain region. In winter, when the road is covered with snow, the broken white line makes it easier to asses that this is the middle of the road and not in fact the outer boundary. This might prevent you from driving on the wrong side. – problemofficer Nov 4 '18 at 22:25
  • 27
    Hypothesis: It could mean that on certain passages the road isn't wide enough for two lanes, so that the broken white line doesn't guarantee that two cars can safely pass each other. In my country, there would be no line in that case, but perhaps they realized too late and just put up that sign instead. – Pål GD Nov 4 '18 at 22:32
  • 2
    @Fattie, please keep your comments on topic. – Willeke Nov 5 '18 at 18:46
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    Based on the answers & comments on this question, I think what it really means is: "Tenerife needs to post signs that are more clear in their meaning". – FreeMan Nov 6 '18 at 15:59
49

In short: It means "Don't assume any of the usual meanings of a broken line in Spain, except for marking the center of the road".

In long:

The meaning is obvious. At least, it seems obvious for drivers in Spain.

In Spain, a broken line means that you can overtake while a continuous line means you can't, and in curvy roads the line changes very often from broken to continuous (and even to continuous for one side and broken for the other) according to circumstances of the road - mostly about visibility but also about intersections with other roads.

In roads with that sign, as it reads, the broken line just marks the center of the road and it doesn't show whether you can overtake. Therefore, you must assess if you can overtake using the other rules in road code, which basically fall back to the rule that you can overtake where visibility is enough to make sure that there isn't an incoming vehicle in the opposite direction.

If the road were narrower than the one depicted in the OP, the sign would be also warning that we can't assume that every vehicle will be completely in its side of the line, especially for trucks. In that case, there would likely be a speed limitation signal.

Addition to address comments concerning why aren't the whole road (or the unsafe parts) painted with continuous line:

Those roads are just small roads with little traffic, some of them just upgraded from unpaved tracks. That kind of small roads in some places in Spain used to carry no lines at all. A better improvement could include complete road marks and a lot of traffic signs, but that improvement is nor easy not cheap, and for small roads with little traffic it is not done. Therefore, the road is just an asphalt strip with a broken line in the middle.

From experience, I must add that it isn't hard to drive in those roads - at least, lack of continuous/broken line doesn't make it harder than driving in any other narrow curvy road. As any driver knows, you can't overtake if you can't check that there is no incoming vehicle, and you don't need a continuous line to tell that you can see the road more than a few metres ahead because a curve obstructs the view.

  • 1
    @Fattie - If you are interested in roads like that, I've seen that sign in other parts of Spain, too. – Pere Nov 5 '18 at 15:26
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    Good point about the narrowness, that's what I'd have wanted to add to the previous answers – Tobias Kienzler Nov 5 '18 at 21:11
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    Why wouldn't they just paint a solid line then? – insidesin Nov 6 '18 at 8:01
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    @insidesin: Because then they'd have to change the sign to read "Warning: Solid white line only marks the centre of the road"? – Ilmari Karonen Nov 6 '18 at 10:28
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    @insidesin - Please notice that the sign doesn't mean that you can't overtake anywhere in that road. It just means that you need to judge by yourself instead of trusting the line. Very often, curvy mountain roads have short stretches with good visibility where overtaking is possible. – Pere Nov 6 '18 at 11:10
64

It definitely means you mustn't assume *any meaning whatsoever, re overtaking, turning, or even whether "your" side of the road is actually all yours, exactly as it says, over and above that it marks the centre of the road.

If you're on your side of the broken line, you can't assume oncoming traffic will be entirely on the other side. The line only marks the centre, and does NOT even divide the lanes. Hence the usage on narrow roads.

  • 16
    @DavidRicherby you appear to only have made this comment on one answer when the others declare they are guesses. I posted this because I think the other guesses are wrong, and dangerous. In the absence of proof to the contrary one should assume my answer is the correct one and moreover make no further assumptions about any meaning of the broken line, over and above that it marks the centre, exactly as the sign advises. – user334732 Nov 5 '18 at 3:31
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    This is correct. A mid line is normally a lane divider, but as the sign says - a broken one only shows road midpoint. EU regulations demands a normal road be at least 5,5 m wide to have two normal lakes if I remember correctly. This road is clearly not that wide. – Stian Yttervik Nov 5 '18 at 6:15
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    This would also be my first interpretation. Just a warning that the road might be too narrow for 2 cars at some points, so you should not assume you "own" your lane just because there is a line (which only marks the middle of the road). – HectorLector Nov 5 '18 at 10:17
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    @RobertFrost "In the absence of proof to the contrary one should assume my answer is the correct one" Say what? Why should anybody at all assume that, given a bunch of answers without proof, yours is the correct one? What's so special about your unjustified assumptions compared to everybody else's? – David Richerby Nov 5 '18 at 10:45
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    @DavidSchwartz Note that the answer has been substantially edited since I commented.It began with "My interpretation is...", whereas the question is asking about what the markings and sign actually mean, not what people guess it means. As I recall, it directly contradicted other, more detailed and more highly voted answers and my own understanding. However, given that the answer has been edited, I've deleted my original comment. – David Richerby Nov 5 '18 at 10:48
34

If I understand it correctly, it has to do with overtaking, but the signage is really confusing.

