How to Drive in Any European Country? – The Ultimate Guide
We summarized every vital information, from traffic laws to tips on how to drive in any European Country, in one single guide. Prepare to understand the importance of taking some precautions, and to have a car hire excess insurance that is compatible with your trip.
How to Drive in Europe?
Most European countries drive on the right-hand side, which might be a minor challenge to some drivers. The following countries drive on the left-hand side, which means their drivers must adapt and vice-versa:
- Republic of Ireland
- United Kingdom
Other than that, roundabouts are a key part of driving in Europe. Every driver that is already in a roundabout has the preference, and others must yield. When it is your first time, the safest approach is to go easy and take your time, rather than driving as if you were home.
How to Drive in a European Country in Adverse Conditions?
Rain, little light, and snow are great examples of adverse conditions that might require special attention. Therefore, even when the situation seems optimal and you hired car hire excess insurance, take the following precautions:
- Keep lights on all the time in case of snow or heavy rain.
- Carry standard emergency equipment and winter tires or chains – also in case of snow.
- Verify the weather conditions and forecasts before driving.
- Bring food with you – just do not eat while driving in Cyprus – and everything you might need if stuck – such as comfortable clothes to sleep and water.
How Does Speed Limit Work in European Countries?
The speed limits work almost the same across Europe, making it easier to understand how to drive in any European country. As a general rule, we can adopt:
- Motorways: 120 – 130k km/h
- Principal and rural roads: 80 – 90 km/h
- Urban and secondary roads: around 50 km/h
- Residential areas and near school: 30 km/h
Germany, as an exception, does not have a limit but recommends 130 km/h. The following countries also have special rules on how to drive in adverse conditions:
- France: In case of snow and rain, the highest limits decrease, so the speed limit changes in motorways from 130 to 110 km / h; at rural roads from 90 to 80 km/h. As for fog, all roads have their speed limit changed to a maximum of 50 km/h.
- Finland: motorways have their speed limit changed to 100 km/h and, on rural roads, to 80 km/h.
- Sweden: similar to Finland, limits change respectively to 90 km/h and 70 km/h.
As always, their respective authorities might define different limits depending on specific situations and conditions.
Who Has the Right of Way When Driving in Any European Country?
Drivers on the main road usually have the right of way in European countries. When there are tram systems, they probably have priority over cars. Nowadays, it is also increasingly common for bikes to have priority on roundabouts. Talking about them, as we mentioned, vehicles on roundabouts have the preference over those about to enter it.
In France, certain junctions have priority, indicated by triangles with a red edge and a white background with a black cross on it. Other exceptions are specified in the topic of unusual laws on how to drive in European countries.
General European Rules You Should Know
The following hints and guidelines will help you out when driving in European countries, as their traffic laws include most of those rules:
- Alcohol: do not drink and drive, for your safety and that of others, which is why there are strict alcohol limits in European countries.
- Lights On: while it may not be required in every country under all situations, it helps other drivers identify you. Just keep it low.
- CO2 Emission: if you are renting a modern car, high emission is most probably not a concern. Even so, opt for low-emission vehicles when possible, as some countries might block those with high emission.
- Equipment: Pack safety equipment for potential car problems and also those related to specific weather conditions, such as snow. In France, even a breathalyzer is necessary.
- No Phone: do not call or text someone while driving. It is not safe and a severe offense in most countries.
- Kids: kids are not allowed in the front seat, even if they call “Shotgun!”. Some countries might require special chairs for really young children.
- Belt: both drivers and passengers are required to use their seatbelt.
Unusual Laws in Specific Countries
After a long preparation, hiring the best car or van hire excess insurance, and getting to know European driving laws, you do not want to be taken by surprise. That is why we selected unusual traffic laws. After those, you will be an expert in how to drive in any European Country.
Besides being obliged to carry a first-aid kit in the car, drivers in Albania should not ingest any drop of alcohol. Their maximum alcohol level in the blood is only 0.01%.
When driving on Austrian roads, do not use your car’s horn if there is a sign with a red-crossed bugle. That is pretty intuitive, right?
Belarus forbids driving with your car covered with dirt, but only in a way that could affect your vision or hinder the identification of the vehicle’s plate at a distance of 40 meters. Other than that, do not be surprised if you do not find any parking meter there.
Different from other countries, Belgium allows cyclists to travel in both directions on some one-way streets. While it is great for them, drivers should double their attention.
Like Belarus, Bulgaria considers a violation of driving with a dirty car when it affects its identification or your safety. Also, keep in mind that one-way streets only allow parking on the left. Finally, do not use your horn there except to avoid an accident.
The horn’s use is less restricted, but do not use it in residential areas or near hospitals. Also, drinking or eating anything while driving is also an unusual prohibition. Additionally, be gentle and do not make an obscene gesture to others, or you might pay a fine for it.
In England, drivers can park on either side of the road. After parking on a cold day, leaving it running to warm up can result in a fine for unnecessary pollution. If you plan to be parked for longer than two minutes, turn off the engine. Differently from Albania, the maximum blood alcohol limit is 0.08%.
