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European driving essentials

If your Bank Holiday includes driving on European roads, check out these handy hints to help you enjoy a safe and stress-free journey.

European essentials If you’re taking your own car across the Channel, don’t forget your paperwork. Keep your Certificate of Motor Insurance handy, together with your VC5 vehicle registration document (the original, not a copy). The law also requires you to pack a reflective waistcoat, a warning triangle and spare bulbs, plus you’ll have to modify your headlamps with a converter kit to redirect the beam away from oncoming traffic. Search online and you’ll find kits containing everything you need for around £25. And don’t forget, if Brexit actually happens and we leave the EU, then you may need to ask your insurer for a Green Card to prove you’re covered for driving in Europe.

Speed limits
It might sound obvious, but it’s worth noting that speed limit signs in Europe are in kilometres per hour, not miles per hour. So if you see a road sign saying “100”, it’s not an excuse to floor it! The speed limit on Spanish motorways is typically 120kmh, and in France it’s generally 130kmh, which is just over 80mph. So if you’re not used to driving that fast, don’t feel pressurised to do so – stick to a safe limit that you’re comfortable with. On some French roads you’ll see two speed limits – the lower limit applies in wet weather, the higher limit when it’s dry. So always match your speed to the driving conditions.

Car hire
If you plan to leave your own car at home and rent one at your destination, then you won’t have to struggle with the challenge of driving a right-hand-drive vehicle in a right-hand lane. But you will have to get used to a left-hand-drive vehicle. The good news is that you’ll enjoy the benefits of driving on the natural side of the road – the side the car was designed to travel on. But the gear stick will be at your right hand, and you might find that searching for the next gear feels like stirring a rice pudding. So the smart solution is to hire an automatic – it’s the stress-free option.

Handy hints
There are just 23 toll roads in the UK, so for many of us, the act of paying to drive along a stretch of tarmac might come as a bit of a shock. But if you plan on taking the autoroute in France, you’ll have to get used to it. The trip from Calais to Paris will cost around £20 in tolls, and if you’re driving down to the Med, it could cost you over £100. Another significant difference about driving in France is the alcohol limit, which is just 50mg per 100ml of blood. That’s the same as in Scotland, but a lot less than the limit in England and Wales, where it’s 80mg per 100ml of blood. So if you’re driving somewhere nice for lunch, play it safe and don’t be tempted to have a tipple.

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