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Rules Of The Road In Europe

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The challenge when driving on the continent is that there is no single, definitive set of rules for the road in Europe as a whole. There are many similarities, but it’s easy to be caught out by slight differences – and that can turn out to be expensive.

Photo Credit: Tony Shertila

Speed Limits

If you drive any distance across France, for example, it’s likely you’ll use the autoroutes. Although these are toll roads, you don’t see a lot of traffic so it’s easy to make quite rapid progress. Maximum speed is 130 kph (although only 110 kph if it’s raining). If you then cross into Spain, you might hardly notice the difference in the road, but the maximum speed is now 120 kph.
Cross into Germany instead and you have the legendary autobahns: silky smooth ribbons of tarmac with no speed limit at all. Except when there are some! Autobahns normally have no limit, but that doesn’t mean always. There are any number of reasons why a speed limit might be imposed, so you need to keep your wits about you or you’ll end up with a heavy fine.

Open Driving

If you’re used to driving in Great Britain then you should love driving on the continent. With the exception of the major cities, there’s much less traffic and, whether on rural roads or major arteries, it’s a tremendous pleasure for those that enjoy their motoring. However, you do need to be aware of the many differences between the rules of the road in Europe and those at home – and there’s much more to it than just driving on the other side.


For instance, in France it’s mandatory to have a warning triangle and a yellow, reflective safety vest in the car. Both are also required in Portugal. The vest is required in Italy. In Germany, children under 12 must sit in the back, in a special safety seat. In most European countries it’s illegal to use a mobile phone while driving. Despite what you might hear about lax drinking and driving regulations, most countries actually have considerably tougher restrictions than in the UK.
There are lots of little details you need to know. Getting it wrong will result a fine and, at the very least, an unpleasant disruption to your journey. That would be a shame, because getting it right is relatively easy.


The major motoring organizations usually have up-to-date information. There’s a tendency sometimes to refer to ex-pat sites, but there can be errors with these because the information may not be as fresh as it should be. For example, in 2012 there was going to be a legal requirement for breath-test kits to be carried in the car in France. It went as far as the kits going on sale. However, the accuracy of the test was called into question and the law postponed. In spite of that about-turn, a number of sites still tell you it’s in force. You need to be careful and check a source you know is trustworthy.

Car Hire

Even if you’re hiring a car it’s worth finding out the rules of the road in Europe as they apply to your destination. The vehicle should contain all the necessary bits and pieces, but it’s not unknown for the last hirer to have wandered off with them. If you’re stopped, it’s your responsibility, not the hire firm’s. Driving in Europe should be a pleasure – as long as you take a few minutes beforehand to make sure you understand the rules.

James Rowland is an avid writer who creates content on topics such as travelling and car hire excess insurance.

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