Driving in Europe

Much of Europe may now be part of the European Union, but road rules throughout the continent are far from unified. Regulations governing speed limits, compulsory equipment and motorway tolls are just a few examples that vary wildly from country to country. But Europe also offers some of the world’s most spectacular driving routes, so it’s worth taking the time to familiarise yourself with the rules before you go.

Key rules, regulations and things to know:

  • Make sure you’ve got both parts of your driving licence. You’re required to carry both your photo and your paper licences in all EU countries.
  • Check that your hire car has the compulsory kit you’ll need. Reflective jackets, warning triangles, fire extinguishers and first aid kits are just a few of the items you may have to carry in your car, although exact requirements vary by country. Not all car rental companies include compulsory kit as part of your rental agreement, so make sure you check before you pick up your car.
  • Dip your headlights. This is compulsory at night throughout the EU and many non-EU countries. In Scandinavia and some parts of southern Europe, you’ll also need to keep your headlights dipped during the day.
  • Don’t drink and drive. Acceptable blood alcohol limits vary throughout the continent and can be as low as zero in some countries. It’s best to avoid drinking entirely if you’re driving.
  • Stick to the speed limit. Not only is it safer to do so, but European radar traps abroad are often hidden – making it more likely that you’ll be caught. Bear in mind many continental motorways have both maximum and minimum speed limits, and lower speed limits apply in countries like Spain and France when it rains. And contrary to popular belief, not all autobahns in Germany allow you to drive as fast as you like – about a third have strictly enforced limits.
  • Don’t use speed-trap detection devices. These are illegal throughout much of Europe. So if you’re using a sat nav with a radar detector, make sure you disable this feature.
  • Drive on the right unless you’re in the UK, Ireland, Cyprus or Malta.
  • Be careful about carrying spare fuel in a can in your car. It’s illegal in parts of Europe.
  • If you’re travelling in winter, check what tyres you’ll need. In Scandinavia, for example, winter tyres are compulsory between December and February. In mainland Europe, you’ll need winter tyres or standard tyres fitted with chains when driving around ski resorts.
  • Look into motorway charges in advance. Many European motorways operate on a pay-as-you-drive basis, but some – such as those in Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Hungary – require you to pay a tax in advance.
  • Trams have priority on shared roads. This applies throughout Europe.
  • Ascending traffic and post buses have right of way on Alpine passes.
  • Seat belts must be worn by the driver and all passengers. And if you’re travelling with a baby or young child, make sure they’re travelling in an approved car or booster seat.
  • Be aware of any ‘unusual’ rules that may apply. In parts of Germany, for example, it’s illegal to wash your car on a Sunday. But drive that dirty car into many parts of eastern Europe and you’ll be breaking the law.

More information

Foreign & Commonwealth Office

British government website. Contains general information about driving abroad and gives you the option to search for specific advice by country.

ViaMichelin

As well as tips on driving abroad, Michelin’s website allows you to explore potential routes based on whether you want to get from A to B quickly, economically or scenically. It also allows you to generate maps that highlight Michelin-starred restaurants, Michelin Green Guide sights, and hotels.

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