Whether you’re travelling for work or leisure, driving on the continent is arguably the easiest way to get around.
But even if you’re an experienced driver, you may not be aware of some of the road rules and regulations in other EU countries. Follow these simple steps to stay safe and out of trouble on your travels:
1. In-car equipment
In some countries, keeping certain equipment in your car is compulsory, so check what you need before you travel. In 2012, it was made compulsory in France to carry a portable breathalyser in your car so the driver can check if their blood-alcohol level is safe enough to drive. In most countries it is also required that you keep a Hi-Vis jacket and a warning triangle in your car in case there is an accident or you break down. It is recommended that you carry a first-aid kit, and this is actually a legal requirement in Austria. It’s best to keep a car ‘tool-kit’ so you are prepared if you have an accident and need to wait for assistance. This kit can include a fire extinguisher, torch, blanket, and jack and wheel removal tools, which can be extremely handy when you’re on the move.
2. Prep your vehicle
Do the usual: check your tyre pressure and tread, top up the oil, everything that’s needed to make sure your car is to a safe standard. You’ll also need to display a GB sticker or you could face an on-the-spot fine. European laws also require you to adjust your headlamps for driving on the right-hand side of the road so you don’t ‘dazzle’ oncoming drivers. Headlamp converters are widely available to stick on your headlights to easily adjust your vehicle to comply with this law. If you’re travelling in snowy conditions or in winter, find out whether the country you’re travelling to requires your car to have snow or winter tyres, or snow chains. It’s easier to get your car ready before you travel, rather than waste time and money changing tyres whilst in Europe.
Correct documentation is imperative if you want stress-free travels around Europe. You’ll need your passport and suitable visas depending on which countries you’re travelling to, and if you’re driving take your full valid driving licence. Keep your vehicle registration documents and insurance certificates in your car too. It’s handy to keep a note of where you plan to stay, along with booking confirmations and references, and emergency contact numbers just in case.
4. Get covered
Don’t travel without travel insurance, especially if you plan on doing activities such as watersports or skiing. You can also get a free European Health Insurance Card for reduced or free medical care. Make sure your car insurance covers you to drive in Europe and abroad as you may need to pay an extra premium to extend your policy cover. European breakdown cover is also highly recommended to make sure your travels go smoothly and aren’t disrupted by a breakdown that leaves you stranded. European breakdown cover can be added to your breakdown policy for as little as £40 per year and can save stress and extra expense if you were to need roadside repairs, vehicle recovery or onward travel.
5. Know the laws
Although it’s not awfully different from driving in Britain, the rest of Europe has slightly different rules and regulations for driving. Make sure you obey speed limits and are aware of automatic cameras that check car speed, take photos and send speeding tickets by mail. Most countries prohibit talking on handheld mobile phones whilst driving and bear in mind that the legal blood-alcohol level is lower on the continent, with some countries such as the Czech Republic and Hungary having a zero alcohol policy when driving. There are also some rather obscure rules in some European countries. For example, in Italy, only park in the direction of the flow of traffic; never wear flip flops when driving in Spain; and if you wear prescription glasses, always carry a spare set in Switzerland and Spain. The Foreign Office advises to be defensive when driving in Europe and to always comply to local rules. This will make your travels that much easier – European authorities take offenses very seriously and attempting to resolve a driving offense in a foreign language or broken English is never easy.
6. Think right
In most European countries (excluding the UK and Republic of Ireland, Cyprus and Malta) drive on the right-hand side of the road. This may seem easy to remember but it may take a few hours or days of concentration before you get used to the change.
7. Keep the change
Many countries across Europe operate toll roads, so save plenty of loose change in the correct currency to pay for tolls. If you use the free expressways, you may periodically encounter heavy traffic, so although toll roads may add up (it can cost €80 to get from Paris to the French Riviera) you’ll save time and mileage.
8. Know where to go
Firstly, get a map. You don’t want to get lost in a foreign country or get stranded in a rural area. Plan your journey and if you use a sat-nav, be aware of the laws in
countries such as France who do not allow sat-navs with radar detection. Most European cities discourage driving in urban areas, so don’t use a car for city sightseeing. You may have to pay a congestion charge in cities such as Stockholm, or face a fine in cities where traffic is banned altogether, such as Rome, Verona and Florence. Make sure you are aware of towns and cities that have low-emission zones where your car must meet a certain emission standard to enter.
9. Take a break
You may be travelling from country to country, but even a few hours of driving in Europe can be tiring when you have to concentrate on different road signs and even staying on the right side of the road. It’s best to take regular breaks when driving to rest and stay safe. It may add a few hours on to your journey, but it’s more important to rest and then remain alert to avoid accidents.
10. Stay safe
Your main priority whilst travelling should be getting there and back safely, but if you were to experience a bump in the road, there’s a few things that could help you get back on track. If you’re unfortunate as to be involved in an accident, call the European emergency contact number on 112, and contact your insurance provider. Obtain the other driver’s details and take pictures of the damage to your car. If this accident isn’t your fault but you’re left with extra bills to pay afterwards, such as a missed hotel or ferry booking, then a legal expenses policy like Motor Legal Protection can help you reclaim these losses from the other person’s insurer, throughout Europe.If you break down, contact your breakdown cover provider. Assistance should arrive to your car within an hour and repair your car at the roadside. However, if your car can not be repaired at the scene, it will be transported to an approved repairer and you’ll be provided with onward travel to your destination. Getting the right cover for your vehicle before you travel is essential as it can save you a lot of time, stress and money if you do have an accident or breakdown. Always be vigilant when travelling and take precautions such as keeping passports and a mobile phone on you and not leaving valuables in your vehicle. Obey the laws of the country and be prepared before and whilst you travel to make your journey as smooth as possible.