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Driving tips

Things you need to know about driving in Europe

Driving into the Eurotunnel and suddenly arriving in Europe as if by magic seems very convenient.

And it is - just as long as you're prepared for what can seem like complete mayhem when you get there. I've collected a few important facts about driving in Europe so you don't get a nasty shock.

They all drive on the right - except...

I've often wondered why humans haven't settled on one direction (sob) to step in when you bump into a stranger in the street. Why not all decide to step right, every time?

It's even weirder that we British insist on driving on the left when every other European country drives on the right except Ireland, Malta and Cyprus - all old British Empire outposts. Why do we do it to ourselves?!

Minimum age for driving varies

If you pass at 17, you need to be wary of gallivanting around Europe too soon as a few countries don't allow driving until you're 18.

Countries where you need to be 18 to drive:

  • Spain
  • France
  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Malta
  • Norway
  • Turkey
 

In France, you must carry an unused breathalyser

And a whole bunch of other stuff too. Some of it is stuff you should really carry in the UK too - the French have just been more proactive in making it a thing.

Your kit for driving in France:

  • Unused breathalyser that shows France's 0.05% limit - there's no fine for not having it but it IS required
  • GB sticker if you don't have EU licence plates (with the circle of stars)
  • Warning triangle
  • Reflective jacket
  • Spare headlamp bulbs
 
"...one unused, certified breathalyser must be produced showing the French certification mark NF. Carrying two single-use breathalysers will ensure that if one is used or damaged, you will still have a spare to produce. The breathalyser produced has to be in date - single-use breathalysers normally have a validity of twelve months."

AA

You also need to adjust your headlamps so you don't dazzle drivers now on your left. You can get special converters from places like Halfords, and the same goes for everything in the kit above.

Although France's mandatory kit is the biggest, several other European countries have requirements like reflective jackets too. In Spain, you have to carry an extra pair of glasses if you need specs to drive...check before you go!

We have the highest alcohol limit in Europe

Europe's very low alcohol limits mean you really don't have a choice in the matter: you can't have a drink and then drive without risking arrest.

In fact, many countries take a zero-tolerance approach for drivers who have been on the road less than 2 years. Always check the country you're going to because there are LOTS of conditions.

Thinking of risking it anyway? Most European countries have a very grim view of drink driving (hence the low limits) and facing a prosecution abroad is expensive and miserable.

Map of European countries by maximum blood alcohol level
 

Use the Foreign Office's tool for checking driving laws abroad.


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Honor joined ingenie in 2014 and is in charge of words on the Young Driver's Guide and blog. Her first car is a Peugeot 206 cabriolet, which is a very sensible choice for the British climate. Follow her on .