For us British drivers, we think that everybody else drives on the wrong side of the road. In fact, 25% of the world's cars are driven on the left, so a quarter of the world's population are with us. The French however think that we do everything the wrong way round. There's no pleasing some people!
Unfortunately, driving on the wrong side of the road is the least of our problems. They have different rules too! So here's a few guidelines to getting around safely and not ruffling the feathers of local drivers, wherever you are.
Do your research before you go
- Make sure you know something about the local driving laws. This doesn't mean pouring over the local Highway Code, but look at some of the basics like speed limits and signs. Luckily enough, most of these are self-evident. Red and things with crosses through generally means you're not allowed.
- Provisional licences are only issued to learner drivers. Consequently, they're not valid elsewhere.
- Check with your insurance company (car insurance this time, not travel) that you're covered to drive where you're going. That includes breakdown recovery and medical expenses if you have an accident. This doesn't apply of course to hire cars, you pay an insurance premium for that in the price of the rental.
- Check whether you have a Green Card, it provides basic cover.
- Check whether you need an International Driving Permit
- Service your car before you leave. The last thing you want to be doing is trying to get new spark plugs when you don't know what the French is for spark plugs (bougies)
- A spare set of keys - fancy dropping your keys down a drain in Spain?
- A fire extinguisher, first aid kit, tool kit, spare bulbs and a warning triangle. In fact in Spain you'll need two of them.
- All your documents, license, insurance certificate and a Green Card if you have one. You'll also need your breakdown policy, travel insurance and contact numbers.
On the road
- Drive sensibly and expect the unexpected.
- Just like anywhere, take regular breaks, put your seat belt on and make sure your passengers do. You're responsible for them.
- Don't drink and drive. In almost all European countries the limit is lower than in the UK's 0.8 mg per 100 ml of blood. In most countries it's 0.5 mg but in Norway, Poland and Sweden it's 0.2 mg and in Estonia, Malta, Romania, Slovakia the Czech Republic and Hungary it's nothing.
- Don't overload your vehicle and make sure you can see out the back
- If you have an accident, contact your insurer straight away and take photographs. In France you'll have a Constat à l'amiable to fill out or at least the other person will. It's an accident report that will help any dealings with insurance companies run smoothly.