Tips if you drive your car in Europe - Part 1

It sounds perfect doesn’t it? Pootling through the glorious French countryside or whizzing across Spain on near-empty motorways in the comfort of your own car… So much more convenient and civilised than a low-cost flight and the crush in the queue for car rental when you arrive. And, of course, you’re in familiar surroundings. No creeping back to the hire office to ask which combination of buttons and pedals you use to actually start the engine, and no trying to change gear with the door handle.

Unblissful ignorance

But your idyllic motoring holiday could go badly wrong if you don’t know the rules of the foreign roads – and many of us don’t. Nearly half of British nationals who drive abroad don’t research the local road laws before they set off, according to research by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and

Rules of the road

Worryingly, over a quarter are unsure of the drink-driving regulations in each country they drive in, and 20% don’t know what safety equipment they should carry in their car. If that weren’t bad enough, 40% would have no idea of the correct procedure if they were involved in a road traffic accident. [embed width="600" height="355"][/embed]

Know your limits

Take particular care with alcohol limits, which are often lower than in the UK. The legal limit for alcohol in the blood in many European countries is 50 mg per 100 ml, compared with 80 mg in the UK. If you are caught breaking the law, the cost can be high – a 750 euros fine in France. Drivers in France are also expected to carry a breath test kit or risk an 11 euro fine.

Kit and caboodle

High visibility jackets are compulsory for drivers and passengers in many EU countries. Warning triangles are another common requirement (in Spain you must have two triangles). Also in Spain, if you need spectacles to drive you must carry a spare pair in your car.

Avoiding trouble

Richard Chapman, the UK’s director of consular services for Germany, says: “Every year British Consulates around Europe provide assistance to British nationals involved in road traffic accidents or incidents. “Researching the local driving rules and conditions can help you to have a trouble-free trip.”  

Papers in order?

So what do you need to know when driving abroad in your own car? Every UK-registered car must display a GB sticker or Euro flag badge on the number plate. You should also always carry the correct documents in the car – and you should check they will be up to date for the duration of your trip. In most countries in Europe, a UK driving licence is adequate. However, if you are travelling further afield, you might need an International Driving Permit. Check with the AA or the RAC for details of countries that require a permit. You should also take the vehicle registration document and your motor insurance certificate.

Emergency number

And finally… the number for the emergency services in Europe is 112. Hopefully you won’t need it, but it’s a good idea to store this number in your phone, just in case. The Foreign Office has released a video to raise awareness of the main differences in driving regulations and conditions. For more information, visit the website at You can find out more about breakdown cover via our specialist channel – and you can go here for the best deals on car insurance.

All set? Now check out out Part 2

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