Take the stress and risk out of your European road journeys
ROAD SAFETY and breakdown organisation GEM Motoring Assist has published advice for staying safe and secure on European road journeys this year. The advice takes the form of six top tips covering planning, equipment, safety, legal matters and security issues.
Neil Worth, road safety officer at GEM Motoring Assist, said: “The European motorway network is excellent and extensive, but it’s important to ensure that you and your vehicle are safe and legal before you drive off the ferry for a family holiday or business trip. By using our tips as a starting point, you can go a long way to maximising your safety and minimising the risks you face while you’re travelling, as well as the inconvenience and expense of being unprepared if anything does go wrong.”
GEM’s tips are summarised as follows:
- Check your documents before you go
- Carry the right equipment
- Know the rules
- Budget for motorway tolls
- Fill up off the motorway
- Don’t drive for so long that you become fatigued
- Be vigilant at motorway service areas and other crime hotspots
- Disable any speed camera alerting system on your satnav
1. Check your documents before you go
Is your driving licence valid? Are the passports for everyone in your party all in date? Do you have appropriate insurance? Are you covered for the country or countries you’re visiting? Do you have breakdown cover as well?
Run through all the necessary paperwork in plenty of time, so that you have everything to hand on your journey.
2. Carry the right equipment
Different countries have different rules. Most require that you carry high visibility reflective jackets, a first aid kit and a warning triangle. Some countries also insist on replacement bulbs and fuses, a fire extinguisher or spare pairs of spectacles for any drivers who need them. French rules require that you carry a disposable breathalyser, but under the current system, police are unable to enforce payment of the €11 fine.
Make a point of checking the specific requirements for each country you plan to visit, so that you won’t risk a fine if you’re stopped.
3. Know the rules
Make sure you understand the specific traffic rules and signs. Drink-drive limits across Europe are lower than in the UK, and police officers in most countries can issue and collect on-the-spot fines for traffic offences. If you’re in any doubt about local parking regulations, ask someone before leaving your vehicle. Remember, ignorance is no defence.
4. Budget for motorway tolls
The European motorway network is excellent and extensive; you can cover long distances quite easily – but there is a price. For example, the 715-mile motorway journey from Calais to Fréjus on the Mediterranean coast will cost you a fraction under €100.
Toll tags such as the French ‘Liber-t’ device can save time at tolls. Register your details online before you travel and you’ll receive your own tag which you place in the windscreen of your car. You can then drive through the toll plazas without needing to find coins or credit card, as you receive an invoice and pay shortly afterwards by direct debit.
5. Fill up off the motorway
You can save significantly by leaving the motorway network to buy your fuel (and refreshments). For example, a litre of diesel costs around €1.37 (£1.16) at a French motorway service area, compared with €1.21 at a supermarket. Just be aware that the older automatic payment mechanisms at French fuel stations may still decline British credit cards (though the problem is much less significant than it used to be).
It’s also worth noting that bigger supermarkets have toilets and very reasonably priced cafés – and are often no more than a couple of minutes’ drive off the autoroute.
6. Don’t drive for so long that you become dangerously fatigued
Don’t ignore the early signs of fatigue when you’re at the wheel. Share the driving if possible, and take regular breaks.
Fatigue-related crashes are most likely to happen between 2am and 6am, although there is also an increased risk during the afternoon, when our body clocks experience a natural dip in alertness.
Don’t be tempted to press on when you’ve been at the wheel for several hours.
Avoid heavy meals, as these can exacerbate the symptoms of fatigue, and certainly don’t drink alcohol during journey breaks.
7. Be vigilant at motorway service areas
Don’t fall victim to crime when you’re enjoying a break on a long motorway journey. Huge numbers of people pass through service areas every day, making them hotbeds of criminal activity.
Make sure you lock your car when you’re parking, and don’t leave high value items visible.
Watch out for possibly bogus ‘officials’ who try to tell you that your tyres are illegal and that you’ll need to purchase a new set on the spot.
Don’t let children out of your sight at any time, and in particular make sure you accompany them to the loo.
8. Disable any speed camera alerting systems from your satnav before you arrive in France.
There are harsh penalties in France if you are found with any sort of speed camera detection system in your car, regardless of whether or not you are using it. So make sure you disable the alerting mechanism before you drive anywhere in France. Check online if you are unsure of how to do this.
If you have a built-in satnav, then be sure to check with the car manufacturer if you are in doubt as to how you switch off the speed camera alerts.
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