Tips for Safe Driving on Vacation in Europe

Exploring Europe by car is a brilliant way to get to know the continent while enjoying the freedom of four wheels. However, you might find that many of the rules and regulations are different from where you live, from speed limits and seatbelt laws to turning right on a red light. Here’s how to stay safe, secure and within the law while driving in Europe on a trip.

Before You Go

  • Look up a guide to European road signs specific to where you’re going, and brush up on what the different symbols mean—you might find some are different from at home.
  •  Verify that your license can be used abroad, and read up on any rules around passing and overtaking in your destination country as these can vary by location.
  • Make sure to check parking rules, costs and regulations too. These can occasionally be rather complicated and involve certain days of the week or residence permits!
  • If you know where you’re heading, plan out the route in advance so you can focus on the traffic rather than the stress of navigating your way through an unknown place. 

Documents You Might Need

  • Along with your license documents, bring travel insurance documents.
  • If you’re driving your own car, bring a copy of your registration and breakdown insurance documents too.
  • Some countries require a permit sticker for expressways which is usually included in the rental price, but make sure to verify this with them before you hit the road.

Also read: Why Travel Insurance is a Smart Decision for a European Vacation

General European Driving Rules

While the wide range of countries in Europe often have different regulations, there are some universal driving rules which will help you stay on the right side of the law. 

1. Wear your seatbelt

This is a strict legal requirement across Europe.

2. Drive on the right side of the road

This is the general rule across Europe, except for in the UK, Malta, Cyprus and the Republic of Ireland.

Also read: 14 Things to do for Free in London—From Museums to Walking Tours

3. It’s illegal to turn right on a red light

The only exceptions are when it is authorized by a sign.

4. Don’t drink and drive

Blood alcohol limits are often very low or zero, making it easy to get caught out even if you just have a small drink with your dinner. In France, all cars need a breathalyzer, which will be supplied if you rent there, but you’ll need to get one if you rent outside and come into the country. 

Also read - Insurance for Rental Car Damage: Where to Get it and Things to Know

5. Don’t use your phone

Making calls or texts while driving is illegal in most European countries.

Above all, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with any specific laws in your destination country before getting behind the wheel, including those designating things that must be in the car (or cannot be in the car) if you’re crossing countries or driving your own vehicle.

Some surprising but important country-specific laws include keeping your headlights on at all times (even during the day) in Scandinavian countries and some Eastern European locations, and making sure you don’t run out of fuel on the autobahn in Germany!

Extra European driving tips

Driving in Europe can be a very different experience to the rest of the world, particularly when it comes to crowded historic cities. Try to plan routes avoiding the city center, particularly in old cities which can be hard to navigate and full of one-way rules. Cars are also banned in some European city centers, or subject to congestion charges.

Also read: 10 Things to do in Paris That You Can't Miss

Prepare yourself for long road tunnels, which can be unnerving. Don't forget to watch out for cyclists in urban areas with cycle paths, popular countryside routes or in busy cycling cities such as Amsterdam.

The roads can often be busy and filled with roadworks in the summer months of July and August, so budget for more time to get to your destination rather than rushing. Check ahead for any tolls and expressways on your route too, and if they cost a fee. It’s always worth having some spare coins around just in case, as not all of them take bank cards.

* The above tips are only provided for guidance and should not be solely relied upon as a comprehensive source of all European driving rules and regulations. All drivers are encouraged to familiarize themselves with all necessary local laws before driving in any country.

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