Driving in Europe: what you need to know
Many of us end up taking to the roads as part of our summer holidays. If you're planning on driving in Europe this summer, make sure you know what you're allowed to do.
If you're planning on driving abroad this summer it's not just which side of the road to drive on you need to worry about. Everything from the speed and drink drive limits, the documents you’ll need and even the clothing to carry with you can vary across Europe.
Here’s a few of the things to be aware of before you get behind the wheel on the other side of the channel.
Buy a breathalyser kit
If you’re driving in France from 1st July, you should have your own breathalyser kit, which you may be expected to use if you’re stopped by the Police. If you don’t have one from November you’ll pay a fine of 11 euros.
Motoring organisations, including Gem Motoring Assist, suggest packing two - if you use one, you’ll need a ‘new’ one to keep yourself legal. The RAC says you can buy the self test kits ‘for around £2 from ferry and tunnel terminals’ or online from Amazon, but prices here are higher at around £6.
Check speed limits
As you’d expect, this varies according to the type of road you’re driving on. On motorways it’s up to 130kph in Italy and France, 120kph in Portugal and Switzerland, 110kph in Spain and 100kph in Cyprus.
In Germany there’s no ‘official’ speed limit on the Autobahn although a top speed of 130kph is generally recommended.
Pack a high-visability jacket
You’ll need a reflective jacket if you’re driving in countries including France, Italy and Spain. And it’s no good stuffed in your suitcase in the boot. It should be inside your vehicle within easy reach of the driver, as you’re supposed to wear it outside if you stop beyond built up areas.
A warning triangle to put by your car if you breakdown is also essential in most European countries. If you don’t have both a reflective jacket and warning triangle you can face fines of up to 90 euros in France.
Check drink drive limits
Most European countries have a much lower limit than we do.
According to research from the AA and RAC, France, Germany, Portugal and Italy have limits of 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, around 40% lower than the limit over here which is 80mg.
There are plans for Scotland to reduce its current 80mg limit to 50mg later this year too, so it's one to watch if you’re crossing the border.
Take spare specs
If you need glasses for driving you must carry a spare pair in the car in France, Switzerland and Spain. However, it’s not compulsory in Germany, Italy or Portugal.
Children in the front seat
Children under ten can’t sit in the front seat in France, unless all the other rear seats are already occupied by children or there are no rear seat belts.
Don’t run out of fuel on the motorway
You might feel a bit silly if you do it over here and have to rely on your breakdown cover to get you out of tight spot, but in Germany it’s actually an offence to run out of fuel on the ‘Autobahn’ which means you can get a fine.
And be aware that in some places on the German Autobahn there may be a minimum limit in place of 60kmph.
What paperwork should you carry in the car?
Always carry your full (and valid) UK driving licence. That means both the paper part and the plastic card, plus your car insurance certificate, or hire car paperwork if it’s not your car.
If you’re going to be driving your own car, take your vehicle registration document as this is a requirement in some countries. And if you’re driving in Portugal and your car’s over three years old, take your MOT certificate.
Other bits of kit that are expected across most European countries include a warning triangle and headlamp converters, which stick on your headlamps when driving on the right, so you don’t dazzle drivers coming the other way.
Stick to the ‘right’ side of the road
While in most European countries you drive on the right, it’s on the left in Cyprus.
While it can be easy to remember to ‘drive on the wrong side’ when you first arrive, it's easy to get relaxed and forget later in the holiday. Gem Motoring Assist suggests sticking a reminder on a post-it note in the centre of the steering wheel!
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