Driving in Europe

Travelling by car's a great way to explore countries within Europe, whether you plan to soak up the sun in the south of France, indulge in Italy's exquisite cuisine, or unearth Spain's rich culture and heritage.

Having your own wheels gives you the freedom to drive anywhere, anytime you like. But, each country has its own set of driving rules and regulations you'll need to familiarise yourself with before you set off.

Top European driving destinations

France

Speed limits: Speed limits are displayed in km/h and are typically:

  • 50km/h (31mph) in built-up areas
  • 90km/h (55mph) outside built-up areas
  • 110km/h (68mph) on dual carriageways and urban motorways
  • 130km/h (80mph) on standard motorways
  • The minimum motorway speed's 80km/h (49mph).

If it's raining or you've been driving for less than three years, lower speed limits apply:

  • 80km/h (49mph) outside built-up areas
  • 100km/h (62mph) on dual carriageways
  • 110km/h (68mph) on standard motorways.

Drink-drive limit: The blood alcohol limit's 0.05%. There are severe penalties for people found to be over the limit — you could be fined, lose your licence and face imprisonment. French police are legally authorised to conduct random breath tests.

Passengers: Children younger than 10 must use a car seat and they aren't allowed to travel in the passenger seat. The only two exceptions are when a car has no rear seat belts or the back seats have already been taken up by kids aged 10 or under.

Country-specific laws: All drivers are required to carry a warning triangle, reflective jacket, snow chains and a breathalyser in the car with them. Screen-based devices must be placed outside of the driver's view unless it's a sat nav. If a sat nav's used, you must turn off speed camera warnings.

Germany

Speed limits: Speed limits are displayed in km/h and are typically:

  • 50km/h (31mph) in built-up areas
  • 100km/h (62mph) outside built-up areas
  • Suggested maximum of 130km/h (80mph) on dual carriageways and motorways (autobahns in Germany)
  • If visibility's poor, a speed limit of 50hm/h (32mph) applies to all roads.

Drink-drive limit: Same as France, Germany's drink-drive limit's 0.05%. But the limits's zero for drivers under 21 and those who have passed their test within the past two years.

Passengers: A child restraint must be used for children under 12 or shorter than 1.5m (4'11"). If children ride in the front, the airbag must be deactivated.

Country-specific laws: Drivers are required to carry winter tyres and use them during the colder months. It's against the law to use standard summer tyres during winter. Some German cities have low emission zones and you'll need to purchase a vignette in order to drive through them — these can be ordered from an approved garage.

Spain

Speed limits: Speed limits are displayed in km/h and are typically:

  • 50km/h (31mph) in built-up areas
  • A maximum of 100km/h (62mph) outside built-up areas
  • 120km/h (74mph) limit on motorways along with a minimum speed of 60km/h (37mph).

Drink-drive limit: Spain's blood alcohol limit's 0.05%, dropping to 0.03% for drivers who got their licence within the past two years.

Passengers: Children under 12 years old and less than 1.35m (4'5") tall must travel in a car seat suited to their height and weight. They must sit in the back unless the seats are already occupied by other children.

Country-specific laws: You must carry a spare tyre or tyre repair kit, reflective jacket and warning triangle. It's against the law to sound your horn in urban areas unless it's an emergency. If you wear glasses to drive, the law states you must carry a spare pair.

Italy

Speed limits: Speed limits are displayed in km/h and are typically:

  • 50km/h (21mph) in built-up areas
  • 90km/h (55mph) outside built-up areas
  • 110km/h (68mph) on dual carriageways
  • 130km/h (80mph) on motorways.

If you've held your licence for three years or less, you're restricted to driving 90km/h (55mph) outside built-up areas and 100km/h (62mph) on motorways.

Drink-drive limit: The drink drive limit for Italy's 0.051%, dropping to zero for drivers who passed their test within the last three years.

Passengers: If you're driving your own car, any child restraints used must fall in line with UK legislation.

Country-specific laws: You must carry a reflective jacket and warning triangle at all times. Snow chains must be carried between 15th October and 15th April if you're traveling through the Val d'Aosta area, and between 1st November and 1st April in all other areas.

General tips for driving abroad

  • The majority of European countries require you to drive on the right-hand side of the road, which can take some getting used to. Drive with extra caution, particularly in the first few days of your trip.
  • If you're driving your own car, you must display a GB sign as failure to do so could result in an on-the-spot fine. You don't need a sticker if your car has a European licence plate that contains the GB symbol.
  • Check your insurance and breakdown policies include overseas travel and medical expenses. You might want to extend cover for a greater level of protection.
  • Put together a travel pack of essential documents, including: your driving licence and a photocopy, car registration form (V5), insurance and breakdown policy documents, and travel insurance documents and/or a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
  • The driving style in other European countries may be completely different to the UK, so be prepared.
  • Europe's stringent drink-drive laws mean just one beer could push you over the limit. It's simply not worth the risk.
  • Some countries — including Russia and Albania — require you to carry a Green Card as proof of European insurance. The Motor Insurance Bureau website has more information on the Green Car system.
  • On long trips, you should stop for at least 15 minutes every couple of hours.
  • The emergency number in Europe is 112. Only call this number if you need urgent help from the fire brigade, police or a medical team.
  • If you're involved in an accident, contact your insurer as soon as possible and make sure you take lots of pictures at the scene.
  • To prevent a breakdown, give your car a good service before you set off. Take a look at our car service checklist for some handy tips.
  • If you plan on hiring a car instead of driving your own, you can save yourself a lot of money by booking in advance. Spend time comparing deals, paying attention to the small print and any hidden costs. For more information, take a look at the AA's comprehensive guide to hiring a car abroad.

All information is correct at time of publication. Hastings Direct cannot be held responsible for any misinformation displayed.

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