Driving abroad – what you need to know

Driving in Europe

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Millions of us will drive to Europe for our summer break this year, or rent cars while we’re abroad, but don’t forget to swot up on the motoring rules and regulations of the country you’re going to first.

Remembering which side of the road you should be on while driving in unfamiliar territory can be stressful enough, without, for example, being hauled over by the local police because you haven’t got legally-required dipped headlights.

Here’s what you need to know to ensure your travels go without a hitch…

Are you covered?

Don’t assume that your car insurance will automatically cover you when driving in Europe.

Although many policies do include European cover as standard, often comprehensive cover will be downgraded, so that it only provides the minimum level of cover required for the country you are driving in.

In many cases, this is third party only cover, so always study the small print carefully before leaving British shores, or you could end up with a hefty bill if you have a crash while you’re abroad.

If you want a higher level of cover, you may need to pay an additional premium, so contact your insurer before travelling and arrange this before you go.

Check up on breakdown cover

You should also ensure you have European breakdown cover in place, so that if your car suddenly conks out, you won’t have to find a garage on your own.

Some car insurance policies include European cover, so check whether yours does before buying.

Bear in mind too that some packaged bank accounts include European breakdown cover, so make sure you don’t end up buying cover twice.

Keep all your insurance policy documents to hand so that you have the necessary contact details should the worst happen.

You should also carry some sort of photographic identification with you at all times, such as your driving licence or passport, as this is a legal requirement in many European countries.

European rules and regulations

Once you’ve got your insurance and breakdown cover sorted, it’s time to make sure you know the rules of the road in the country you are driving to.

When driving within the EU, it is compulsory to display a GB sticker on your car – if you’re caught without one, you could be hit with an on-the-spot fine. You should also carry a warning triangle in your boot, and reflective jackets for all passengers.

Remember too that you will need to have dipped headlights if daytime visibility is poor, and if you’re on a motorbike, your headlines must be on and dipped at all times, even if visibility is good.

Navigation agitation

If you’re using a sat nav to help get you to your destination, it’s worth knowing that in some European countries it’s illegal to use one which tells you where the speed cameras are situated. You should therefore disable this function before you go.

Never drink and drive when you’re abroad, as legal limits vary from country to country, so you’re safest avoiding booze altogether if you’re going to be behind the wheel later. For example, the legal limit in France is 50mg per 100ml of blood, lower than in the UK.

Country-specific rules

There are several other country-specific rules you should be aware of if you’re planning on driving abroad this summer.

For example, in France, as well as having to carry a warning triangle and fluorescent vest, it is also a legal requirement to carry a breathalyser in all vehicles. That said, there are currently no repercussions in place for not carrying a breathalyser.

Note that the device you carry with you must have the blue circular NF logo on it, which is the French equivalent of the BSI kite mark in the UK.

If you are travelling in France with children under the age of 10, they must be in an approved child seat. They cannot travel in the front seat of a vehicle unless there is no rear seat in the car, or the back seat is already occupied with children under 10.

If you’re travelling with children in Spain, if they are aged 12 or under and measure less than 135cm, and they are travelling in the front seat of a car, they must use a child restraint system adapted to their size and weight. Children measuring more than 135cm may use an adult seat belt.

The drink drive limit in Spain is the same as it is in France, at 50mg per 100ml of blood.

Dirty business

Some countries, including Belarus and Romania, penalise you if you drive with a dirty car, so a visit to the car wash may be in order before you leave British shores.

Oman similarly will fine owners of dirty cars, so if you’re hiring a car when you’re over there, make sure you keep it clean.

If you’re planning a holiday in the United States, then be careful when you’re parking, as your car must always be on the right hand side of the road, in the same direction of the traffic. And never pass a stationary school bus, whichever direction you are heading in. 

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