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The key to driving abroad is to always expect the unexpected – the rules when driving in the continent can differ greatly from the rules in the UK, but if you’re prepared then you should have no problems.
If you’re planning to drive abroad, why not save yourself some valuable time and stress by reading Trusted Dealers’ comprehensive guide to driving abroad below.
Key things to remember
Travel to France – In January 2013, it became compulsory for all cars on French roads to carry a breathalyser to enable motorists to check they are under the French limit of 50mg per 100ml of blood – this is 30mg lower than in the UK. Motorists in France are also legally required to carry a warning triangle and a fluorescent vest.
Vehicle identity reminder – Some countries require the appropriate country identification numbers to be displayed on your vehicle, for example the GB sticker needs to be displayed if you’re travelling from the UK. Failure to do this could result in an on-the-spot fine, however, if your number plate includes the GB Euro symbol, you won’t need an additional sticker within the EU.
Check in-car equipment requirements – One of the first things you should do is check the destination country’s website for a list of the compulsory in-car equipment you’ll need for your journey. The AA website covers advice and information for travel to more than 40 countries.
Paperwork – Make sure you have all the documents you need to drive abroad in one folder including where to go for help should you get into any difficulties on the road. Below is a list of some of the key paperwork you may need to have when driving abroad:
Make sure you are familiar with the driving laws for the country you will be driving in as requirements can change regularly. This doesn’t just mean checking which side of the road to drive on, you should also look at the speed limits, what paper or documentation is required by law, alcohol limits and other important rules and regulations. Take a look below at some of the key requirements:
Driving with children – Be aware that children under 12 or below 1.5 metres tall are not permitted to travel in the front of vehicles in some EU countries. Permitted travel may only be provided once an approved restraint system has been checked.
Parking restrictions – Check out the local parking regulations in the country you’re visiting before you set off so that you understand signs and are fully aware of the road restrictions. If you choose to park illegally, the penalties are harsh. Heavy fines are imposed and often if the vehicle is unaccompanied at the time of the penalty, it will be towed away.
Know your road rules – Research the road rules for the specific country you’re travelling to. Most traffic regulations are similar to those in the UK – triangles warn, circles prohibit and rectangles inform, but there are some which can catch you out. For example, never cross a solid white line to change lanes or overtake – the result could be an on-the-spot fine, which could mean paying more than €300 if you’re in France. Above all, make sure you know which side of the road you’re expected to drive on!
Driving regulations and restrictions will vary from country to county. For more information take a look at the European Commission website by clicking here.
Always check with your car insurance company that you are fully covered to drive abroad. If you do not have overseas cover and you are involved in an accident, you might only be entitled to minimum legal cover in the EU. If you are not covered for travel abroad, you can pay an extra premium to extend your car insurance cover for the duration of your time abroad.
If you have breakdown cover, do not assume this will extend abroad. You may need to increase your existing cover or take out a standalone European Breakdown cover to make sure you are fully covered.
There are a number of precautions you can take before you set off to ensure you avoid a breakdown, or break the driving laws in the country you are visiting. We’ve listed below some of the simple checks you can do before travelling abroad.
Service your car – If your car is due a service, get it booked in before you go. You can also carry out some simple checks such as checking your tyre pressures and topping up your oil. These regular checks are vital to keep your car on the road whether you are at home or abroad.
Carry a breakdown kit – Always make sure that wherever you travel you have an in-car tool kit to cover emergencies. Things to add to your abroad breakdown kit include a fire extinguisher, a warning triangle and a reflective jacket along with the usual breakdown requirements.
Make adjustments – check if there are any adjustments required to your headlights as these can differ abroad from the UK guidelines. You can buy beam converters from ferry terminals or garages if required but prices will vary so make sure you shop around.
GB plates – make sure you have an approved GB plate for your vehicle to notify other drivers that you are from the UK. The GB Euro-Plate has been a legal alternative since 2001 but is not valid outside the EU.
Update your licence – Always make sure that your licence is fully up to date. Find out whether the country you’re visiting requires you to have an international drivers licence. These are simple to apply for through your local post office, or you can apply for one through the AA.
Research the roads – Research your route thoroughly before you set off. Ensure the maps you are using are up-to-date and make estimates of travel times along the route, so you’ll have an idea when you’ll be at certain points on your trip.
Unfortunately, if your car is foreign registered, it’s an obvious target for thieves so you need to be vigilant at all times. Make sure that all doors and the boot are left locked when you leave the car, and that the windows and sunroof are securely closed. Don’t leave cases or possessions visible, and if you can’t avoid leaving things in the car, keep them in the boot. Don’t leave your ownership, rental or insurance documents in the car unattended, and always take the keys with you when you pay for petrol.
Driving licence requirements – From 8th June 2015, the paper counterpart of the photo card driving licence was replaced with an online system, therefore anyone considering hiring a car abroad may need to obtain a code. To obtain the code, you need to log on to the DVLA website before you set off. The code is only valid for 72 hours, so anyone wanting to hire a car for more than three may need to generate a new code whilst abroad. The code is not an official requirement, it depends on the individual hire company’s terms. For a comprehensive guide, click here
Inspect the vehicle – When you’ve collected your hired vehicle inspect it carefully. Look for any signs of wear and tear, damage to the bodywork, interiors, windscreen, wheels and alloy trims. If you spot any damage make sure the renter has marked it accurately on the car hire diagram. If you are concerned about anything that could compromise the safety of you and/or your passengers, speak to the renter about getting another vehicle.
Check the boot – Don’t forget to check the boot has compulsory equipment in it for driving abroad, such as a warning triangle, high-visibility jacket, spare bulbs, spare tyre and any other items legally required in the country you are driving in. If you are unsure about anything raise it with the renter in advance before you embark on your trip, so you have time to pack the necessary missing items that may not be included with your hire package.
Remember your driving rules – Remember that in most European countries you’ll be driving on the right-hand side of the road, so you’ll need to take extra care at junctions and roundabouts. Always re-join the main road from the right-side as joining from the left-side could unconsciously revert you to driving on the left. Joining or leaving a dual carriageway may also confuse you – take your time and think about every manoeuvre.
Check the fuel type – Check which fuel type the car takes and make sure you know what the words for diesel and petrol are in the country you are driving in.
European Health Insurance (EHIC) – Have you got an EHIC card? This will entitle you to reduced or free state healthcare if you fall ill or are injured whilst travelling abroad. It is not a substitution for a travel insurance policy but it could prevent you from having to use your policy for medical purposes, particularly if your excess is high. For further information visit www.nhs.co.uk.
Low emission zones in Europe
More than 200 cities and towns in 10 countries around Europe already have in place, or are preparing to launch, ‘Low Emission Zones’ (LEZ) – areas. Vehicles may be banned or in some cases charged if they enter the LEZ when their emissions are over a set level. To find out the location of the Low Emissions Zones in the country you are travelling to, or for more information, click here.
Borrowed, hired or leased
If you’re taking a company-owned, hired or borrowed vehicle you’ll need a letter of authorisation from the registered keeper as well as the original vehicle registration document (V5c) or a Vehicle on Hire Certificate (VE103).
If you’re driving to one of Europe’s winter sports destinations you need to be prepared for road conditions more severe than anything you would normally encounter at home. The law in some countries requires residents to use winter tyres at certain times of the year. In Germany, from 2010 all passenger cars and motorbikes are required by law to be fitted with winter tyres or all season tyres on all axles when conditions are wintery, to avoid paying an on the spot fine if your vehicle becomes stuck.