Driving to your summer holiday destination can be an incredibly attractive option. It is often cheaper for starters and you get the added benefit of having your car with you. Of course, many people simply fly and pick up a hire car when they land. Either way, you need to be aware of the unique laws and regulations of the country you plan to drive in.
Between the UK and continental Europe there are several significant differences in how we drive. Most importantly, on the continent people drive on the right-hand side of the road. Whilst this might seem blindingly obvious, every year Brits are involved car crashes due to a lapse in judgement. Avoid driving on auto-pilot and pay attention to your road positioning, especially at junctions.
One consequence of driving on the right is that you’ll accidentally dazzle oncoming traffic with your dipped beam. All UK vehicles are designed with left hand driving in mind so you’ll need to invest in some headlight converters. These can be bought from any good car parts retailer and easily fitted to mask out part of your beam. In several European countries, these are a legal requirement so certainly worth the investment. Just remember to take them off as soon as you arrive back in the UK!
France, Spain, Italy and others require that motorists keep specific items within the car at all times. For example, high visibility jackets are compulsory or recommend in many European countries. These are to be worn in the unfortunate circumstance of a breakdown, when you and any passengers will be standing on the roadside.
Similarly, it is a common requirement to carry a warning triangle. This is to be placed an appropriate distance away from your broken down vehicle, in order to provide other motorists with sufficient warning. Simply turning on your hazard warning lights is not considered sufficient.
In all EU countries, you need to display a ‘GB’ sticker on the rear of your vehicle and anything you are towing. However, if your number plate already contains the GB-Euro symbol you are covered for this rule and do not need an additional sticker.
Some European countries have their own unique rules. For example, in France it is now a legal requirement for every car to contain a breathalyser kit, complete with a minimum of two disposable testing units. Furthermore, you also need to carry a spare bulb kit. Whereas in the UK there is something of a grace period to allow you to reach a garage, French police will expect you to deal with the situation as soon as it arises.
In Spain, you could face a fine for driving wearing flip flops, driving bare-chested or not carrying a spare pair of prescription eyeglasses.
One last piece of advice: have some change easy to hand. Toll roads are common in European countries and you don’t want to get caught short!