Driving On The Continent: Everything You Need To Know

Driving in a foreign country is an excellent way to truly explore its landscape and culture. After all, coaches and tour buses tend to stick to the same tried-and-tested routes, meaning that only the ‘tourist’ areas are typically accessed. With your own car, you’re free to roam where you please (within reason), giving you the flexibility to explore in your own way and at your own leisure. However, crashes abroad have risen by a staggering 160% over the last five years and more and more of us are running foul of foreign driving laws. Here’s everything you need to know when travelling on the Continent, leaving you to get the most out of your holiday…

Driving On The Right

All of mainland Europe drives on the right-hand side of the road. In the 1960s, the Department of Transport considered implementing the same policy in the UK, but found it too costly and hazardous for a nation with such a large amount of infrastructure. Swapping the side of the road you’re driving on can be  intimidating imitially, but you’d be surprised by how quickly your routine adapts.

When driving on the right, remember that…

– You’ll be negotiating roundabouts in an anti-clockwise fashion

– You’ll see oncoming traffic come from the left

– You’ll need headlight beam converters in order to avoid dazzling drivers.

– Traffic signs are typically on the right-hand side of the road

– Left-turning vehicles will naturally cross oncoming traffic

– On motorways, the right-hand lane is the slow lane whilst the left-hand lanes are fast lanes

Whilst getting used to the changes, drive more slowly than you usually would and take extra time and care before making manoeuvres. 43% of surveyed British drivers claim to enjoy driving on the Continent more than they do in Britain, this is largely due to better quality roads and far less congestion. As a result, you should find driving on the right a fairly accessible ordeal after a short while.

Toll Roads

It may sound peculiar, but many motorways and highways on the Continent are owned privately and not by the states themselves. As a result, toll roads are much more common than they are in the UK. There are roughly 90 in France and 40 in Spain; they can also be quite expensive. Make sure you’re not taken by surprise by carrying a healthy amount of currency with you on your travels. For France, Spain and Portugal you can also consider buying a ‘Liber-t’ or ‘Via-t’ tag. These allow you to pass tolls without having to make a direct payment via machine or staff, the charge will simply be deducted directly via your account.

Speed Limits

Whilst many driving customs and laws have become fairly standardised throughout Europe, speed limits and restrictions can still vary greatly from country to country. Given that some countries have an even firmer hand on speeding violations than the UK, it’s important to understand what’s permissible and when. Here are the speeding restrictions (in miles per hour) for the most popular destinations for British drivers…

France: 31 in built-up areas, 55 for outside built-up areas /68 for dual carriageways and 80 for motorways

Germany: 31 in built-up areas, 62 for outside built-up areas / dual carriage ways and 80 for motorways

Spain: 31 in built-up areas, 55 for outside built-up areas / 62 for dual carriageways and 68 for motorways

Portugal: 31 in built-up areas, 55 for outside built-up areas / 62 for dual carriageways and 74 for motorways

Italy: 31 in built-up areas, 55 for outside built-up areas / 68 for dual carriageways and 80 for motorways

Belgium: 31 in built-up areas, 55 for outside built-up areas / 74 for dual carriageways and 74 for motorways

Netherlands: 31 in built-up areas, 49 for outside built-up areas / 62 for dual carriageways and 74 for motorways

Make Sure To Have The Right Kit 

Driving in the UK is a fairly straightforward affair, turn on your engine, obey speed limits and basic rules of the road and you’re set for a fairly self-explanatory affair. In some European countries, however, you’re expected to carry a number of items by law whenever you drive. In France, you’re required to carry a warning triangle, at least one reflective jacket and a breathalyser. You can usually buy all of these assembled into one package via most ferry lines whilst on-board. If you’re driving in Europe, you’re likely to pass through France; make sure you have a kit ready. It won’t be required in Germany or Spain, but they are recommended for basic safety.

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