Driving Europe – What You Need To Know

car on road

A proper road trip over the Disney vistas of Europe is a vastly different experience to inter-railing, especially if you love to drive. One worry for many travellers on the continent is keeping track of Europe’s web of driving regulations. The following list should save you some time and make your trip (should you decide to drive) a smooth one.

This list covers what you would legally need to carry on a trip through Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden Switzerland, Turkey and the UK (as of September 2012):

  • A magnetic sticker to represent the country you are from
  • Adjustable Headlights and if necessary
  • Breathalysers
  • A spare tyre
  • Warning triangle
  • Reflective hi-visibility jackets (one per person)
  • Snow chains – 15th Oct to 15th April
  • Winter tyres
  • Anti-freeze
  • A shovel
  • First aid kit
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Tow rope (Recommended)
  • Jump leads (Recommended)
  • All relevant documentation (Insurance, Valid Driver’s Licence, Passport)
King Ludwig's Castle Germany

King Ludwig’s Castle Germany – Photo by LocalTravelPhotos (Flickr Creative Commons)

Thankfully, this kit is mostly stuff its sensible to have in case you have an accident. Typically the penalties issued for failure to comply with these regulations are in the form of significant fines. The hassle can certainly stretch any finances and upset your journey, so it’s best to do all you can to avoid them.

If you are hiring a vehicle, check with the hire company as to what they’ve provided from the aforementioned list – if you are planning to travel through several countries, see if they can acquire any missing items for you to be lent alongside the car. They will at minimum provide items required for the country you are currently in.

Trek II

First Aid Kit – Photo by Rick McCharles (Flickr Creative Commons)

Carry Your Documents

It’s advisable to affix a magnetic sticker that identifies you as a foreigner. The likelihood is that local enforcement will be more tolerant of any minor mishaps, provided everything else is in order. This means having all your documents on you and accessible at all times and not at the bottom of your pack.

Keep Your Eyes Open

Some laws can be easy to miss. One you’re likely to drive into is ‘dipped headlights on during the day’ in countries such as the Germany, Poland, Italy, Denmark and the Netherlands. Newer vehicles often come with legally preferred LED day-time lights, but using dipped beams is acceptable for obvious reasons. Just keep your awareness on the road and other drivers and you should be fine. Scenery can wait for rest stops.

Don’t Trust Guidebooks

Local offences can vary greatly, so it’s essential to check online before you set off. You can be sure that most guidebooks will not cover this year’s changes. For instance, in France radar detection devices are legally prohibited (rather than merely frowned upon), so carrying one would land you a hefty fine.


Photo by Beige Alert (Flickr Creative Commons)

Misinformation is commonplace, too. Germany is the destination for many a driving enthusiast due to the understanding that the Autobahn offers one of the few refuges in the world where you can legally reach your cars top speed. Unfortunately, only around 20% of Germany’s Autobahn is actually unlimited, with the rest typically capped at a sluggish 130km/h. A little research can prevent some nasty surprises.

Speed Limits

The vast majority of Europe signposts in kilometres, which keeps things nice and consistent, though the speed changes on single roads can come thick and fast, so always pay attention to the signposts.


Like the rest of the world, all countries in Europe have laws against driving while intoxicated. How this is expressed and enforced varies from region to region. In the Czech Republic you are allowed up to 0% blood alcohol. If you exceed this you’ll be fined between 25-50k Czech Koruna (around 2500 US$). So if you aren’t certain, play it safe, and don’t consume alcohol if you are driving the same day, or have a heavy evening if you are planning to drive in the morning.

Currently, France is the only country to require the motorist to carry breathalysers in their vehicle, though if this proves to reduce the number of alcohol related incidents it could soon spread across Europe. So be prepared and have fun. When in doubt, ask a local.


  1. Artofabsencetravel on October 16, 2012 at 8:51 pm
  2. Artofabsencetravel on October 16, 2012 at 9:51 pm
  3. Agness on October 23, 2012 at 8:44 am
  4. Agness on October 23, 2012 at 9:44 am

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