If you’re planning on driving abroad late this summer there’s a few things you need to know. Yes, drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and get insurance and breakdown cover. But don’t assume that the laws are the same as in the UK. Read up before you go as you may get a nasty surprise if you haven’t done your homework! Some countries have a few strange driving laws.
Foreign driving laws
It’s compulsory to check that there are no sleeping children under your vehicle before you drive off.
It is illegal to wear flip flops, open fronted or backless shoes or high heels and bare feet are also a no no while driving.
If you are towing a caravan or trailer bigger than 12 metres in length you have to display two yellow reflectors.
In some one way streets you have to park on the side of the road that has odd numbers on dates with odd numbers and vice versa on even days. Some parts of Sweden also employ this strange rule.
You can’t attach bicycles to the back of a car. Children under 12 and shorter than 1.5 metres are not allowed to travel as front seat passengers unless there are no rear seats or these are also occupied by young children and they must have suitable restraints. The Portugese police are highly efficient and carry portable ATM machines in their cars to get immediate payment for on the spot fines.
You can only carry one uncaged animal per vehicle. So if you have more than one Fluffy or Tiddles get a pet carrier.
If you wear driving glasses not only should you wear them but it’s also compulsory to carry a spare pair.
Also, if you are travelling with a bicycle rack on the rear of the car, a caravan or any overhanging load you are obliged to display a fully reflective, red and white diagonally striped, square panel measuring 50cm by 50cm. If you don’t you will be fined.
You must carry a DIY breathalyser in your car and it must be a French authority certified one which displays an ‘NF’ number. This rule was only brought in early in July and won’t be enforced till November and the fine is only €11 so you have time to get your head around this.
Furthermore, children under 10 have to travel in an approved child seat and they are not allowed to be in the front seat unless they are wearing a special child restraint or there are no back seats in the vehicle or the rear seats are already occupied by children under 10.
All people under 18 who are less than 1.35 metres in height cannot travel as passengers in the front or rear unless they have a restraint system in place that is adapted to their size.
Similarly, children under 12 and shorter than 1.5 metres must travel in a child seat or use a child restraint. They can’t sit in the front passenger seat unless the airbag is deactivated. When driving in winter you must use winter tyres.
There is a zero tolerance ban on eating and drinking at the wheel.
It is illegal to drive without headlights, even during daylight hours.
If you are driving between 1st November and 15th April your car has to be fitted with winter tyres which are marked with M&S (mud and snow, not Marks & Sparks) on the side wall with a minimum tread depth of 4mm.
Europe has some general rules; one of them is that cars should use dipped headlights in poor light during the day and motorbikes need to use them all the time. Be aware that speed limits are displayed in km/h and not mph so watch your speed and know what the equivalents of km is in mph. If you are travelling across countries it’s best to avoid drinking altogether as drink driving limits vary across Europe. Also, make sure you have a warning triangle and reflective jackets. In some countries you may be fined if you don’t display a GB sticker on your car.
Diesel pumps are not signposted as ‘diesel’ but are labelled as ‘gas-oil’ or ‘gaz-oil’. Gaseolo A is diesel in Spain but never use Gaseolo B as this is only heating oil. In most European countries it is illegal to use a device that can detect police radar and you cannot use a sat nav that identifies the position of fixed speed cameras.
You indicate when you exit a roundabout not when you enter it.
Russia and Switzerland:
Hitchhiking is prohibited on motorways and certain other roads.
Romania, Belarus and Russia:
You can be fined on the spot for driving a dirty car.
In Romania you must give your identity, place of residence, car details and the number of days you are planning on staying to the authorities and pay the required amount of road tax. All this data is placed into a database and enforced by roadside cameras.
It is compulsory to carry a tow bar and 3m rope when driving in Serbia.
You cannot overtake a tram that stops to pick up or drop off passengers.
This is a strange country indeed! Anyone in a car visiting is obliged to buy a road tax ‘vignette’ and has to drive through a liquid disinfectant when entering the country and are charged €12 fee for the privilege.
Anyone who is clearly drunk cannot be a front passenger in a car.
You can be stopped by the police for dangerous driving if you are within 50 metres of a pedestrian.
Driving regulations in the US are often state specific so you should check up on the rules for the states that you are visiting before you go. There is also a universal US Highway Code. Some things are quite different from the UK. For instance, if you pass emergency vehicles you must change lanes or significantly slow down. In some states tow trucks are classified as emergency vehicles. It’s illegal to pass (in either direction) a stopped school bus with its lights flashing. One odd thing is that you can turn right at red lights if the road ahead has no traffic or pedestrians. A right turn in America is a nearside turn, same as a left turn in the UK. This applies everywhere except New York City and where a red arrow is in place of a standard red light at some intersections. You always have to park on the right hand side of the road in the direction of traffic. Drink driving limits vary across states and you can be in trouble for even carrying alcohol in the cabin rather than the boot of your car in some states. Speed limits are based on population size, so the lower the population figure the higher the speed limit.
Wherever you’re going just make sure you do some research. The Foreign office has a great site for finding out about local driving customs and regulations in the world. Some countries you could plead ignorance as a dozy tourist but don’t bank on it.