Driving in Europe: what you need to know

Updated on 16 April 2015

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.

Breathalyser kits

If you’re driving in France it’s a legal requirement to have your own breathalyser kit, which you may be expected to use if you’re stopped by the Police.

However, the 11euros fine for not carrying one has been suspended since 2013 until further notice, so you can choose to go without.  

But if you’d rather err on the side of caution you can get kits online for under £5.

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.

What equipment do you need?

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 135 euros in France.

Other bits of kit that are expected across most European countries include headlamp converters, which stick on your headlamps when driving on the right, so you don’t dazzle drivers coming the other way.

Check drink drive limits

Most European countries have a much lower limit than we do.  

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. 

Scotland reduced its 80mg limit to 50mg at the end of 2014, 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.rtugal.

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, there are no rear seats or there are no rear seat belts. Children up to 10 must also be seated in a child seat or child restraint.

The same goes for children up to the age of 12 and measuring less than 135cm tall in Spain.

In Germany it’s prohibited to use a child seat in the front seat if the airbag has not been deactivated. Those under 12 and measuring less than 150cm must be seated in a child seat or use a child restraint.

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.

What paperwork should you carry in the car?

Always carry your full (and valid) UK driving licence and your car insurance certificate.

You’ll also need your vehicle registration document if driving your own car or hire car paperwork or letter of authorisation if it’s not your car.

And if you’re driving in Portugal and your car’s over three years old, take your MOT certificate.

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, Republic of Ireland and Malta.

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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