Tips for driving abroad
UK AND EUROPEAN DRIVING LAWS?
If you’re planning to drive in another country, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re aware of the main differences between driving there compared to the UK.
The laws differ from country to country, and we can only provide general guidance (rather than legal advice), but there are some tips which you should bear in mind:
- A lot of European countries require you to keep certain equipment with you while you’re travelling by car - for example, in France you have to carry a reflective jacket and should have a breathaliser with you at all times
- In some countries, you have to keep your headlights on at all times, even during daylight hours. For example, this law applies across most of Scandinavia
- It’s widely illegal to turn right on a red light, but in some European countries there are signs or signals which specifically permit it - particularly in Germany
- Speed limits vary from the UK. For example, some of Germany’s motorways don’t have a speed limit. It’s also important to remember that other countries across Europe measure speed in kilometers per hour as opposed to miles per hour
Before setting off on your next trip, make sure you familiarise yourself with the speed limits and driving rules of the country you’re visiting. The European Commision is a useful source of information to help with this.
DRIVING ON THE RIGHT
Driving on the other side of the road is one of the main things you might feel apprehensive about when it comes to driving abroad. If it’s your first time driving on the right, then you’ll actually be surprised how intuitive it is - especially when you’re in a left-hand drive car.
It can take a bit of getting used to at the start, so it’s best to take your time, stop for plenty of breaks and have an alert passenger with you.
You should take particular care at junctions and roundabouts. If you’re used to driving in the UK, it’s easy to lapse back into the ‘autopilot’ of driving on the left - so give yourself plenty of time and remember that oncoming traffic will be seen coming from the left.
If you usually drive an automatic, then we’d also recommend booking an automatic car for driving abroad. This gives you one less thing to think about, as it can also be a strange adjustment to changing gear with your right hand.
BEFORE YOUR JOURNEY
Before you set off on a car journey in a different country, it’s best to plan ahead. You can save yourself a lot of hassle by planning your route in advance - and if possible a sat-nav can be very helpful to give you safe directions while you’re on the move.
Something to watch out for is toll roads, which are quite common across Europe. Sometimes you can pay by card, but it’s best to carry enough notes and coins to complete your journey. In some countries, such as Portugal, tolls are pre-paid, so it’s worth doing a bit of research on the specific rules for the country you’re visiting.
As in the UK, traffic can build up on the motorways - especially during tourist seasons. Keep an eye on traffic reports, allow plenty of time for your journey, and choose alternative routes to stay off the main roads if possible.
It’s also worth thinking in advance about parking. For example, if you’re planning to drive to a city, it can often be quicker and easier to park outside the city and catch public transport into the centre. If you’ve booked accommodation, check in with the host to find out whether there’s parking available, and how much it costs if applicable.
Whether you’re planning to hire a car or are taking your own, it’s very important to make sure you have all the right documentation to be able to drive abroad.
You will need to have with you:
- Your passport
- A valid driving licence
- If travelling outside the EU, you might also need a visa and an international driving permit (note that the EU requirements may change from 1 January 2021 so ensure that you keep up to date with government guidance)
If you’re taking your own car you must have with you:
- The original vehicle registration certificate (also known as V5C or ‘log book’)
- Motor insurance certificate (under current EU rules, you automatically get third-party cover in the EU or EEA with a UK car insurance policy. But it’s worth checking the level of cover you have, as some policies also offer comprehensive cover in Europe. This may also change from 1 January 2021).
And if you’re hiring a car in another country, you should obtain:
● A DVLA licence check code (not all hire companies will ask for this)
A FOREIGN COUNTRY
If you’re driving your own car to a foreign country, you’ll need to make sure you have everything you need to stay safe and legal on the roads in your destination, as well as any other countries you’re passing through on the way there.
Here are some important things to bear in mind when driving to another country in Europe:
- Headlight converters: headlights on cars designed to drive on the right hand side will dazzle road users who are on the left side of the road. Headlight converters are stickers which adjust the dipped beam of your headlight to avoid that from happening. They don’t cost much and usually easy to fit - but you could be fined if you don’t use them
- GB sticker: It’s compulsory to use a GB sticker in Europe unless your car number plates have a Euro symbol and GB identifier.
- Emissions sticker: in some places in Europe, you might need an emissions sticker on your windscreen to drive through certain cities at certain times. Older cars may be banned altogether at peak times of the day
- Breakdown cover: It’s worth checking whether your breakdown cover is also valid in other countries (it usually isn’t). If yours isn’t, then it may be worth either upgrading your current cover, or taking out a new policy for the duration of your trip.
Whenever you’re on a long journey, remember it’s important to take plenty of breaks and pull over for rest if you’re feeling tired.
And most importantly of all, enjoy the journey! Road trips can be a really great way to explore and see more of a country.