Zut Alors! Don't Break These Laws: European Driving Laws

Jack Dreyer | Thursday 2nd June 2022 12:30pm

Paris map

Planning a trip to Paris? If you’re taking your own car, better make sure it’s less than 19 years old. In a bid to cut air pollution and traffic in the capital, French authorities have banned the use of old cars on the streets of Paris during peak times on weekdays.

This law, which took effect on Friday 1st July 2016, means that any car registered before 1st January 1997 will not be allowed in the city centre from 8 am to 8 pm, otherwise drivers will face a fine of €35 Euros. There will be exceptions for classic cars but if you were planning on bringing the trusty Volvo 850 away with you that’s been taking the whole family on their holidays since the summer of ’95… think again!

France isn’t the only European country with differing transport laws from the UK and driving on the continent can be quite a departure from driving in the UK, and we're not just talking about driving on the other side of the road. With an estimated 2 million Brits planning to head abroad this summer, many of them taking their own car or using a hire car, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the local road laws of the country you are visiting if you want to avoid penalties.

Read on to find out about the European driving laws you just might not have known about.

1. You don’t need a GB sticker if you have an EU number plate

Most people know that if you intend to take your car overseas and into Europe, you need to make sure you have a GB sticker on the rear of the vehicle.

Failure to comply can result in an on-the-spot fine. However, what you may not have known is that if your car has a new style EU number plate with the GB and the European flag displayed on the left-hand edge, this replaces the need for a GB sticker as your vehicle is already marked as being from the UK.

If you have a new style EU number plate, it will look a little something like this:

Kwik Fit licence plate

Even though the UK has left the EU, the rules still apply with licence plates. Find out more about driving with certain licence plates in Europe on the GOV.UK website here.

2. Pack a breathalyser when in France

Since 2012, it has been compulsory for all drivers (except moped users) to carry a self-test breathalyser in their vehicle while travelling in France.

Furthermore, you can’t just use any old breathalyser; it has to be certified by the French authorities, showing an ‘NF’ number. You should also make sure that if you are using a breathalyser from a previous trip to France that it hasn’t reached its expiry date. While the French government announced that drivers not carrying a breathalyser would face a fine of €11, this has since been postponed indefinitely. Instead, drivers found without breathalysers will merely be “reminded of the law”.

So, technically you still need to make sure you carry a breathalyser in the car when in France, but there is no fine currently in place for non-compliance. However, expect a severe dressing down from a French policeman and a delay to your journey if you don’t have the necessary kit.

3. Check your insurance before you travel

If you have fully comprehensive insurance cover on your car, don’t just assume that you’ll have the same level of cover when you go abroad.

In most cases, when not driving in the UK, your level of cover will drop to the ‘third-party’. This means that if you’re involved in a road accident, this will only cover other parties involved and not damage to your own car.

Make sure you contact your insurance company before you travel; you can usually increase your level of European cover for a small fee.

4. Speed limits are ‘weather-permitting’ on French roads

In the UK, variable speed limits are common on motorways when there has been an incident of some sort.

However, did you know that in France the speed limit automatically changes depending on the weather? When it rains or snows, the speed limit for motorways changes as follows:

  • From 130 km/h to 110 km/h
  • From 110km/h to 100km/h on dual carriageways
  • And from 90 km/h to 80 km/h on rural roads.

When visibility is less than 50 metres due to fog, the speed limit on all French roads drops to 50 km/h so make sure you ease off the gas when bad weather comes in.

The weather isn’t the only thing that affects the speed limit in France. If you’re a new driver and have only had your licence for less than two years, the slower, rain-related speed limits apply at all times.

5. Lay off the horn

If you’re tempted to give other road users or pedestrians a piece of your mind, think twice before you lean on the horn. In many European countries using the car horn in built-up areas for anything other than to warn others of an accident is actually illegal.

The rules for using the horn are some of the most varied depending on the country of travel. In countries like Spain and Denmark, horns are prohibited at any time in urban areas whereas in Portugal and Turkey the rules only apply during hours of darkness. In Austria, it is illegal to use your horn outside a hospital and in Vienna, the use is banned entirely!

6. Keep a second pair of glasses handy in Spain

The law in the UK states that you must be able to read a licence plate at a distance of 20.5 metres. If you need glasses in order to achieve this, you must always wear them when driving. However, in Spain and France, the law also states that if you wear glasses and require corrective lenses to drive you must have a second spare pair in the vehicle in case one set gets broken.

7. Switch your lights on in Sweden

In Scandinavian countries such as Sweden where daylight hours are limited during the winter, it is a legal requirement to keep your lights on all the time, even in the middle of the day during summer.

Swedish vehicle manufacturers combat this law by producing vehicles with permanent daytime running lights but this feature is also present on models sold in the UK. So if you ever pass a Volvo in the middle of the day and wondered why they have their headlights on, now you know.

8. Keep your car clean, but not on a Sunday

Some European driving laws are stranger than others, but perhaps the most surprising can be found in Belarus where it is actually illegal to drive a dirty car! It’s unclear as to what exactly constitutes a dirty car but you can apparently be landed with a hefty fine. So make sure you keep your vehicle clean at all times, that is, unless you’re going to Switzerland where it is against the law to clean your car on a Sunday!

With so many extra variables to consider when on the road in Europe, you will want to make sure your car is also running reliably. It's always a good idea to service your car or even combine service and MOT so you don't break down in another country.

Let Kwik Fit help

With so many extra variables to consider when on the road in Europe, you will want to make sure your car is also running reliably. It's always a good idea to service your car or even combine service and MOT so you don't break down in another country.

Tags : Tips

Any facts, figures and prices shown in our blog articles are correct at time of publication.

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