Drivers should carry two-wheel chocks, probably due to the quality of vehicles in Estonia, and any level of alcohol in the blood is not permitted.
From October to March, the speed limit on motorways changes to 100 km/h because of adverse weather conditions. Also, make sure to have your headlights on all the time. If streets are not being cleaned, you are allowed to park – but only on the right-hand side of the road.
Regardless of the type, you are not allowed to use headphones. Their speed cameras take photographs in both directions, so keep attentive. Also, kids may travel in the front seat from 10 years old.
Among the strangest requirements, in France, you must carry your breathalyzer kit. Know that flashing the headlights means you want to move first, not that you are letting someone through. Additionally, never park closer than 5 meters to pedestrian crossings.
In Germany, offensive gestures can result in high fines, and some cities might require an emissions sticker on the car – discuss that with your car hire company. Winter tires might be necessary during certain times of the year, and it is a matter of precaution. As already stated, keep an eye on the nonexistent speed limit on motorways.
Greece banned smoking while driving, so save it for later if that is a habit.
Unless there is a parking area, never drive off the road boundaries. For the gravel roads, located in the highlands, two-wheel rental cars are not allowed.
Certain historic cities require a permit to drive there and might even be blocked to vehicles at certain times of the year.
The front seat passenger must be sober too. Otherwise, that is a transgression.
You might need a permit to drive in the capital, but remember they drive on the left-hand side of the road there. Also, you are not obliged to indicate when changing lanes.
Keep lights on, regardless of the conditions, and observe trams – as they have the right of way in Norway and across Europe.
People who wear glasses to drive are required to have a spare pair in the car for safety. Carrying oil to refuel the car is also not allowed.
Hitchhiking is illegal, so do not pick up people, and do not ask for it if you are not driving. The no-dirty rule applies in Russia, too, so make sure it does not cover the windows or the plate.
Carry a tow bar and ropes with at least three meters of length.
Whenever reversing, it is necessary to turn on the hazard warning lights.
Parking lots are identified by yellow lines, not their prohibition, and are only allowed on one side of one-way streets – it depends on the day of the month and house numbers. Like in France, you are not allowed to use headphones. And, similar to Portugal, the second pair of glasses is necessary.
Likewise, Switzerland also requires a second pair of glasses in the car for drivers who need it. Also, hitchhiking is illegal, as well as washing cars on Sundays.
Types of Roads When Driving in a European Country
- Motorways/Freeways, Autoroutes, Autobahns, etc.: Usually identified by being written in white on a blue or green background. Speed limits tend to be as high as 120 or 130 km/h, except in special conditions.
- Primary/A Roads: They connect freeways/motorways with cities and towns, with a more restricted speed limit of up to 90 km/h, sometimes limited to 70 km/h in adverse conditions. Signs are similar to those of motorways.
- Secondary/B Roads: those are found inside cities and municipalities, and considerably smaller than the others. The usual speed limit is 50 km/h, and their signs are in black on a white background.
Useful Tips to Use When Driving in Any European Country
- Tolls: you may often run into tolls in European countries. Therefore, keep cash with you to make it simpler.
- Preparation: mobile devices can carry useful maps, and the use of a GPS is extremely recommended, but take something to replace those in lack of signal.
- Rules: read our guide as many times as needed to familiarize yourself with how to drive in any European country.
- Safety: regardless of the level of your driving skills, take it easy and go slow as if you were still beginning.
Safety and Hazards
- Drivers. Cultural differences may result in unexpected behavior from others while on the road. Keep in mind you never know what others might think normal, so give them space and avoid accidents.
- Speed Cameras. They are there for your safety, too, so keep attentive to the limits. France even prohibits the use of camera detection tools.
- Roads. Not all European countries have excellent roads, so never relax too much while driving on them.
- Weather. Collect our hints on adverse situations at the beginning of this article and keep safe during different weather conditions.
Violation of Traffic Laws
The fines and penalties for violating some traffic laws can be especially severe in Europe. Among the main reasons, excessive speed and drunk driving are the top reasons in Norway, which is followed by Sweden and Italy. “Only” 20 km/h over the limit may result in fines ranging from 170 euros (Italy) to 420 euros (Norway).
Driving over the maximum blood alcohol content can cost more than 600 euros. Levels of 1.0 in Sweden and 1.2 in Spain can also result in a jail sentence. While driving and using the phone simultaneously in Germany results in a 60 euros fine, values can be as high as 230 euros in the Netherlands, or 200 euros in Denmark.
People tend to believe they can relax with the standard rental car insurance, especially if it comes with a CDW policy. However, it is necessary to get a car hire excess insurance to make sure no additional large costs will apply in case of accidents or theft.
Depending on which country you are visiting, there are additional and unusual traffic laws you should pay attention to. Not only the speed and alcohol level limits change, as even weather conditions can dictate what each driver should take. With those rules and tips, you are good to go.