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A driver’s guide to the EU

Gids voor de bestuurder in de EU

Summer time is just around the corner and the promise of holidays and adventures is in the air! But travelling during the summer holidays requires a lot of planning and can be quite a strenuous task for many. Airplanes are great for long-distance travel, but travelling by car significantly cuts down on your carbon footprint, allows you to build some great memories along the way and doesn’t come with any packing limitations on how many fluids you can bring with you. So, if you’re planning on travelling across Europe, here are some of the things that you should know about the traffic rules abroad, before hitting the road.

European cities are not just a popular destination for those living abroad, but also for those living within the continent. Distances between countries are relatively short and there is an abundance is history, beauty, nature and diversity to be explored. It also benefits from open borders and a unified currency, which make travelling easy and convenient. Although many laws in the Schengen Area have been standardised, traffic rules largely fall under national law, meaning they are as diverse as the countries themselves.

This compilation offers you some of the most common and important traffic rules in the EU, to provide you with an overview of what to expect when crossing the border over into another country. Please note that Alphabet does not guarantee legal certainty and keep in mind that local rules may change over time.

Agreed! 

Let’s start with something easy – the traffic rules that all EU countries have in common:

  1. Using mobile phones while driving is a no-go in all EU states. Getting caught using one will result in severe consequences. Connected communications systems installed in newer vehicles allow for safer conversations and handsfree systems are generally acceptable. Keep in mind that some countries, such as France, don’t tolerate the use of head and earphones.
  2. Seat belts and child seats are mandatory everywhere.

Safety first 

Avoiding accidents and crashes should be a priority for everyone. If something happens however, it’s best to be prepared. Not all countries agree on which measures to take and what supplies to carry. The table below highlights what is required where.

Attention, please

 

Better not left unsaid 

Some countries like to do things a little differently than the rest. Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and the United Kingdom, as well as Gibraltar drive on the left side. This can be quite confusing at first. When planning a trip to these countries, consider renting a car that was built for these roads instead of taking your own.

Thank you for smoking 

There are several countries that forbid smoking in the car. This is mainly for child protection. If a child or a minor is present, the United Kingdom, Greece, Cyprus, France and Austria don’t allow smoking inside the vehicle. Italy also protects pregnant women with this law and has the most severe penalty, with fines of up to 5000 €. In Belgium there is a general ban of cigarettes in vehicles, regardless of who is present.

More light, please 

As noted in the table above, Denmark, Croatia, Slovakia, Spain, Czechia and Hungary are among the countries that require daytime use of headlights. In relation to this, drivers in these countries also need to have a set of replacement bulbs with them in case the existing ones stop working.

Zero tolerance 

Drinking and driving should not go together. This is not only law in all EU countries, but common sense. Some countries take this more seriously than others. Slovakia, Czechia, Hungary, Estonia and Romania have a zero-alcohol-level policy for drivers and punishment for the violation of this rule is severe.

Green light for green zones 

Climate and environmental protection are increasingly coming into focus in the EU. In order to lower air pollution, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany and Spain have established green zones in certain cities and regions. These can only be entered by vehicles with special badges. The rules for obtaining these badges vary from country to country, but modern cars are more likely to qualify.

Local specialties – the more exotic rules

 

France 
France has very strict rules on navigation systems that show traffic surveillance such as speed cameras. Neither the use of nor presence of such systems are allowed in the car. Confiscation and a fine of up to 1500 € will be applied if you get caught with one.

Denmark 
The Danish care greatly about car safety. Before you start driving you’re obliged to do a safety check on your car to see it everything is order. This includes looking under the car, in case some is sleeping underneath. Although sleeping under a car yourself is probably not advisable. Anywhere

Belgium 
A flashing amber traffic light is a warning signal that you should slow down. Crossing a traffic light that is already static on amber is forbidden, so it’s better to brake when you notice it blinking.

Italy 
Novice drivers may enjoy Bella Italia at a slower pace. If you have had your driver’s licence for less than three years, you may only drive 90 km/h instead of the usual 110 km/h on expressways and 100 km/h instead of 130 km/h on motorways.

Greece 
If you want to park in Greece, keep your calendar handy. No stopping signs with a vertical line on them apply only in odd months (January, March, May …), whereas the ones with a horizontal line are meant for all even months (February, April …).

Germany 
Germany doesn’t tolerate barefoot driving. If you happen to be on-the-road during an especially hot summer, note that you actually are allowed to drive naked (expect for shoes of course). Just don’t step out of the car in your birthday suit.

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