Planning a European road trip in your motorhome? It’s a fantastic way to see the continent, combining freedom to travel where you please with many of the comforts of home.
But staying on the right side of the law in Europe isn’t just a matter of driving on the right side of the road.
There are several surprises for UK drivers on the statute books of our European neighbours – and ignoring them could land you in hot water with the police, or even in danger.
What’s more, Brexit is likely to create upheaval, too, particularly where documentation is concerned.
To make sure your holiday is relaxed and fun-filled, you need to be up to speed with European driving laws and regulations.
We’ve put together a list of 12 European road rules, ranging from the obvious to the obscure and covering everything from motorhome insurance to emissions limits.
Read on to find out more and get into gear for your European road trip.
Carry valid documentation
If you’re used to driving in Europe, make sure you don’t fall foul of any post-Brexit changes.
Up until now, you’ve been able to drive in the EU, EEA and Switzerland using your UK driving licence, but that could change from 2021.
You might need an International Driving Permit (IDP) as well as your licence: these can be obtained cheaply from the Post Office.
You already need an IDP for European countries that aren’t mentioned above.
If you’re driving in your own motorhome you need to take your V5C vehicle registration certificate, also known as a log book. You’ll need the original, not a copy.
If you’re hiring a vehicle abroad, you’ll need a DVLA licence check code so that hire companies can check your driving licence and view any endorsements. In practice, they’re unlikely to ask for this.
Check the Government’s Driving Abroad web pages for the most up-to-date information before you travel.
Make sure yourmotorhome insurance and breakdown cover are valid
Again, you might not give these a second thought if you’re a seasoned traveller – but requirements are likely to change after Brexit.
Currently, UK insurance policies provide at least third-party cover when driving in the EU.
However, that may not be the case after Brexit, so contact your insurance provider for details. If you want comprehensive cover, you may be able to pay for an upgrade, too.
Some European countries want a ‘green card’ from your insurance provider to prove that you’ve got at least the legal minimum of third-party cover. Check before you set off.
UK breakdown cover often does not cover you for travel abroad, so check your policy and upgrade if necessary.
Drive on the right side of the road
OK, so you probably know this one already. The moment you drive off that cross-channel ferry or emerge from the Eurotunnel, you need to keep to the right-hand side of the road.
Most British and Irish people adapt just fine to driving on the right in mainland Europe.
You’re most likely to lapse at junctions or roundabouts, when overtaking, or when pulling back onto the road after a stop, so take extra care at these points. Your passengers should keep an eye out, too.
While the keep-left club is pretty small, the UK and Ireland are not the only members. It also includes Malta, Cyprus, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
Fortunately, none of them has a land border with any country where you drive on the right, so there are no awkward crossovers!
Ensure you’re fully equipped
In the UK, we take a pretty relaxed attitude towards driving equipment. In many vehicles, you’re more likely to find an assortment of old CDs and dog toys than you are a hi-vis jacket!
Your motorhome is likely to come better equipped than the average family car. But is it up to European standards? In several countries, you are legally obliged to carry certain equipment.
In France, Belgium, Italy and Spain, for example, you should always carry a warning triangle and reflective jacket.
In France, you’re also supposed to carry two breathalysers. In Spain, you must carry a spare wheel and tools to change it.
And in France, Italy and Switzerland, there are laws concerning snow chains or winter tyres in certain areas during the colder months. Check these before you travel to stay safe and legal.
There are various other regulations around safety kit you should carry, so do check before departure and stock up if necessary. And remember – accidents do happen, so make sure you’re covered with suitable motorhome insurance.
Know your emissions limits
As European countries try to drive down pollution and meet sustainability goals, there are several rules around emission limits that you need to be aware of on your motorhome holiday.
In France, for example, many cities including Paris, Lyon, Marseille and Chambery have introduced low-emission zones that restrict access to the most polluting vehicles, either on an emergency or a permanent basis.
You can only drive in these areas if your vehicle is displaying the appropriate Air Quality sticker, also known as a Crit’Air. This states the emissions standard of your vehicle.
You should apply for your Crit’Air before you head to France. It will cost you just a few euros – so beware of scam sites, which will charge you a much higher price.
Many other countries, including Germany and Italy, have similar schemes, so check before you drive. Failure to do so could cost you a considerable fine.
Don’t exceed speed limits
Speed limits are often, but not always, signposted in Europe.
On motorways in particular, you’re often expected to know what the national limits are – and failing to abide by them could land you with a fine.
On many European motorways, the top permitted speed is 130kmh, or 81 mph. Some German motorways have no official limit, indicated by a circular white sign with five diagonal black lines.
However, it does also depend on your motorhome’s weight. Many countries in Europe have lower speed limits for vehicles over a certain unladen weight, usually 3.5 tonnes (or over 3.05 tonnes in the UK).