In Spain, a continuous line means that overtaking is prohibited and it is in no case allowed to cross the line. That means, that it is even prohibited to turn left. It is allowed to overtake bicyclists, if you are able to keep a safe distance without actually crossing the continuous line.

A broken line means that you are allowed to overtake if traffic and visibility allows you to do so safely.

The sign you have found is quite common on narrow mountain roads and used together with a broken middle line. I guess it is supposed to be a reminder that even if it is strictly speaking not prohibited to overtake (due to the broken line), the road is too narrow and curvy at most places to do so safely. You may however have a chance driving uphill to quickly overtake a bicyclist or turn left, if that is required. Had they used a continuous line, you would not even had been allowed to turn left, or pass bicyclists.

  • 7
    I wonder why the sign doesn't say "Passing may be unsafe" instead... – Tanner Swett Nov 5 '18 at 4:10
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    @TannerSwett At least in part because "passing" without a direct object is not used to refer to overtaking outside the US. Here English is being used as an international language for all foreigners who don't totally understand Spanish, and such people would likely be puzzled by what it is exactly that they are not allowed to pass. – Robert Furber Nov 5 '18 at 8:13
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    However, the reason for the lack of comprehensibility in the sign as it is is probably that whoever was assigned to translate it just did their job of translating the Spanish literally, without thinking of how the intended audience of the sign, foreigners unfamiliar with the situation, would interpret it. – Robert Furber Nov 5 '18 at 8:17
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    @Fattie Comments are not intended for answers. – user36505 Nov 5 '18 at 12:19
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    @Fattie, clearly, based on this answer, passing/overtaking zones are indicated by a broken white line in "this country". This sign indicates a specific instance, within "this country", where that is not the case. It seems to me to be a very clear answer, despite the fact that the sign and broken line seem to be at odds with each other. Granted, a quote of a relevant law would make this otherwise good answer an excellent one. – FreeMan Nov 5 '18 at 14:55
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In many countries, it is common to indicate with the broken line that it is a place where it is safely possible to overtake.
Teneriffa is not following this usage, and to make sure people don't assume so, warns about it. Otherwise, many people would assume it is save to overtake - and have bad accidents (probably what happened and triggered the sign)

  • 5
    Someone who would drive on a narrow, winding road through the mountains; and assume that it's safe to overtake; should probably have to surrender their licence. – Dawood ibn Kareem Nov 4 '18 at 20:52
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    @DawoodibnKareem , I agree. But instead they kill themselves and potentially a local in an accident. Teneriffans probably didn't mind visitors killing themselves, but they don't like all the locals dying with them... – Aganju Nov 4 '18 at 20:55
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    In the UK, solid lines mean crossing the center line is illegal (unless you are overtaking traffic which has a maximum speed of 20mph or less, like a horse and cart or a steam roller), long dashes like the OP's picture mean crossing the line to overtake is legal but there is a hazard ahead (for example restricted visibility because of a curve in the road), and short dashes with longer gaps mean overtaking is "safe". – alephzero Nov 4 '18 at 21:13
  • @alephzero actually if they are travelling at 10 mph (16 km/h) or less. (quote taken from the section on dashed+solid, as nothing is listed under the preceeding section on double solid) – Chris H Nov 5 '18 at 9:00
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    @Aganju It's probably safe to assume that the local first responders don't like cleaning up nasty messes caused by tourists killing themselves and the rest of locals don't like having to detour around bloody dead tourists. – Dan Neely Nov 5 '18 at 20:41
5

It means "don't rely on the lines only, use your common sense especially when invading the opposite side such as when overtaking or turning left".

The sign also intends to warn that you might encounter large vehicles taking some of "your" road just to be able to take a turn or even circulate on a straight section.

I've seen a variation of this sign in rural or mountaineous roads in Castelló. That area is very sparsely populated, there's few traffic, road maintenance could be way better and the road features (shorter straight sections, bends, mountain passes) could make it impossible to overtake for larger/heavier vehicles (buses, trucks, cars) but be perfectly fine for lighter ones (cars, motorbikes).

An accident in those sparsely populated areas could mean that help is going to take a while to arrive.

  • Panning that screen shot to the left shows that a truck will fit on its own side of the road. Just. I wouldn't count on every one of them taking up only his own side of the road. Good find! – FreeMan Nov 6 '18 at 16:04
  • @FreeMan You're welcome! That's the road to my parents hometown, so I know well the area :) – orique Nov 6 '18 at 16:07

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