Things to remember when driving abroad

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If you’re planning a motoring holiday to continental Europe, make sure you brush up on the motoring legislation of each country you’ll pass through before you set off. Europe’s motoring laws can be wildly different to those in the UK – and failing to comply with them could land you with a hefty fine. In the worst case, the local authorities could confiscate your car, leaving you searching through the local second hand cars for sale to make the journey home.

Below, we’ve rounded up some of the most important things to remember when driving abroad. We also recommend that you check the official Foreign Office travel advice before you leave to get properly informed on the finer details of each country’s motoring laws. And, most importantly, make sure you have a UK sticker fixed to the rear of your car before you drive off the ferry in Calais.

Items to carry in your car

Make sure you always carry your driving licence with you. You also must carry all the documents for your car. That means carrying your certificate of motor insurance, your breakdown policy documents and your original V5C registration document. You can apply for a translated version of the latter document (called the International Certificate for Motor Vehicles).

It’s also a good idea to carry a high visibility vest and a warning triangle. It isn’t a legal requirement to bear these items in every European country, but it is for France – and if you’re coming from the UK, there’s a high chance the first country you’ll hit on your holiday is France.

Headlight beam patterns and conventions

Every European nation apart from Britain, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus drives on the right-hand side of the road. So, unless you own a swanky modern car with adaptive headlights that can automatically adjust the beam pattern to suit left-hand drive traffic, you’ll need to buy some beam deflectors to avoid dazzling the local motorists.

It’s also a legal requirement in some European nations (such as Estonia, Finland and Sweden) that you always have your headlights switched on – even in clear weather during the day.

International Driving Permits

Most European nations allow UK photocard licence holders to drive on their roads without an International Driving Permit (IDP). However, you might need an IDP if you have an older paper-style licence or if you’re planning to drive outside of Europe. 

In any case, an IDP isn’t expensive. It only costs £5.50 and is valid for up to 12 months, so it could be worth getting for the added peace of mind. You can apply for one on the Post Office website – all you need are a recent passport-style photo, a full GB driving licence and a valid passport to prove your identity.

Insurance and breakdown cover

Read through your insurance policy’s fine print to find out whether you have any cover for driving abroad. You will likely be insured to drive abroad by your provider, although your trip may be limited to 30, 60 or 90 days. Some companies also only provide the minimum amount of cover required for the country you’re visiting, which means your policy could be reduced from comprehensive to third-party only. If that’s the case, it might be worth buying additional cover.

Also make sure you have breakdown cover for the country you’re visiting. Without adequate cover, you could end up paying thousands of pounds in recovery fees if your car lets you down. 

Speed camera detectors

This is the odd one out in the list, because it’s an item you shouldn’t take with you when travelling abroad. Speed camera detectors are illegal in countries such as France, Spain, Italy, Finland and Greece. Simply having the device in your car, even if you don’t intend to use it, could also land you with a fine and result in the device being confiscated.

Some nations go a step further. Navigation applications such as Waze and Google Maps can inform drivers of the locations of both mobile and fixed speed cameras – and if you’re caught with that function engaged in an unfriendly country, the local constabulary could confiscate your phone, too.

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