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The Motorists' Guide
  • Driving in Europe

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    The Motorists Guide

    Driving abroad is generally one of the best ways of experiencing all of what Europe has to offer and is generally completely stress-free because of empty roads, wonderful scenery, much less traffic and cheaper fuel costs

    On the slightly pessimistic but realistic side of the coin, there are several rules and regulations that are different to the UK and must be observed to avoid fines.

    We have listed some of the Laws, Hints and Tips you should know prior to setting off on your road trip.

    Fuel:  Generally, fuel costs are cheaper in Europe than the UK and in some countries, it is considerably cheaper to fuel up your car. 
    However, not all fuel stations work the same as the UK and one thing to note is that some won't accept UK Credit Cards, some will charge you a set amount (say 200 euros and then later on refund the unused balance), some you have to pay for before fuelling up. So in general, it is best to check out which payment methods are used prior to fuelling up.

    Tolls:  France charges tolls for most of the major motorway routes, which is fair enough if you need to cover huge distances in a short time period but can mount up quite considerably in costs.
    Germany and Belguim do not charge for using their motorway systems and sometimes it is worth considering using them to drive your route to southern Europe and save some money. 
    Austria uses a system called a 'Vignette' which is like a prepaid top-up system to use their motorways and this needs to be purchased before entering their roads. Large fines can be levied for failing to purchase a Vignette and displaying it in your car windscreen.

    Motoring Laws in European Countries:  (National and Regional)

    If you're planning to drive abroad from the UK it's important to familiarise yourself with local rules for drivers before you go.
    This is just as important if you regularly drive abroad as it is if you're planning your first trip as rules and requirements do change. 
    Touring tips include information about compulsory equipment requirements as well as covering local rules on drinking and driving, use of lights, speed limits, carrying children and so on. They also include more general advice on things like fuel availability and tolls.

    Disclaimer: This list is not exhaustive and may not be completely up to date and is only intended to be a general guide. Please ensure you aware of any new regulations that may come into force by checking the relevant country's government websites before departing on your journey.  (Original information source: AA Motoring site - https://www.theaa.com/european-breakdown-cover/driving-in-europe/country-by-country)

    Download country-specific advice and information as a pdf document by selecting the country of interest from the list below
    A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

    Bosnia Herzegovina
    Republic of Cyprus
    Czech Republic
    France & Monaco
    Great Britain
    Italy & San Marino
    Russian Federation
    Switzerland & Liechtenstein

    Speed Limits:  Very strict speed limits apply throughout Europe and heavy fines can be levied on those breaking the law. In extreme cases, the vehicle can be seized and driving licenses revoked for the duration of the journey which would require a passenger to continue the journey as the driver.
    In towns, the speed limit varies but is generally 30 to 50 kph. In extra-urban areas, the limit is usually around 70 kph and on motorways, it can be up to 130 kph but down to 110 kph when it is raining. UPDATE: French speed limits of 90kph have now been lowered in some areas to 80kph.
    It is therefore worthwhile taking notice of the signs or seeking guidance beforehand to know the speed limits in the country you are traveling through.

    Parking:  This is in general, a pleasurable experience in so much as Parking costs are usually a lot cheaper, if not free in a lot of cases. Overnight parking and rest breaks would be best in the generally more secure Toll roads service stations as there are CCTV cameras covering the service stations, car parks and all vehicles are checked in and out of the Toll stations. 

    Insurance & Breakdown Cover:  It is worthwhile ensuring that your vehicle is adequately insured to drive in Europe and that the Breakdown cover also extends into Europe.
    There are numerous bolt-ons available from Insurance companies to further enhance the level of cover and excesses for driving abroad, so it may be worth contacting your Insurance company before setting off to check everything is in place.
    Breakdown cover can exclude vehicles of a certain age or size, so again it is worth checking with your Insurance company before setting off.

    Security:  This is an important factor to consider if you wish your holiday to be as stress-free as possible.
    The 'Golden Rule' is do not leave the car in an area that could be considered as remote or not within coverage of CCTV or witnesses.
    Do not leave anything on display as this is an invitation to thieves to break into your car and quite often cause damage trying to enter the vehicle which can seriously dent your holiday budget. You would be best locking everything in the boot and out of sight.

    Permits:     Driving in French Cities    read article on Crit'Air permits here

    Vehicle Requirements:  A motoring kit needs to be packed in the car before venturing abroad.
    Below is a list of the minimum required kit to take with you in order to comply with all the rules and regulations:


    The below items are linked for your convenience and for easier searching.

