Driving in Europe - Laws and Practicalities
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Driving in Europe – Laws and Practicalities

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Thousands of us take a car, motorbike or campervan across the Channel every year for holidays or business. Having your own wheels rather than hiring a strange car offers so many benefits, the main one of which is being able to carry so much more than on a plane. However, if you’re driving overseas it’s important to be aware of the different rules and laws which apply to drivers, many of which are quite different to rules in the UK. Do some homework on the laws in the countries you will be driving in, even if it’s just passing through on the way to your final destination. Here are some of the basics you might like to think about. 

France

Most continental European trips from the UK start with a ferry from the Channel ports to France. Even if you are getting on the motorway immediately and heading into Belgium or south towards Spain, you’ll be expected to stick to French rules while you’re in the country. 

  • Documents – you’ll need your full UK driving licence with you, and something proving you own the car, such as the V5 registration document. You might also be asked to show your vehicle is insured, either an email proving cover, or a paper certificate. You don’t need a MOT certificate with you, and the French police aren’t interested in whether you’ve paid UK road tax or not.
  • Safety equipment – all cars must have a warning triangle to use if you break down, and a fluorescent jacket for the driver. 
  • Speed Limits – French speed limits alter if it’s raining. Standard limit on a motorway is 130 km/h in the dry, down to 110 km/h in the wet. 
  • Drink driving – limits in France are 0.5 milligrams of alcohol per millilitre of blood. This is lower than the 0.8mg limit in England and Wales and the same as the current Scottish limit.

Netherlands

  • Documents – similar to France, take everything with you. 
  • Cyclists – the rates of bike ownership in the Netherlands are much higher than in the UK and cyclists often ride two abreast. Give plenty of room when overtaking. Judging space can be hard when you’re on the “wrong” side of the road, so only overtake when you are absolutely sure there is space. 
  • Phones – Handheld mobiles are not allowed in cars on Dutch roads. If you are planning to use yours as a sat nav, make sure it’s firmly attached to the dashboard rather than loose in your lap. If you are planning to make calls home using your free minutes or a calling card, make sure you are using Bluetooth or another hands-free device. 
  • Parking – pedestrians and bicycles are prioritised in many Dutch cities and parking can be difficult. There are several apps available to help you find a space, but it might be less stressful to just park on the outskirts of a city and take a train, tram or bus into the centre.

Germany

Germany is famous for its autobahns, stretches of motorway with no limits at all. There are however some other German laws which you should be aware of. 

  • Speed Limits – Not all motorways have no speed limits. You’ll be expected to pay attention to the signs and know which restrictions apply. A white circle with three black diagonal lines indicates no speed limits apply. Use of mirrors on the autobahn is absolutely key as fast-moving cars can appear out of nowhere. 
  • Motorways and Trucks – trucks and other heavy vehicles are not allowed to pull out into the outside lane of the motorway, to allow free movement of other traffic. 
  • On the spot fines – German police can levy on the spot fines to drivers for all sorts of infringements from speeding to parking. Do your homework about the local restrictions before traveling. 

The general advice about traveling through Europe is the same whatever country you are going to. Don’t assume that the rules are the same as they are in the UK. There is plenty of information online about rules and regulations. Keep your driving license with you at all times, and pack your EHIC too just in case you need medical attention overseas. Many motoring stores sell kits containing all the extras you might need for your continental road trip adventure.

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