Before driving in Europe, make sure you know road rules and that you have adequate car insurance and documents.
People working and living in Europe might be doing business in various countries with lots of driving to and from those countries. Knowing each country’s laws can help keep you safe behind the wheel and avoid costly fines.
One near-universal rule is in regard to driver’s licences. In general, drivers must have a European Union or international driver’s licence, as well as proof of registration and insurance.Anyone driving in Europe needs to get comfortable with the concept of roundabouts, circles in which traffic flows in one direction. Drivers already in a roundabout always have the right of way, while drivers seeking to enter a roundabout have to yield. For drivers not used to roundabouts, the pressure comes when it’s time to exit. Knowing your exit the first time you drive in a particular roundabout isn’t always easy to figure out. But no worries, you can just keep driving in the circle until you figure out the right exit.
Some other key information to know is that in Europe, many countries require drivers to have their headlights on when driving, day or night. Some require having spare bulbs for headlights, and safety kits in cars. When it comes to kids, most countries require safety seats for children three and under, and some require all kids under 12 to sit in the back, and some allow younger kids to sit in the front with a booster seat.
While many laws are basic and rooted in common sense, there are some unique rules. Depending on which country you’re in, you may need a spare set of glasses, a breathalyser, or to make sure your car is clean.
To help you in your travels, here’s a guide to driving laws in European countries.
Drivers coming from the right generally have priority, but buses and trams always have priority. Holding a cell phone while driving isn’t permitted, but hands-free calling is.
At traffic lights, be aware of approaching cars when turning left at a green light. Also, a flashing orange light signals that the driver should pay careful attention. Driving through an orange light that burns continuously is forbidden.
The driver and all passengers must wear seatbelts. Also, be aware of ‘no cruise control’ zones, which are marked with round signs and a red line through the phrase ‘cruise control’.
Drivers in Belgium also are required to have a fire extinguisher and first-aid kit in the vehicle. This is not required for vehicles registered outside of the country.
Driving in France is pretty straightforward and fits in with most European nations. One key thing to be aware of is France’s ‘priorité à droite‘, which is signified by a black cross in a white triangle with a red outline. It means that traffic from the right driving into your road has the right of way, and does not have to stop, but you do. This is particularly important to be aware of in rural areas.
One unusual rule for France is that drivers are required to have a breathalyser in the car. Some other rules to keep in mind are that cell phone use while driving is prohibited, with no exceptions for hands-free use. Right turns on red lights are not allowed. All passengers must wear seat belts, and children under the age of 10 have to sit in the back. Foreign vehicles must display a sticker indicating the country of origin. Horn honking is illegal in cities unless it’s to avoid an imminent collision.
The rules in Germany are pretty basic. One thing to be aware of is the country’s environmental green zones. It is required that all vehicles, even foreign-registered vehicles, display an environmental badge in order to drive through these zones. Passing in moving traffic must be done on the left, passing on the right is allowed only in stationary traffic.
Other laws to be aware of: Driving with headphones is illegal, and cell phone use is allowed only with the use of a hands-free device.Germany also is famous for its autobahn highway system. These highways have no federally mandated speed limits for some vehicles, but that doesn’t mean drivers can motor along at any speed they want. Speed limits are established in areas that are urbanised, sub standard or accident-prone. Limits also exist in areas where construction is on. Limits also are set for certain weather conditions, and those are strictly enforced.
Portugal is considered by many to be one of the more difficult countries to drive in, and its high rate of accidents supports that notion.
A key tip for driving here is to follow all driving laws strictly. Passing on the right, for example, can result in a fine of EUR 1,000. On motorways with three lanes, the centre lane is for passing. Falling to stop at a stop sign also can lead to a high fine. All cell phone use is punishable with a fine of EUR 600. Keep in mind that fines can be collected on the spot.
Drivers also are required to have a reflective jacket and a warning triangle, both of which are to be used in the case of a breakdown. Know that the roads in Portugal are not well-lit, and drivers of motorised vehicles share the road with other users.