    Other items that you may wish to take with you:

    • Spare Key, it's no good being left at home! Best to give to a passenger.
    • Dash Cam (plenty of false claims occurring on the continent)
    • Sat Nav (no speed camera location software to be used in France)
    • Games and entertainment for the Kids
    • Food and Drink, although the motorway services are of a high standard and are generally quite reasonable costs.
    • Change (coins of the local currency) are needed for the Toilets in motorway services - HINT: some toilet turnstiles issue an entry ticket which can be redeemed at the shop checkout for the full amount paid



    ROAD SAFETY and breakdown organisation GEM Motoring Assist has published advice for staying safe and secure on European road journeys this year. The advice takes the form of six top tips covering planning, equipment, safety, legal matters and security issues. 

    Neil Worth, road safety officer at GEM Motoring Assist, said: “The European motorway network is excellent and extensive, but it’s important to ensure that you and your vehicle are safe and legal before you drive off the ferry for a family holiday or business trip. By using our tips as a starting point, you can go a long way to maximising your safety and minimising the risks you face while you’re travelling, as well as the inconvenience and expense of being unprepared if anything does go wrong.” 

     1. Check your documents before you go 

    Is your driving licence valid? Are the passports for everyone in your party all in date? Do you have appropriate insurance? Are you covered for the country or countries you’re visiting? Do you have breakdown cover as well?  

    Run through all the necessary paperwork in plenty of time, so that you have everything to hand on your journey. 

     2. Carry the right equipment 

    Different countries have different rules. Most require that you carry high visibility reflective jackets, a first aid kit and a warning triangle. Some countries also insist on replacement bulbs and fuses, a fire extinguisher or spare pairs of spectacles for any drivers who need them. French rules require that you carry a disposable breathalyser, but under the current system, police are unable to enforce payment of the €11 fine. 

    Make a point of checking the specific requirements for each country you plan to visit, so that you won’t risk a fine if you’re stopped. 

    3. Know the rules 

    Make sure you understand the specific traffic rules and signs. Drink-drive limits across Europe are lower than in the UK, and police officers in most countries can issue and collect on-the-spot fines for traffic offences. If you’re in any doubt about local parking regulations, ask someone before leaving your vehicle. Remember, ignorance is no defence. 

    4. Budget for motorway tolls 

    The European motorway network is excellent and extensive; you can cover long distances quite easily – but there is a price. For example, the 715-mile motorway journey from Calais to Fréjus on the Mediterranean coast will cost you a fraction under €100. 

    Toll tags such as the French ‘Liber-t’ device can save time at tolls. Register your details online before you travel and you’ll receive your own tag which you place in the windscreen of your car. You can then drive through the toll plazas without needing to find coins or credit card, as you receive an invoice and pay shortly afterwards by direct debit. 

    5. Fill up off the motorway 

    You can save significantly by leaving the motorway network to buy your fuel (and refreshments). For example, a litre of diesel costs around €1.37 (£1.16) at a French motorway service area, compared with €1.21 at a supermarket. Just be aware that the older automatic payment mechanisms at French fuel stations may still decline British credit cards (though the problem is much less significant than it used to be). 

    It’s also worth noting that bigger supermarkets have toilets and very reasonably priced cafés – and are often no more than a couple of minutes’ drive off the autoroute. 

    6. Don’t drive for so long that you become dangerously fatigued 

    Don’t ignore the early signs of fatigue when you’re at the wheel. Share the driving if possible, and take regular breaks. 

    Fatigue-related crashes are most likely to happen between 2am and 6am, although there is also an increased risk during the afternoon, when our body clocks experience a natural dip in alertness. 

    Don’t be tempted to press on when you’ve been at the wheel for several hours. 

    Avoid heavy meals, as these can exacerbate the symptoms of fatigue, and certainly don’t drink alcohol during journey breaks. 

    7. Be vigilant at motorway service areas 

    Don’t fall victim to crime when you’re enjoying a break on a long motorway journey. Huge numbers of people pass through service areas every day, making them hotbeds of criminal activity. 

    Make sure you lock your car when you’re parking, and don’t leave high value items visible. 

    Watch out for possibly bogus ‘officials’ who try to tell you that your tyres are illegal and that you’ll need to purchase a new set on the spot. 

    Don’t let children out of your sight at any time, and in particular make sure you accompany them to the loo. 

    8. Disable any speed camera alerting systems from your satnav before you arrive in France. 

    There are harsh penalties in France if you are found with any sort of speed camera detection system in your car, regardless of whether or not you are using it. So, make sure you disable the alerting mechanism before you drive anywhere in France. Check online if you are unsure of how to do this. 

    If you have a built-in satnav, then be sure to check with the car manufacturer if you are in doubt as to how you switch off the speed camera alerts.


    Toll Roads and Driving Abroad Toll Tag site link - useful site for guidance on using Toll roads in various countries.

    Driving Licence information for driving abroad (official UK Government site links)

    Edited by The Motorists Guide


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