Driving on the continent: Rules, regulations and bucket list drives

The idea of finding undiscovered gems of ‘spaghetti asphalt’ while driving an E-type Jag in the South of France is the classic romantic EU driving scene. But what they don’t show you in the films are the pesky little gripes which come with driving in a foreign country.

You might not have seen James Bond digging around for a few spare Euros at some sort of Riviera toll booth, but chances are he did at some point. He probably also had to check his insurance and get Q to put a warning triangle in the boot of the Aston.

From travelling glamorously to piling the kids in the back of a people carrier, hiring a car, taking your own or blagging one off the company takes a little more prep that just shouting ‘road trip!’. Here we highlight both the general and country specific requirements when driving overseas. Get the boring stuff right before you head off, and then prepare to narrate like Clarkson when you get there…

Take a breathalyser – France

As the country purveying Chardonnay, Champagne and numerous other delicious wines, it makes sense to seriously crack down on drink driving by making carrying a personal breathalyser compulsory. Whether you’re taking your own car or hiring a rental, pick one up from Halfords before you go.

Display a GB Euro number plate or sticker

If you fail to identify your country identification letters then you can be fined on the spot. Either display the GB sticker or create your GB Euro number plate using our plate builder. You can even add a slogan! Of course, if you hire a rental car when you’re out there then no such display is necessary.

Hiring a rental car? Pay with a credit card

If you booked your rental car whilst paying for your flights and hotel, check any terms and conditions carefully. You usually have to book on a credit card, but this isn’t always spelled out in big black lettering on the website. If you paid on debit card, you’ll probably get turned away when it comes to picking up your car. If everything does goes smoothly and you’re introduced to a beauty for the week (typically a Chevrolet Matiz or some Opal model), then take any pictures (complete with dates) of scuffs and bumps before you jump in.

Get your European Health Insurance Card

An EHIC will cover healthcare costs (either at a reduced cost or for free) in EEA countries. You can apply on the NHS website and the card is completely free. There are a number of companies out there charging however, so avoid the sharks and make sure you go for the free legitimate option! In Europe the universal emergency number is 112.

Check the small print

Does your insurance cover you when driving abroad? Does your breakdown cover extend to Europe? Do you need an International Driving Permit for the country you’re visiting? Checking the small print is tedious, but it can save you money and give you peace of mind when driving in unfamiliar territory. Check before you go and upgrade any policies accordingly.

The RAC is a really useful resource for making sure you’re travelling and driving legally. There’s quite a lot of information to digest, but if you’re really keen on taking your own car then a few initial checks can unearth some surprise motoring rules for the country you’ll be visiting. For example, some countries require you to use snow chains on winter tyres and carry a warning triangle.

Give your car some TLC

You know the deal by now, check your tyre pressures and coolant level (there should be guidance in your car’s manual) and top up your oil and screenwash before setting off. It goes without saying if there’s something you know needs a little work, get it done before you go – no one wants to explain gasket head troubles while they’re on route to the beach.

Give yourself more driving breaks

There’s nothing more beautiful than cruising through the Italian hillside, but it’s important to remember that driving on the opposite side of the road can be tiring. You’re having to concentrate more – especially in regards to junctions and roundabouts – so it’s only natural that you’ll need time to recharge. Think of it as the perfect excuse to sample the local delicacies!

Toll roads

In the UK, toll roads are still quite an unpleasant novelty. But depending on where you go in Europe, toll roads can be a fixture of major highways. Collect those spare circa 2009 Euros before you head out, no one wants to be the guy trying to pay with American Express at a 2 Euro booth.


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