As we enter summer, we’re approaching the peak time for jetting off on holiday in the UK. The main months for holidays are between July and August, coinciding with school breaks and warmer weather.

During this time, many people decide to drive when abroad to have more flexibility in exploring different destinations, experiencing the local culture, and enjoying scenic road trips. 

Car expert Callum Butler from GAP insurance provider, ALA Insurance comments on driving when travelling to Europe, he says:

“For those planning on driving in Europe, it’s important to adjust to some key differences. Getting used to driving on the opposite side takes practice, especially when navigating roundabouts or merging. There are a few things that people can do to ensure that they’re more prepared to tackle these challenges.”

He adds, “Remember to stay alert, anticipate other drivers’ actions, and prioritise caution over speed. Proper vehicle preparation is vital, and by taking a few proactive steps, you can navigate Europe’s roads with confidence and peace of mind.”

Callum and the team at ALA Insurance have shared their top tips for driving in Europe to help you have a smoother and safer journey across a range of roads and regulations:

Driving on the Opposite Side

Although it’s common knowledge that driving on the right is the norm in most European countries, there are a few key considerations to bear in mind beforehand.

This fundamental difference affects everything from overtaking to navigating roundabouts. Callum states, “Give yourself time to adapt by practising in quieter areas to help ease the adjustment period. This is particularly important when navigating intersections or merging into traffic, as these manoeuvres involve more spatial awareness.”

He also suggests using a “Stay Right” sticker as a dashboard reminder, to consciously align closer to the right lane as we’re used to staying on the left in the UK, and remember that roundabouts flow anti-clockwise so you will always give priority to traffic on the left.

Understanding Speed Limits

One of the most critical adjustments is understanding and adapting to speed limits expressed in kilometres per hour (km/h) rather than miles per hour (mph). 

Callum mentions, “Be vigilant about this difference to avoid speeding inadvertently. Since 1 mile is approximately 1.6 kilometres, speeds will appear numerically higher in km/h. For instance, a typical speed limit in a UK urban area is 30 mph, which is roughly 48 km/h.”

He continues, “Make sure your speedometer is set to km/h to avoid confusion and regularly check to maintain awareness of your current speed.”

Adapting to Local Road Rules

Adapting to local rules includes everything from priority rules to specific requirements about daytime running lights or mandatory equipment to be carried in the vehicle (like a reflective jacket, warning triangle, and first-aid kit).

“Familiarise yourself with local traffic laws and regulations,” explains Callum, “it’s crucial to thoroughly learn any rule changes or specific requirements for each country you plan to visit if you intend to drive.”

In France and Spain, remember that vehicles approaching from the right have priority at intersections unless otherwise indicated. In Italy, be cautious of ZTL zones, restricted areas in city centres. In Germany, despite sections of the Autobahn having no speed limit, there are still regulations for safe driving, including recommended speeds and rules on overtaking.

Other Considerations:

  • Know the pan-European emergency number, 112, for police, medical, and fire services.
  • Pay attention to country-specific road signs and symbols; learn key words in the local language for emergencies and directions.
  • Be mindful of urban parking regulations, including ‘blue zones’ and parking discs.
  • Prepare for toll roads, especially in France, Italy, and Spain; be aware of payment methods, including cash, card, or electronic devices like the Telepass in Italy.

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