Driving in Europe really isn’t all that different from driving at home, but it can take a little adjustment – and a few extra preparations. To make sure you have a safe and enjoyable road trip, here’s a guide to help you get everything you need in place.
Know the Law
Across Europe rules and regulations about the road vary, but there are a few that many countries have in common. For example, basically all countries right across the continent prohibit talking on or using a mobile phone without a properly installed hands-free system in place. In a handful of countries, such as Sweden, you’re required by law to have your lights on whenever the car is running – if you’re renting a car in one of those countries its lights will most likely come on automatically, but if not just remember to flick the switch once you cross the border. If you’re a US citizen you might be used to turning right on a red light, but in Europe don’t! It’s illegal to do so in all European countries unless there’s a sign or signal that specifically authorises it – most commonly found in Germany. If you’re travelling with kids you should check the rules in the specific country you’re driving in, or ask your rental company’s advice, as these regulations can vary significantly. Many countries require each car to carry a reflective safety vest or kit with a reflecting triangle in the boot, but the rental company will provide this if you’re hiring a car. If you’re bringing your own car then you can pick a kit up from a service station before you cross the border, or online before you leave. As well as this, in France all cars must have an unused Breathalyzer on board. Breakdown cover is not required by law, but you should definitely invest in it before you travel as part of your preparations. You may be able to upgrade your usual breakdown cover to include European driving, take out specific European cover, or your rental company may be able to provide it at an additional cost. Laws do of course vary across countries, though, so check on the relevant country’s consulate website before you travel.
On unfamiliar roads in an unfamiliar country it’s safest to adopt a defensive driving style, even if you’re normally a speed freak. In some countries such as Italy and Greece, the rules of the road are widely considered guidelines… and in Rome red lights are considered discretionary! So look out for yourself and don’t feel pressured to speed up if you’re not comfortable. Take as many breaks as you need to and try to stay relaxed, and most importantly enjoy the ride!