So many roads, so many countries to choose from. So many different rules and regulations. Exciting times if you’re going to be driving in Europe. Take care, drive safely and read on to find out a few needs to know.
Planning a self-drive holiday in Europe?
Or a business trip that involves using a rental car? Before you take on the autobahns and boulevards, make sure you’re up to speed.
We’ve put together some pointers to help you stay safe. But remember, laws can change. Make sure you double check with the Foreign Office in the run up to any holidays or trip you have planned.
Using a rental car in Europe?
In addition to your photocard driving licence – or your pre-31 March 2000 paper licence – car hire companies might want to check whether you have any penalty points. It’s possible they’ll ask for a code which allows them to view your licence online, or a printout of your licence details. You’ll need to have these details handy when you collect your hire car.
You can use the DVLA’s View Driving Licence service to see and print off your up-to-date driving licence information, or to get a ‘check code’.
Make sure you ask your hire company beforehand exactly what’s needed, as this can vary from one company to another, and between locations.
Tips on driving in Europe
Some things to bear in mind before you take to the road on the continent.
Keep right – and take care
Perhaps the most fundamental starting point for driving in European countries is sticking to correct side of the road. Make sure you drive on the right, plus overtake and pass other cars on the left – unless you’re in Ireland, Malta or Cyprus. Take extra care on roundabouts and when you pull out from parking spaces.
Get a GB sticker
If your number plate includes the UK identifier with the Union flag (also known as the Union Jack), you do not need a UK sticker.
If your car has any other identifier including a GB identifier with the Union flag, Euro symbol, a national flag of England, Scotland or Wales
or numbers and letters only - no flag or identifier, you will require a UK sticker.
Please refer to the gov website for more information
Adjust your headlights to a dipped beam
This is so you don’t dazzle oncoming drivers when you’re driving on the right. And it’s compulsory – even during the daytime – in many European countries, including Switzerland, Hungary, Italy and Sweden.
Some newer cars have a control that automatically adjusts your headlights for driving abroad. But if that’s not the case, you might need a mechanic to help you do it, so don’t leave it until the last minute.
Check the driving age
Check the minimum driving age in any country you're visiting. It’s 17 in the UK and Ireland, but in most European countries it’s 18 for foreign visitors, including France, Germany and Spain. Always check before you go, and bear in mind that you can’t drive abroad using a provisional licence.
Know the alcohol limits
Many European destinations are famous for their beer and wine, and for lots of tourists that’s a major attraction.
But did you know that most countries on the continent have lower alcohol limits than the UK? And some, like the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania , don’t allow you to have any alcohol in your system at all. Make sure you know the legal limit, or limits if you’re crossing European borders.
Use common sense and stick to rules
Don’t forget common sense things like always wearing your seatbelt and not using a phone or getting distracted by your sat nav while driving. Also make sure you look up the local rules and regulations of the country you’re visiting, including speed limits – and stick to them.
Watch out for thieves
Try to park in safe, well-lit places and double-check that your car is locked. Avoid leaving valuables where opportunistic thieves might see them.
Remember the number 112
112 is the European emergency services phone number. You can use it free of charge throughout the EU, from fixed and mobile phones, to reach the ambulance service, fire brigade or police.
Driving road signs in Europe
Make sure you get to know the road signs used in the country or countries that you’re visiting, and what they mean. Especially the ones that we don’t have in the UK – or that look different from what we’re used to – like the French and Dutch priority signs. And remember that the speed limits in Europe are usually displayed in kilometres, not miles.
Most journeys into Europe from the UK start from France. Check out this common French road sign PDF factsheet to get started on understanding European road signs.
What do I need to drive in Europe?
You can drive in Europe with a UK licence (unless it’s provisional), but you’ll also need to remember various other documents and certain equipment. Our driving in Europe checklist covers the essentials.
Documents to bring
- Full, valid driving licence and national insurance number
- Your V5C certificate (the log book)
- Car insurance documents – check you’re covered for driving abroad with your insurer, and confirm what documents you need to take with you, before you leave
- Breakdown cover documents – double check your cover includes Europe and specifically the country you’re visiting, plus and the dates you’re away
- Vehicle on Hire certificate (VE103b) if you’re driving a hire care
- Letter of authorisation if you’re driving a borrowed or company car
- Before you travel ensure your vehicle’s tax and MOT are valid and up-to-date
- If you’re going to be driving in France, you might need a Crit’air sticker
- And in Germany, you could need an emissions sticker or Umweltplakette
In some countries you might also need an International Driving Permit. You can apply for one at the Post Office three months before you travel.
Equipment and other essentials
- Spare change for tolls and making calls if your mobile phone dies
- A hands-free kit for your phone – it’s illegal to hold your phone while you’re driving
- Maps or GPS so you know where you’re going – try the RAC route planner before you leave
- A high-vis jacket for each passenger and an emergency warning triangle – it’s a legal obligation in lots of European countries
- GB car sticker (if you don’t have a GB Euro number plate)
- First aid kit (compulsory in Austria, France and Germany)
- Safety helmets are a must for motorcycle and moped users
Country by country
It’s a legal requirement to use winter tyres between 1 November and the 15 April.
It’s illegal to use cruise control in some areas. Special signs will tell you where.
You have to keep your lights on in the daytime between 1 November and 1 March.
You’re not allowed to use your car horn unnecessarily, or 10pm-6am near hospitals.
The Czech Republic
There are no motorway toll booths. Instead you need to buy a special sticker, called a vignette. You could get an on-the-spot fine if you don’t. You can order your vignette online. They’re also available at almost every petrol station or post office in the Czech Republic.
The police can take your car into custody if you can’t pay an on-the-spot fine.
Breath tests are frequent in Estonia. Blood tests can also be carried out if the police suspect you’re drunk or under the influence while driving.
The police can impose, but not collect, on-the-spot fines.
Drivers need to carry an electronic or chemical breathalyser in their car at all times.
The maximum level of alcohol in the blood is 0.05%. But for novice drivers who’ve held a driving licence less than two years, and all drivers aged under 21, the blood alcohol limit is 0%.
The police can test anyone they suspect of being under the influence. If you refuse a test, penalties can include a fine and even imprisonment.
The police can collect on-the-spot fines for various traffic regulation offences, including failure to use a seat belt, drink driving, speeding and not stopping at a red light. They also have the right to confiscate your car until the fine is paid.
The alcohol limit in the blood of drivers is 0.05%, but for drivers who have less than three years of experience driving, the limit is 0.00%.
The police can issue an on-the-spot fine and demand that you pay it there and then.
You’re only allowed to use your car horn in a built-up area in cases of extreme danger.
There are no motorway tolls in the Netherlands.
If the police stop an intoxicated driver, they have the right to drive the offender’s car to a safe place and keep it there until it can be collected.
The speed limit in built-up areas increases from 50 km/h to 60 km/h between 11pm and 5am.
Don’t use the green lanes on a motorway; they're for drivers who use the automatic payment system.
You could get an on-the-spot fine and have your driving licence suspended by the Romanian police for traffic offences.
The blood alcohol content limit in Scotland is 0.05%. That's significantly lower than the 0.08% limit that applies in the rest of the UK.
The maximum level of alcohol that a driver is allowed to have in their blood is 0.02%. Any more than that and you could face a fine and up to two years in prison.
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