Therefore, many manufacturers deliberately keep motorhomes below that weight, which also ensures they can be driven on a car licence.
So know your vehicle’s weight and learn the limits before you go, to avoid a potentially hefty on-the-spot fine.
There may also be other factors affecting speed limits. In France, for example, there are lower limits in wet weather or for drivers who have had their licences for less than three years.
Finally, don’t even think about trying to circumvent speed cameras! In most countries, it’s illegal to use a radar to try to detect mobile cameras, and in Germany and some other countries, you’ll need to disable the feature on your motorhome’s sat nav that detects fixed cameras, too.
Remember – sticking to speed limits is especially important in a large vehicle such as a motorhome. It’s harder to handle than a car, and can cause more damage if you lose control. Your holiday is not meant to be a race!
To keep you, your family, other road users and your vehicle safe, drive carefully and choose suitable motorhome insurance.
Take off your headphones in France and Spain
That’s right – remove any headphones or earbuds while driving in these countries, even if you’re just using them for a hands-free mobile chat.
This rule aims to ensure you can hear emergency sirens, level crossing warnings, or other essential traffic sounds. While there’s no such rule in the UK, you could face a fine or penalty points if you’re considered to be driving without due care and attention.
So if you’ve got terrible taste in music, everyone in your vehicle has to suffer, too!
You know how Volvos’ headlights stay on even during the day? That’s because that’s the law in Sweden – and in Denmark, Norway, Iceland and several other countries.
In Italy and Hungary, dipped headlights are compulsory at all times outside built-up areas, and in the Czech Republic you’ll need them on during the day in winter. Other countries have their own variations of these rules, too.
Remember that most countries require UK cars to fit beam converters or deflectors to headlamps to ensure they don’t dazzle oncoming traffic. These are cheap to buy and easy to fix in place – but failure to do so could land you with an on-the-spot fine.
Headlights are one of the most important safety features on your motorhome, so make sure yours are in good working order and meet the legal requirements of all the countries where you’ll be travelling.
It’s a driving essential, along with staying sober, driving within the speed limits, and making sure you’re covered by motorhome insurance.
Don’t smoke or snack
Driving’s a serious business that requires two hands on the controls at all times. Therefore, in Cyprus, there’s a ban on eating and drinking while driving.
While other countries may not have this exact rule, you can always fall foul of the law if you’re deemed to be distracted at the wheel.
All the more reason to take regular breaks, so you can grab some refreshments and stretch your legs.
Don’t drink or take drugs and drive
This law is hardly surprising. But did you know that the drink-drive limit varies greatly from country to country?
England and Wales are actually the most relaxed countries, with a permitted level of 80mg alcohol per 100ml of blood. In Scotland and most of Europe, it’s 50mg, while some countries have limits of 20mg. Many countries also have stricter rules for novice or commercial drivers.
In some eastern European countries, you’re not allowed any alcohol in your bloodstream when driving. So if you’re planning on partying in Prague, make sure you’ve factored in a rest day to get the alcohol out of your system before continuing your travels.
Remember – by breaking road laws, you not only put yourself and others in danger, but you could also invalidate your motorhome insurance.
Get a GB sticker
If your number plate doesn’t feature the EU symbol and GB identifier, then you need to put a GB sticker on your car.
You can buy stickers that meet the required specifications at garages or online. They only cost a few pounds – and could save you far more than that in fines, not to mention hassle from traffic police.
Don’t run out of fuel on motorways
In Germany, it is illegal to stop on the motorway unnecessarily. It’s your responsibility to ensure your motorhome is well-fuelled before you join an Autobahn, as breaking down due to lack of fuel could land you a hefty fine.
Avoid rude gestures
Both Germany and Cyprus take a dim view of motorists who make offensive signs to other road users. So summon up all your British reserve, keep calm and carry on!
In fact, careful and calm driving is by far the best way to travel around any country at any time. It keeps you safe and legal, and helps to ensure your motorhome adventures will be relaxing and enjoyable.
Together with good motorhome insurance, it’s essential for protecting you, your family, other road users and your vehicle while on the roads, ensuring your holiday is one to remember for all the right reasons.
So read up on all the rules, equip your motorhome with all the essentials, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!
Get a quote from Motorhome Protect today
Abiding by all the rules for all the different countries on your road trip can be a daunting and bewildering task. But choosing motorhome insurance is simple when you arrange your cover through Motorhome Protect.
We arrange policies that can provide unlimited cover around the EU, for motorhomes with a value of up to £150,000. Camping personal effects of up to £3,000 can be covered, too.
Benefits of the policies we arrange can include unlimited mileage.
Get a quote today, and start planning your next road trip. Safe travels!
Policy benefits and features offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.