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Tuesday, 17 June 2014 13:56

Driving In Mainland Europe: What You Need To Know In 2014

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Man driving using mobile phoneImage by Chris Corwin

Did you know that in Belarus it is illegal to drive a dirty car? Although admittedly one of the more bizarre laws, Europe consists of many countries and each have slightly different rules of the road. So before entering upon four wheels, it is vitally important to be aware of the differences to avoid falling foul of the law. To give you a head start, here's a breakdown of what you need to know in 2014.

Documents you'll need to keep on you at all times

  • Full and valid driving licence
  • Paper driving licence
  • International Driving Permit (IDP)*
  • Vehicle registration document (V5c) or Vehicle on Hire certificate (VE103b)
  • Motor Insurance certificate

Generally in the EU, UK driving licences are accepted without the need of an IDP. But there are some exceptions where you will need to use one in conjunction with your UK driving licence. They are as follows:

  • Croatia – required to hire a car
  • Czech Republic – needed if don’t have photo licence
  • Slovenia - needed if don’t have photo licence

Compulsory equipment to carry

The majority of European countries require that you carry an EC regulation warning triangle, first-aid kit and reflective jackets at all times in case you break down. In Greece, Hungary, Poland, Sweden and Norway it is compulsory to carry a fire extinguishers as well.

Although hire car companies are likely stock these items on your behalf when needed, it is your responsibility from a legal standpoint to ensure the car is equipped with the required items.

Zones of restricted access

Some countries and cities will have areas where you are forbidden to enter by car. This is particularly prevalent in Italy, which has cities such as Florence and Pisa with historical places of interest.

Mobile phone use

In the vast majority of European countries mobile phone use has been banned while driving a car, unless you're using a hands-free kit. Some countries are stricter with the law than others. For example, if you get caught in the Netherlands you could be fined thousands of Euros, or even put in prison. Be safe, and pull to the side of the road if you need to make a call.

Blood alcohol level (BAC)

The level of alcohol you're allowed in your blood differs from country to country, and will have different penalties if exceeded also. Here is an infographic that displays the limit for each European country. In France, you are required to carry your own breathalyser in the car with you at all times.

Speed camera detection with your GPS system.

In the UK, it is legal to have a speed camera detection system with your GPS system. In many other European countries it is not. France is one of the stricter countries in enforcing this law, and has recently put up 400 cameras and removed many of the signs illustrating where cameras are positioned to try and reduce speeding. Click here to read The Mirror’s article on this.


In all countries in Europe you can drive a hire car as long as you have third-party coverage. All rental companies operating in Europe have to provide third-party liability insurance, too. So you will be protected against causing damage to other people and their property.

Most European car hire companies will also provide basic cover against theft and damage to your hire car in the form of a collision & loss damage waiver (CDW and LDW, click here for more information on both).

However in the event of your hire car being damaged or stolen you will have to pay the excess (the amount you pay before your insurance covers the rest). This can cost up to £2,000. Excess waivers are available to buy at the rental desk for those who wish to protect themselves against excess fees, but they tend to be much more expensive than stand-alone car hire excess insurance purchased from a specialist broker like

Using your headlights

In many European countries where the visibility is poor, dipped headlights must be turned on. In Scandinavia and a lot of other European countries daytime running lamps (DRL) are compulsory, as they are in Switzerland from the beginning of 2014.

Seating child passengers

In Europe, children shorter than 135cm must be fitted into a safety and restraint system in relation to their size and weight. Children taller than 135cm are allowed to use the adult seatbelt built into the car. The exception to this rule is Germany and Italy, where children under 150cm must be fitted into a safety and restraint system.

Tolls and vignettes

There are many roads and bridges across Europe that you are only allowed to travel upon once you have paid a small fee known as a toll. Usually tolls can be paid just before you enter a road or bridge. For more information on passenger toll charges by country, check out our infographic.

In some European countries you will need to display a vignette on your windscreen before you can travel along its motorways and autobahns. Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland require a vignette. It is possible to buy a vignette at border control and nearby gas stations before entering a country that requires one. Failure to do so can result in a fine starting from €100.

Smoking in cars

The universal clamp down on smoking is continuing, with more countries putting a ban on smoking in private cars that are carrying children passengers. In Europe, Cyprus and the Basque part of Spain are the only areas that have introduced this legislation thus far. Although there are plans for Finland, Ireland, Israel and the Netherlands to follow suit soon. However, if you’re a smoker it is important to note that your rental agreement will probably prohibit smoking in the car, whatever the law says.

Winter driving arrangements

In some European countries it is illegal to drive without suitable tyres in 'wintry' conditions. In the Alpine countries of Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria if your car is not fitted with winter tyres, you could be liable to pay a fine of around €40. However, worse still, if you have an accident in such conditions and your car is not installed with the appropriate tyres you could invalidate your insurance.

This is a brief overview of the most important European driving laws you should be aware of for 2014. But as expressed in the introduction, law by each country can vary significantly and be a little strange (i.e. Belarus and dirty cars), so it is advisable to undertake specific research in relation to each country you plan to drive in. For more information on how to prepare for dangerous winter driving conditions, click here for our helpful infographic.

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