A new survey by the RAC has found that up to a third of motorists are planning a driving trip across the Channel this year – but many make no preparations for the trip and do not know the rules in European countries.
According to the RAC, 35% of drivers have no idea what to do if they are in an accident – yet nearly 10% of drivers have been involved in an accident in Europe and 12% have broken down.
Let me first state my own position. I’ve driven many thousands of miles in continental Europe and the vast majority of them have been fantastic. The roads are usually quieter and the scenery is often amazing.
However, driving in mainland Europe is different to driving in the UK and there are potential pitfalls awaiting you if you don’t take sufficient care and do a little research before you go.
Before You Go
There are a number of pieces of equipment you may need to have with you or fit to your car before you go:
- Headlight converters (beam benders) unless your car’s headlights has a switch to realign them. Contact a main dealer for your make of car to ask for advice if in doubt. Failing to do this is an offence in most European countries and you may be fined if stopped.
- GB Sticker – Remember that even if you have a modern-style licence plate with GB on, some countries, such as Switzerland and Andorra, are outside the EU – so you will need a GB sticker, too. Check out our GB sticker & licence plate guide here.
- Warning triangle – for use if you have an accident or breakdown. Spanish law requires you to carry 2 warning triangles.
- Reflective jacket – a high-visibility jacket or vest for use if you have to get out of your vehicle while on the carriageway – after an accident or breakdown, for example.
- Other things you may need to carry include spare bulbs, spare glasses, a fire extinguisher and a first-aid kit.
Most European countries have a few less obvious laws, too. Here are a few examples:
- France – Speed camera detectors are illegal, even if they are not in use
- Germany – all accidents must be reported to the police, however minor
- Spain – no children under the age of 12 must travel in the front seat
- Italy – dipped headlights should be used at all times on motorways and major roads
For a comprehensive guide to country-specific driving requirements, visit the AA’s excellent country-by-country driving guide or the RAC’s European Motoring Advisor site.
Check out fuel costs in the countries you are visiting. The AA publish a Europe-wide fuel price report every month.
As a general rule, diesel is cheaper throughout Europe than it is in the UK. However, petrol is often more expensive – to the surprise of many UK drivers.
Remember to take extra care when driving. Learn the speed limits of the roads you will be using and stick to them – on the spot fines are common and can be high. In France, for example you will not be allowed to proceed until you have paid – even if it means the police escorting you to a cash machine.
When driving in continental Europe, you will be driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road – this can be confusing at junctions and roundabouts, so take care and make sure your mirrors are adjusted to give you the best possible all-round vision – especially down the left-hand side of your car.
After all of this, don’t forget to enjoy the experience. Roads in most European countries are excellent and usually well-signposted, including speed limits. Driving in Europe gives you the chance to see some of the most fantastic scenery in the world and can be great fun.