Some general tips for driving in Europe include:
- Always drive on the right (unless you are in Cyprus or Malta)!
- Be especially careful when setting off from service stations or restaurants on the left side of the road.
- Take care when overtaking – allow more space between you and the car in front so you can see further down the road ahead.
- Europe has strict drink driving laws, at least as strict as in the UK.
- Seat belts front and rear are obligatory everywhere. And for those travelling with children, the same rules as the UK apply with any child up to 12 years old or 135 cm in height required to sit in a suitable child car seat.
- Speed limits are implemented rigorously. Radar traps are frequent. In France, for example, anyone caught travelling at more than 25km/h above the speed limit can have their licence confiscated on-the-spot.
- Speeding and other traffic offences can be subject to on-the-spot fines. Make sure you have cash with you.
- Be aware when using a filling station that diesel in many countries is called ‘gasoil’ or ‘gazole’. This is not gasoline or petrol.
- Several countries, including Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, require you to purchase a ‘vignette’ or motorway tax disc and display it on the screen before using motorways. You can get a vignette at all major border crossings and at larger petrol stations.
Drivers should also bear in mind that under the Road Safety Act 2007, foreign authorities can obtain information from the DVLA to chase motorists who have committed speeding and parking offences while abroad. If you get any convictions while away, they will count against you on your UK licence.
It is important to remember that each country’s motoring laws and regulations are subject to on-going review and update so do make sure that you are familiar with the laws which may affect your journey (including any countries you travel through). Check with a motoring organisation like the AA or the RAC for current rules.
Before travelling, drivers are advised to carry out basic vehicle checks including checking tyre pressures and all fluid levels.
There are also national motoring laws to take into account. For example, in most countries, headlamp beams will need to be adjusted to take into account other oncoming motorists, while some countries, like France, insist a set of spare headlamp bulbs are carried.
Again in France, it is compulsory to disable your speed camera warning devices. Failure to do so will result in a significant fine.
You should also be aware of the new Mesta Fusion cameras in France. The cameras can monitor eight lanes of traffic, several vehicles at the same time and tell the difference between cars and trucks.
And it’s not just speeding the cameras can detect, they can record drivers or passengers who are not wearing seat belts, they can recognise if you are using a mobile phone and they will capture illegal overtaking and dangerous manoeuvres like jumping red lights, tailgating or driving in incorrect lanes.
In Spain, motorists could find themselves facing a €91 (£80) fine for filling their tank full of fuel while the radio in the car is still on!
Spain has long been a popular destination for the British but drivers heading down to the Costas will need to stick rigidly to the speed limits or risk falling foul of a new generation of portable Spanish speed cameras.
Velolaser radar speed cameras are small, unobtrusive and can cover both directions of travel at once. They can be controlled by police patrols several miles away using their inbuilt 3G or 4G capability and can cover up to four lanes of traffic simultaneously.
You may not even notice you have been caught offending until a demand for a speeding fine arrives, ranging from £85 to £425 depending on the severity of the offence.
And due to the EU Cross Border Enforcement Directive, member states can now actively pursue UK drivers for a range of offences, including speeding, drink-driving, jumping red lights and using a mobile phone while at the wheel.
The Velolasers are known to be in operation in 18 of Spain’s 50 provinces, including popular tourist spots such as Madrid, Malaga, Murcia, Granada and Valencia.
Across Europe, as with the UK, the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving is outlawed, although penalties are usually stiffer, and when it comes to drink driving, there is only one safe rule – don’t do it. Other European countries’ drink driving laws are stricter than the UK and the penalties are severe.
And, in winter, check whether winter tyres or snow chains may be required when driving abroad.
The international emergency number is 112. This is the same for all European countries so put it in your mobile and have it written down on your documentation.