Driving In Europe. What Do We Need To Know?

There’s plenty we need to know, when driving and towing in the UK, and hence The Definitive Guide To Towing In The UK, however, there is even more legislation involved with driving in Europe, and this can change over time, and from country to country.

These days, it isn’t just a case of shoving on a GB sticker and hoping for the best. Matters such as speed limits, permitted alcohol intake, lighting requirements and equipment levels will all have a bearing, and must all be complied with, regardless of what country we are touring.

However, before looking at individual countries, we need to bear in mind some key items of advice which will be universal, regardless of the country being visited.

General Advice For Driving & Travelling In Europe

As with most things in life, it is our own responsibility to make sure we comply with the local laws of any country we may visit. This is particularly important when hiring a vehicle, as many hire companies do not always equip their vehicles with the requisite levels of equipment. Nothing ruins a holiday like a disagreement with the police, or the confiscation of a vehicle. One of the key laws we need to comply with is taking the correct legal paperwork with us. Regardless of which European country we intend to visit, we will need to ensure we take the following;

  • Full, current UK driving licence
  • Paper counterpart driving licence* (If you have a post 1972 photo ID licence)
  • An International Driving Permit (if applicable)
  • Passport
  • Original vehicle V5 log book
  • Confirmation of motor insurance (Insurance certificate)**
  • Travel insurance documentation
  • Passport
  • Visa (if applicable)

* – In our article of 20 May, we pointed out that the paper counterpart driving licence was to be abolished, with effect from 8 June 2015. The advice of the DVLA is to destroy the paper counterpart, however, there is speculation that it might take a while for the message to filter through to foreign police authorities and car hire companies, so our advice would be to hang on to them for a little longer, just in case.

**- Usually a good idea to check that your insurance policy covers you for foreign travel. Some companies require notification, prior to any foreign travel, in order to validate cover.

The AA produce a really useful downloadable Summary Of Compulsory Equipment, which covers the key items, for each country.

When travelling, anywhere, in the EU, you will also need to display a valid GB sticker (unless, of course, you already have a GB Euro symbol on your number plate). Failure to display one incurs an on the spot fine.


With respect to drinking and driving, the rules very from country to country, but, if in doubt, the simple rule is; if you’ve had a drink, don’t drive.

Some of the penalties are extremely punitive in some countries, and it simply isn’t worth the risk.

Another issue common to many EU countries is the need to carry reflective jackets. These jackets must comply with EU Standard BS EN 471, 1994, class 1 or 2. It is recommended that at least two be carried, but, ideally, one for each occupant of the vehicle.

In respect of towing, as opposed to just driving, it is important to ensure compliance with any laws appertaining to the towing of trailers or caravans in the EU. Current Europe wide law states that; if your car was registered before 1 August 1998, then you are able to use a tow bar that has been tested to BS AU 114b. Any cars that are newer than that must meet the EU 94/20 directive.

By law, in any EU country, you need to have an audible or visual indication that your towing lights are working


One other thing worth bearing in mind, when visiting Europe (whether you are driving or not) is the need to carry a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

These are free from the Post Office, and entitle us to free (or, at least, reduced cost) health care, in most European countries.

Just bear in mind, though, that the treatment may not be as comprehensive as it is in the UK, in all countries, and it doesn’t cover the cost of returning to the UK, which is why we need to arrange adequate travel insurance, prior to setting out on our journey.

Remember. Wherever you are travelling in the EU, there is one common emergency number; 112.

In addition to these general European guidelines there will be specific requirements and laws for each EC country. The AA have produced a series of excellent guides to each country, so there is little point reproducing all of the information, separately, here.

To view the specific AA guides for each country, click on the respective links below:

Andora,   Austria,   Belarus,   Belgium,   Bosnia Herzegovina,   Bulgaria,   Croatia,   Cyprus,

Czech Republic,   Denmark,   Estonia,   Finland,   France (Inc Monaco),   Germany,

Gibraltar,   Great Britain,   Greece,   Hungary,   Iceland,   Ireland,   Italy,   Latvia,

Lithuania,   Luxembourg,      Macedonia,   Malta,   Montenegro,   Netherlands,   Norway,

Poland,   Portugal,   Romania,   Russia,   Serbia,   Slovakia,   Slovenia,   Spain,   Sweden,

Switzerland,   Turkey,   Ukraine.

In addition to the AA, the Gov.UK web site also has a comprehensive area dedicated to Travel Abroad, covering everything, from applying for an EHIC mentioned above, to what to do if you are a victim of crime abroad, or, even, get arrested yourself.

Finally, one of the most basic pieces of advice, is also one of the ones that most people driving abroad fall foul of; DON’T FORGET TO DRIVE ON THE RIGHT. Sounds obvious, but, apparently, it isn’t!

About Alan Young

MD and owner of the Woodhurst Group, including Praxis Accountancy Limited and Blue Sky Recreation Limited. Also Commercial Director of The Sky visor Group
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