Driving abroad: what you need to know

Driving abroad: what you need to know
Driving abroad: what you need to know

If you’re heading to the continent this summer don’t let any motoring mishaps ruin your holiday.

While Britain and Europe share many similar motor laws there are some important differences and breaking certain rules could see drivers with fines stretching into the thousands.

With that in mind here’s a quick guide to what you need to know for a hassle-free European road trip

Licence

If you’re driving within the EU/EAA then a full driving licence issued in Great Britain or Northern Ireland is acceptable. However, you must still observe the minimum driving age, which in most European countries is 18. If you’re venturing further afield, you might need an International Driving Permit, which costs £5.50 from the Post Office. Check the list of IDP countries here.

Insurance

Check your policy carefully before leaving. Some insurers require you to tell them if you’re driving outside the UK while some only provide third-party cover when you’re abroad.

Brexit

Just remember that Brexit could change the rules on licences, driving permits and insurance. Read about the possible implications here.

Compulsory equipment

Many countries in Europe require you by law to carry certain basic items in your car at all times. The exact rules vary but a GB sticker, headlight adjusters, reflective jackets, spare bulbs, warning triangle, insurance and registration documents are widely required. Some countries also demand you carry a first aid kit and fire extinguisher. In France the law says you must have a breathalyser but the penalties for not doing so have been indefinitely suspended. And in Spain, if you wear glasses you must carry a spare pair.

Speed

European authorities take a dim view of any device that warns of speed cameras or tries to interfere with them. (Picture: Shutterstock)

Speed limits vary slightly between European countries but a 50km/h limit is common for urban areas. On main roads, the limits vary between 80km/h (introduced in France in 2018) to 100km/h. Motorway maximums vary between 110km/h and 130km/h, although many countries have reduced limits for bad weather. While some stretches of Germany’s autobahn are completely derestricted it is by no means the whole network.

Radar detectors – the sort that can warn drivers of nearby speed cameras – are illegal across Europe. Jammers which interfere with speed detection equipment are also against the law and using them carries fines of between 1,500 and 6,000 euros. Even sat navs which warn of precise locations are widely outlawed.

Drink-driving

The vast majority of European countries have a common drink-drive limit of 22 micrograms of alcohol for every 100 millilitres of breath (0.8g per litre of blood). This is lower than the limit in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and in line with the limit in Scotland. Some countries have a lower limit for novice drivers and some countries in central Europe and Scandinavian have limits of 0.2g/l or lower.

Fines

Many driving offences are punishable by an on-the-spot fine in Europe. (Picture: Shutterstock)

Traffic police across Europe have the power to issue on-the-spot fines to drivers, ranging from 35 euros in Germany to as much as 750 euros in France. They can, in the most extreme circumstances, even impound vehicles.

They now also have the power to pursue you at home. Since 2017, European police forces have been able to obtain keeper details via the DVLA and issue fines for offences committed abroad.

Remember, while they share many common laws, the rules around driving vary between countries so it’s worth reading up on your specific destination before setting off.

Tolls

Many European countries charge motorists to drive on motorways and other major routes, including some bridges and tunnels.  These vary in cost depending on the country, road and vehicle and most country’s road authorities have websites detailing which routes are charged and what the fees are.

City entry restrictions

Many European cities, including Paris, have introduced restrictions on cars to tackle pollution and congestion. (Picture: Shuttertstock)

Hundreds of towns and cities are introducing low-emissions zones or other restrictions on access to urban areas. These are generally designed to reduce pollution or congestion and involve bans or charges on certain vehicles – either at busy times or completely. They usually apply to older cars with poorer emissions standards but the criteria vary from city to city.

In some places, including France, drivers must buy and display a sticker confirming their car’s emission standards. Elsewhere, cities charge for entry, either on arrival or by using number plate recognition to issue charges.

Full details of all urban road restrictions can be found here.

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