Driving in Europe

Posted on December 2nd, 2013 by GEM Motoring Assist

Pointing you in the right direction for your European journeys


Wherever in Europe your journey may take you, you’ll find new motorways, new signs, new tolls and constantly changing regulations conspiring to confuse you, however experienced you may be. This section aims to point you in the right direction, thus ensuring your European journey – whether in summer or winter, for business or pleasure – is as safe and enjoyable as possible.

Back to top

Before you go: your car

There’s no doubt that careful planning will help make your European journey an enjoyable experience. If possible get your car serviced before you travel. If not, then as a minimum, ensure the tyres have plenty of tread left and that water and oil levels are checked and topped up if required.
Check the adjustments required for your headlights before you go. You can buy beam converters at ferry terminals or you can ask a garage to do the job for you (but get a quote before they start as prices vary).
You’ll need an approved GB plate. The GB Euro-Plate has been a legal alternative since 2001 but it’s not valid outside the EU.
Finally, a good up-to-date atlas is vital. Even if you have the latest satellite navigation technology, you cannot 100% be sure it won’t malfunction.

Back to top

Suggested equipment check-list:

Make sure you carry the following items. Some are obligatory, depending on national regulations. Your insurer should be able to advise you as to which items are legally required in which countries.

  • Fire extinguisher
  • First aid kit
  • High-visibility jacket – one for each occupant
  • Two warning triangles
  • Replacement bulbs and fuses
  • Spare spectacles (if worn) for each driver
  • Snow chains for winter journeys into the mountains
Document check-list:
  • Your vehicle registration document (but never leave it in the car)
  • MOT certificate if your car is more than three years old.
  • Insurance certificate. Check with your insurer what level of cover you have and upgrade if necessary.

For you and your fellow travellers:

  • Check everyone’s passport to make sure they are all valid.
  • Take both parts of your driving licence. The old-style licence is still valid but may not be recognized in some areas.
  • Make sure you have appropriate travel insurance – particularly important for medical emergencies, accidents and thefts.
  • Everyone traveling should have an EHIC card, in case medical treatment is required in another EU country or Switzerland.
  • Look for the best commission-free currency deals and remember that cash machines can be few and far between in remoter regions of Europe.

Back to top

Country by country

It would be impossible to cover all the motoring law and vehicle requirements imposed by every country, as each has its own road traffic laws. Click here for the Foreign Office website, which offers specific travel advice and road safety information where appropriate for every country.

Back to top

When you’re away:

Hopefully good planning will help ensure that nothing goes wrong. Here are some useful guidelines to follow, in the event of an accident or breakdown:

  • If you have been involved in an accident, you must stop.
  • Place a warning triangle at a suitable distance prior to the accident scene.
  • Call the police if necessary. The emergency telephone number in EU countries is 112.
  • Exchange details with the other driver(s). Your insurer will have supplied forms for this.
  • Obtain the names and addresses of any witnesses.
  • Make a careful note of the position and circumstances of the incident. Take photographs as well, if possible.
  • Contact your insurance company immediately with details of what happened. They will have supplied you with an emergency contact telephone number. They will also probably need notification in writing.
  • If your vehicle breaks down you should pull over if possible – for your own safety and in order not to impede other traffic.
  • Place a warning triangle at a suitable distance prior to the breakdown scene.
  • Call for assistance. On motorways it is important to use an emergency telephone. These are located every 2km and will connect you to an official breakdown operator. On other roads, call the emergency breakdown number provided by your insurer.

Safety points:

Long, uncrowded motorways mean you can cover big distances relatively easily. But don’t drive for too long at a time. Don’t be tempted to push on to reach a destination just because it’s easy driving.
Take breaks – there are plenty of rest areas and well-equipped motorway service sites on most European motorways.
If possible, share the driving.
Don’t drive tired.

Back to top


Q: What’s the speed limit on European motorways?
A: It varies but typically you will find a limit of 130km/h, which is around 80mph. However, you may find that this is reduced in bad weather. The French system requires a maximum speed of 110km/h when it’s wet.

Q: What extra insurance cover will I need if I hire a car abroad?
A: A standard car rental agreement should include all the insurance cover you need, so there should be no requirement to buy any ‘top-up’ insurance, however tempting the rental company representative might make it. If you’re hiring in the USA, do your research before you arrive as individual states have their own rules on insurance.

Q: If I break down on a motorway, will the emergency operator understand me?
A: Generally, yes, though it would pay to have the right page of your phrase book open if you have to make the call.

Q: Can I still use the hovercraft for a cross-Channel journey?
A: Sadly the last remaining hovercraft were withdrawn from the Dover-Calais route in the autumn of 2000. Today there is a choice of conventional ferry, fast ferry/hydrofoil or Channel Tunnel.

Q: Which country has the worst roads?
A: If you mean in terms of accidents, then that dubious distinction lies with Greece. The country has Europe’s highest accident rate in terms of the number of crashes per vehicle.

The information on this Site is provided on the understanding that GEM Motoring Assist is not rendering legal or other advice. You should consult your own professional advisers as to legal or other advice relevant to any action you wish to take in connection with this website.

Back to top