Planning a road trip through Europe? Whether you’re a seasoned traveller or planning your first excursion on the continent this article will give you our top tips for driving in Europe both safely and legally.
Firstly, and I can’t emphasise this point enough, mainland Europe drives on the opposite side of the road to us! The UK drives on the LEFT hand side of the road, while countries in the EU drive on the RIGHT.
Okay, now that’s been shouted about let’s move on to the things you need to have on you or in the car whilst driving in Europe.
In the UK you don’t have to carry any documents whilst driving (though it’s a good idea to carry ID), so long as you can produce them at your local police station within 7 days of being stopped.
Our European neighbours, however, all have slightly different regulations regarding this. A general rule of thumb is that you must carry your driving license, vehicle registration certificate and your insurance certificate while driving. Failure to have these if you are stopped could result in a hefty on the spot fine or even your vehicle being impounded.
If you have an old style paper license, you should carry your passport with you as you need to have photo ID on you at all times.
Your car insurance may be fine for the UK, but have you read the small print to check that you’re actually covered for driving in Europe?
Most insurance policies include 14 days travel abroad, though it’s probably a good idea to give your insurer a quick call before you travel just to check. You may even find out that they provide breakdown cover while you’re abroad, though this will vary from company to company.
Another top tip for driving safely across Europe is to insure a second driver on the vehicle. Early starts and long journeys will be more pleasant if you can share the driving with someone else, plus you’ll get to see a few more of the sights from the passenger seat.
Essential equipment and car accessories
The laws vary from country to country, however there are several essential items that you must have in your vehicle if you’re driving in Europe.
The first of these is a warning triangle. Not all cars come with one of these in the boot, so it’s worth double checking that you have one before setting off.
Spain, for example, insists that cars carry two triangles. Non-Spanish registered vehicles are allowed to only carry one, but local officials have been known to impose fines regardless of regulations.
In Croatia it is compulsory to have two triangles if you are towing a trailer and Switzerland insists that the triangle must be kept within easy reach, not in the boot.
The second essential piece of safety kit you need to carry with you is a high visibility vest.
As with triangles regulations vary from country to country, however as a general rule if you break down and need to exit the vehicle PUT IT ON!
The third item you should have in your vehicle is a first aid kit. This one is self-explanatory really. Not all countries in Europe insist that you have one, but it’s good practice to have some sort of first aid kit with you whilst travelling.
Our nearest neighbours, France, has additional rules that foreign drivers should be aware of. As you’re likely to be visiting or at least driving through France to reach your destination you should take note of the following:
Driving in Europe – know the rules
There are lots of small things to check before you set off on your holiday around Europe. Some are legal requirements, others are the kind of car accessories that you might not have needed before, but it could be worth buying and putting in your car just in case.
Having a GB Sticker on your car is a legal requirement wherever you drive in Europe. That is unless you have a number plate which incorporates this. Not having either can result in an on the spot fine.
Most European countries require you to keep your headlights on whilst driving, even in brilliant sunshine. Just make sure that you angle your headlights down so as not to dazzle other drivers. Not doing this could earn you a serious talking to and test your GCSE French, German, Spanish or Italian!
Just like in the UK, it is illegal to use or answer a mobile phone whilst driving anywhere in Europe.
As I see it you have 3 options:
Don’t use your phone at all while you’re driving your car;
Get a Bluetooth headset or use compatible headphones; or
Install a Bluetooth hands-free kit.
KPH not MPH
The 120 speed limit on the motorway is NOT 120MPH!
Yes speed limits are slightly higher than we have in the UK, but they definitely aren’t that much higher.
Just remember the speed limits are in KPH (Kilometers Per Hour) and drive carefully as driving styles vary depending on which country you’re in.
As with the UK it is a legal requirement for everyone in the car to wear a seat belt. Remember it is the drivers’ responsibility to ensure everyone in the car is wearing one so even if you have yours on you could be facing a penalty!
As the UK is part of the European Union the same rules apply for children and booster seats. Essentially, that means children up to 12 years old or 135cm in height must sit in a suitable car seat.
If you’re planning on hiring a car once you’re abroad I suggest taking any car seats you may need with you.
Now you’ve read our top tips for driving safely across Europe you’re ready to set off on your European road trip. Just remember to drive on the opposite side of the road, drive safely and have a great holiday.
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