Before you leave for your holiday, there are a number of things you can do to ensure that you are prepared for any eventuality.
- Familiarise yourself with the driving laws of the country you are visiting. This means more than just checking what side of the road to drive on - it should also include speed limits; what paperwork or documentation is required by law; alcohol limits and any other important rules and regulations.
- Check what compulsory in-car equipment is required in the country or countries you will be driving in. For example, in July 2012 it became compulsory for all cars on French road to carry a portable breathalyser. The kits enable motorists to check if they are under the French limit of 50mg per 100ml of blood which is 30mg lower than the UK. Motorists in France are also legally obliged to carry a warning triangle and fluorescent vest.
- Got a European Health Insurance card (EHIC)? This entitles you to reduced or free state healthcare if you fall ill or are injured when travelling abroad. It is no substitute for a travel insurance policy.
- Always check that you breakdown cover extends to abroad. You may need to increase your existing cover or take out standalone European Breakdown Cover to avoid unnecessary stress and significant additional expense if anything goes wrong.
- Create a travel pack containing all the appropriate documentation you will need to comply with the legal requirements of the country you are visiting and to help if you get into difficulties. In addition to your passport and driving licence this may include: vehicle registration document (V5); motor insurance certificate; International Driving Permit (if required or advised); breakdown policy and contact numbers; travel insurance documents and any emergency helpline numbers.
- Prepare your car before your trip by making sure it is serviced. There are also simple things you can do yourself to make sure your car is in good, roadworthy condition such as checking your tyre pressures and tread and topping up your oil and checking your coolant level. There simple tasks are vital to keeping your car running smoothly on the road and to stop your engine overheating.
- Don’t forget that your vehicle must display the appropriate country identification letters (e.g. GB). Failure to do so may result in an on-the-spot fine, but if your number plates include the GB Euro symbol, you do not need a sticker within the EU.
- Stock up on your in-car ‘tool kit’ - make sure you have a breakdown kit in your car including: fire extinguisher, first-aid kit, tool kit, torch, blanket, warning triangle and reflective jacket. A jack and wheel removal tools in case of a puncture could come in extremely handy when you’re on the move abroad. You can buy European driving kits online.
- All drivers in France, including drivers of vehicles from outside France, must have one warnings triangle and one reflective jackets in their vehicle at all times.
When You Get There
- The right side is the right side - Remember most European countries drive on the right-hand side of the road (the exceptions are: the UK, Irish Republic, Cyprus and Malta). This means that typically, you’ll be negotiating roundabouts in an anti-clockwise direction rather than clockwise! If you find you have to overtake, exercise extra caution as it is not easy in a left-hand drive car and may be safer when you reach a stretch of dual carriageway.
- Don’t get caught out in the headlights - it is a legal requirement not to dazzle oncoming drivers. Make sure you adjust your headlamps ready for driving on the right-hand side of the road. Headlamp converters (stickers you put on your headlights) are widely available and you can buy them online.
- Map out your travel plans - Sat-navs are invaluable, but it’s worth double-checking your route with a detailed map of the area. Remember to bear in mind that sat-nav requirements may differ from country to country - for example, in France, it is illegal to use sat-nav equipment with radar detection indicating where fixed speed cameras are located.
- Keep the loose change - Many European countries operate toll roads, so make sure you have plenty of loose change in the correct currency to cover the cost of tolls. It is also worthwhile keeping some spare money to cover any unexpected costs that crop up along the way.
- Expect the unexpected - Drive carefully and cautiously, taking extra care to be really observant. Remember that local driving style may be very different to that of the UK.
- Stick to the rules - Make sure you obey the rules and regulations of the road. This means sticking to all the speed limits and observing what we as UK drivers may think are rather obscure rules - e.g. in Spain and Switzerland, if you wear prescription glasses, always carry a spare set: and in Spain, never wear flip flops while driving and in Italy only park in the direction of the flow of traffic. Observing the local rules will make your holiday go much smoother - attempting to discuss a driving offence with a police office in a foreign language or using broken English and sign language is never easy!
- Take a break - Driving is tiring at the best of times but if you are driving overseas in unfamiliar areas, concentrating on driving on the right hand side of the road and reading different road sign it can be even more exhausting. Ensure you take frequent breaks and stop in a safe place for a rest if you are feeling tired.
- Use your commonsense - just because you’re on holiday doesn’t mean you throw all your commonsense out of the window! Wear your seatbelt at all times and make sure your passengers are wearing theirs, don’t use your mobile phone while driving and make sure you don’t get distracted by your satnav.
- Beware ‘wear and tear’ - Any driving holiday when you are using your car for long periods of time may increase wear and tear on your vehicle. It’s worth checking your tyres, windscreen, mirrors and lights throughout your holiday to be on the safe side.