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Do you know your tunnel etiquette? Read this and you’ll know how to drive safely through a tunnel!

Published on 30.7.2021

Did you forget to take your sunglasses off and put your headlights on before driving from the bright summer sunshine into a tunnel? Did you hear a strange noise coming from your car and decide to stop in the depths of the tunnel to check it out? Are you in such a hurry that you’re tailgating the car in front with clenched teeth? Tunnel safety is in everyone’s best interests – so here are a few hints and tips to help you drive safely through tunnels. Keep these in mind when you encounter a tunnel on your journey:

  1. Keep a sufficiently safe distance from the car in front.
    Maintaining safe distances from other vehicles and keeping to your lane are vital in a tunnel. You also need to be even more vigilant than usual, so that you have enough time to react to whatever the car in front is doing. Remember that it is still important to maintain a safe distance even if traffic becomes congested.
  2. Always keep your headlights on in a tunnel.
    You must always keep your headlights on in a tunnel, as the law says that headlights must always be used when a vehicle is being driven in the dark or dim light, or if visibility has deteriorated due to the weather or other reasons.
  3. Take your sunglasses off in a tunnel.
    It’s easy to forget about your sunglasses, especially in bright sunny weather. However, you should always take your sunglasses off when you enter a tunnel, as they reduce visibility unnecessarily. If you have prescription sunglasses and can’t see properly without them, remember to change to your regular glasses in good time before driving into the tunnel. Also note that the sunshine may cause a glare when you exit the tunnel. Ways to prevent this will have been taken into account when the tunnel was built.
  4. Do not stop in a tunnel.
    In the winter, it might seem like a good idea to stop just inside a tunnel to brush snow or scrape ice off your car. However, under no circumstances should you do this. You must never stop, reverse or make a U-turn in a tunnel. Idling is also prohibited in tunnels.
  5. Do not overtake in a tunnel, unless there is a double carriageway.
    Never overtake in a tunnel with two-way traffic if there is only a single carriageway in each direction. If there are two lanes or more going in the same direction, overtaking is permitted with good judgment and due caution.
  6. Only take permitted vehicles into a tunnel.
    Only cars, motorcycles and other motorised vehicles may be driven in tunnels. Mopeds, moped cars and slow tractors may sometimes be permitted in certain tunnels. Walking, cycling, skateboarding and electric scooters are strictly prohibited in all tunnels.
  7. Follow traffic bulletins, lane-specific signals, and other traffic lights and signs.
    This will ensure that you keep up to date with the current situation in the tunnel and can drive in the appropriate manner.

In the event of a problem, prioritise exiting the tunnel

Tunnels are operated by Fintraffic’s Traffic Management Centres all the way from Helsinki to Rovaniemi. The longest is the Tampere Waterfront Tunnel at a length of 2,300 metres. Tunnels form a distinct part of the traffic environment, which is why their maintenance pays particular attention to safety issues. Everyone who drives through a tunnel can also promote safety via their own actions.

If you notice a problem with your car, prioritise exiting the tunnel. If you get a flat tyre or encounter another unexpected problem that requires you to stop immediately, put your hazard lights on and move your car into the emergency stopping lane or as close to the side of the carriageway as possible. Turn off the engine and call for assistance if necessary. In many tunnels, a stopped vehicle will trigger an automated alert at the Traffic Management Centre, which can then guide traffic accordingly.

If your vehicle catches fire, try to drive out of the tunnel if at all possible. If you are unable to drive out of the tunnel, turn off the engine, leave the key in the ignition, and leave the vehicle immediately. You should then use either your mobile phone or the emergency phone in the tunnel to call for help. If it is only a small fire, you can try to extinguish it with the fire extinguisher available in the tunnel. Otherwise, make your way to the emergency exit route as quickly as possible.

It is rare for traffic to come to a complete standstill in a tunnel, but if this occurs, turn off your engine, turn on your hazard lights, and wait calmly for the traffic to start moving again. The Traffic Management Centre will do its best to get traffic flowing smoothly again as safely as possible.

Traffic Management Centre monitors tunnels 24/7

Tunnels are built to streamline traffic, improve safety, and reduce noise and congestion in urban areas. At the same time, they also make more efficient use of land and reduce emissions, as vehicles passing through urban areas can avoid unnecessary stops and traffic lights by using the tunnel instead. Fintraffic operates tunnels at four Traffic Management Centres in Helsinki, Turku, Tampere and Oulu.

The tunnel traffic operators monitor traffic in the tunnels and react to system alerts. The Traffic Management Centres are always notified when something out of the ordinary occurs in a tunnel. The most common situations involve flat tyres, vehicles that have run out of fuel, and other breakdowns that require a vehicle to slow down or stop in a tunnel. During the summer, alerts are also caused by pedestrians and cyclists who have accidentally ended up in a tunnel.

Fintraffic takes care of safety and traffic flow on roads and in tunnels 24/7, on every day of the year. The work encompasses everything from technical system design for roads, border crossing points and tunnels to continuous traffic monitoring and the provision of road weather data for the entire chain. Everything relies on our centres having an uninterrupted, real-time situational picture of traffic at their disposal.

Marja-Elina Sillanpää, a Fintraffic traffic management centre operator, was interviewed for this article.