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September 10th 2019

Road users – do you really know all the differences between driving in the UK and driving in Europe?

Road users – do you really know all the differences between driving in the UK and driving in Europe?

As we head into the holiday season, many families will be thinking of getting into the car and heading over the channel or taking the bike on that long awaited excursion through Europe and sampling the many delights that await.

As we head into the holiday season, many families will be thinking of getting into the car and heading over the channel or taking the bike on that long awaited excursion through Europe and sampling the many delights that await.

For many the most daunting aspect of riding or driving abroad is the prospect of travelling on what is perceived as the wrong side of the road, in other words driving on the right instead of the left.  But to me and my colleagues,  it is also very worrying how many people set off without doing any research blissfully unaware of how things can differ in mainland Europe compared to here in the UK.

I know from experience that many assume that, apart from driving or riding on the right, there are not that many differences and, if caught doing something wrong for example speeding, they are of the belief that because the Police are dealing with “Foreigners” the authorities are more likely to show leniency than if they were being dealt with in the UK.

Well, firstly, you may be surprised at some of the differences between being a road user in Europe compared with the UK and the consequences of your lack of knowledge and actions could have a substantial bearing on your wallet, your vehicle and even your liberty in the event that you were unfortunate enough to be involved in a crash.  In many countries the Police deal with offenders far more strictly than our own Police officers.

Along with my colleague Paul McClorry, hopefully we can give you a few pointers before you head off on your hols aside from the normal tips such as making sure you carry your documents, medical insurance and so forth with you.

In France

So, for most of us, we will enter mainland Europe through one of the ferry ports or the Eurostar terminal such as Calais, Boulogne or through the Hook of Holland or maybe Spain; so let’s start with France as that is the most popular route.

  • France is quite hot in respect of traffic regulation enforcement and takes quite a dim view of foreign tourists ignoring local rules and regulations.

For example, in France (and most of Europe for that matter) the Police can and will impose an on the spot fine which has to be paid immediately, unlike in the UK where you will be issued with a fixed penalty notice and you will be required to pay within a certain time period. In the event that you do not pay the fine there and then, I have known cases where the driver or rider has been escorted to a nearby cash machine to withdraw the cash. If you are unable to pay despite having been taken to a nearby ATM then it is not unusual for the car or bike to be seized or confiscated until such time as the fine is paid.  This could be inconvenient and costly to say the least.

  • It is worth pointing out at this point that speed limits vary quite a bit from country to country.  For example, the national speed limit in Germany (not including the Autobahn) is 100kph (62mph) whilst in Holland the national speed limit is 80kph (50mph). In France, in built up areas, the speed limit is 50kph (31mph), for urban motorways and dual carriageways separated by a central reservation it is 110kph (68mph), and on motorways it is 130kph (80mph).

So, staying with speeding;excess speed in France can also result in an instant ban which at the moment does not affect your entitlement in the UK, but could spoil your holiday especially if you are just starting out.

  • In France, something we motorcyclists take for granted in the UK, is banned in France, namely, filtering or lane splitting.  It seems however to be a law that is largely ignored by French riders, but it is illegal none the less and may have consequences were you to be involved in a crash.
  • In France it is also a legal requirement to carry a breathalyser kit and this applies to both cars and motorcycles. Our advice, of course, is never drink and drive or ride. However, whilst it is a legal requirement to carry a breathalyser kit, there is no penalty in the event that you are caught without one.  In the same vein, you are also required to carry a spare bulb kit.
  • In 2016, France also made it compulsory for all motorcyclists to wear gloves when riding or face a 68 Euro fine.

In the unfortunate event that you are involved in a road traffic accident with another vehicle, you should complete a “Constant Amiable” (an agreed statement of facts). This is standard procedure in France and you should carry a copy of a Constat Amiable with you.  Further, if you have an accident which involves any injury at all (even if it is not your fault) you must wait at the scene of the accident until the police arrive.

In other European Countries

So, what about other countries then?

  • In Spain, if you wear prescription spectacles then it is a legal requirement that you carry a spare pair of spectacles with you.
  • On a motorcycle, Spain (along with France) does not allow riders to wear in-ear speaker such as you might use to listen to music, but if your speakers are built into your helmet, then it is  legal and acceptable.
  • In most European countries, the use of radar and laser detectors are illegal.  Now if the detector is part of your sat nav for example and you were unfortunate enough to be stopped, it is very unlikely that the Police would ask to inspect your device.  But many do use an independent detector device and these are the ones that the Police will look for if they suspect that one is in use.
  • All motorcyclists riding in Belgium must wear protective clothing, i.e. gloves, jacket with long sleeves, trousers with long legs or overall, and boots protecting the ankles; in other words you cannot go off for a jolly in your T shirt or shorts.
  • Further, in Belgium, if you are driving your car a warning triangle is compulsory in every vehicle with four wheels or more.
  • Again, speed limits will vary: 90kph (56mph) in Wallonia and Brussels Capital region, 70kph (43mph) in the Flemish region.
  • In Germany, motorcycles and mopeds must always be ridden with their passing lights on, even in daylight which for many of us Brits is not too much of an issue these days considering that all newer bikes now have hard wired headlights.
  • All cars must also carry a reflective jacket in Germany.

Drink driving rules

In many countries, the drink drive rules are more relaxed than in the UK, but I would strongly advise that you carefully read up on the specific drink drive rules in the country you are travelling in; better still, don’t drink drive at all.

Drive and ride safely – know the rules

We hope this gives you a flavour of how things can differ between the UK and mainland Europe.  For example,  we have not even touched on road signs or some of the differences in traffic regulations (other than the speed limits) and the rules in respect of priority at junctions and the like.  Again, there can be differences from country to country how you deal with them.

What we hope we have done is make you realise the importance of doing your homework on each individual country you intend to visit or drive through before you depart the UK because, as the saying goes, ignorance is no excuse; and you want a holiday to remember for all the right reasons, not for all the wrong reasons.

Ride and drive safely and enjoy.  If you have never ridden or driven abroad before, take your time, be vigilant and you will not regret it….

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