The big rule here, which can be an adjustment for many drivers, is that driving is done on the left side of the road, with passing done on the right. Other driving laws are pretty basic. Other examples of laws include never turning on a red light, and not blocking a central reservation at a junction, even if you have a green light. Roundabouts are common on British roads. Cell phone use while driving is prohibited, and the driver and all passengers must wear seat belts. Horn use is forbidden in built-up areas from 11.30pm to 7am.
The rules here are pretty standard: Passing must be done on the left; cell phone use is allowed only with a hands-free device — just holding a phone, even if it’s not being used, is illegal. The driver and all passengers must wear seatbelts. Drivers should be aware of cyclists, and know that two cyclists can ride abreast of each other. Vehicles coming from the right have priority, and buses have priority when pulling out. Trams have priority, except where noted.
has a reputation for quality roads, and its laws are pretty basic. The most important thing to be aware of is that use of toll roads requires a sticker, known as a vignette. They cost 40 Swiss francs, and allow drivers unlimited use of toll roads. Keep in mind, that a vignette is required even if you’ll be driving on one toll road, just once.
Switzerland requires that cars have a warning triangle to display in case of an accident. Drivers who need to wear prescription glasses are required to have a spare pair in the car as well. Cell phone use is forbidden, and all passengers are required to wear seat belts. Fines can be given on the spot.
Spain is known for its tough driving laws, which are strictly enforced. So the first tip to take under consideration is to pay attention to posted speed limits and follow them.
Drivers in Spain must have two approved red warning triangles in the event of an accident, and reflective jackets that must be worn by anyone outside the vehicle on the side of any highway. Jackets should be kept in the car, not the trunk, so that they can be put on before getting out of the car. These jackets are readily available in stores. Drivers who wear glasses must have a spare pair.
In some Spanish cities, parking is allowed on one side of the road, and the side parking is permitted, changes from day to day. All cell phone use is prohibited, and passing must be done on the left in most cases. Spain also has very strict drinking and driving laws, it’s best not to drink and drive at all.
Luxembourg is known for roads in good condition, and a network of motorways that are toll free. Passing must be done on the left. Hands-free cell phone use is allowed, and the driver and all passengers must wear seat belts. Stop and yield signs are rarer here than in most countries, and horns are to be used only in emergency situations.
Signs with an upside-down red-and-white triangle indicate that you do not have the right of way. Right turns are never allowed on red lights.One of the most common fines novice drivers in Italy receive is by entering pedestrian-only roads, which are often marked with signs reading zona traffico limitato or area pedonale. Making this even trickier is that many GPS systems don’t know these roads are only for walkers, so do your research.
Know that when renting a car, it may be difficult to rent an automatic, so make your reservations as early as possible. Road signs often don’t include directions, and instead use cities as an indicator as to which direction a driver is headed. If you don’t have a solid knowledge of Italy’s geography, use GPS. Speed limits often are enforced with cameras, with the fines going to your rental company, which will add the fine total to your credit card.
Expats in Moscow often find driving in the city a major factor as they adjust to life in their new home. Moscow’s roads are big and busy, and there is heavy traffic congestion. Keep calm in traffic; Moscow drivers are used to bad traffic, and tend not to get frustrated with it. It’s common to see people eating, putting on makeup, reading, using their phones, and even flirting while stuck in traffic.
Some laws to be aware of are that drivers must be at least 18 years old; crossing a double white line is prohibited; right on red isn’t permitted without a green arrow light; it is illegal to pick up hitchhikers; and driving a dirty car, especially when the license plate is covered by mud, can result in a fine.
Other helpful resources include:
- Fodor’s Travel offers tips about driving and renting cars in Europe.
- Slideshow from Travel + Leisure: Tips for driving in Europe.
While understanding the driving laws in Europe, it’s important to have borderless coverage. In addition to physical damage and third party liability, make sure you are covered against political violence and other catastrophes. Clements Worldwide provides comprehensive international car insurance across 170 countries with worldwide liability protection. You can easily obtain a quick quote for car insurance.