Quick guide to driving in Europe

Driving around the beautiful countries of Europe with friends and family in tow is something many of us dream about. But when travelling abroad it’s all too easy to fall foul of the different driving laws you’ll encounter. Whether speeding, drink-driving, or using a mobile phone, many common driving offences can lead to expensive fines and even prosecutions if they’re not dealt with swiftly.

To stop this from ever happening to you it’s always worth doing a spot of homework before you travel. After all, prevention is often better than cure and the more aware you are of European driving rules the more easily you can avoid breaking them. In order to help you prepare, we’ve put together a quick guide to driving in Europe.

Remember, just because something happened away from home doesn’t mean it won’t follow you back to the UK. If it does, you might even have trouble finding affordable insurance cover in the future. Fortunately, convicted driver insurance specialists like the Insurance Factory are always ready to come to your rescue.


Document checklist for driving in Europe

Having the right documents to hand is a key part of staying on the right side of the law when you travel to any foreign country. So, before turning the keys in the ignition perform a final check that you’ve got all the right papers. There’s nothing worse than finding you’re missing a vital piece of documentation when you need it most. Particularly if you don’t speak the language!
  1. Valid driving licence
    The majority of UK citizens will just need their photocard driving licence. However, if you have a paper driving licence or your driving licence was issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man you’ll need to check with the embassy of the country you’re visiting. You might need to apply for an international driving permit. If you’re planning on moving to Europe then there are different rules around exchanging your UK licence for a local one.
  2. Passport and travel insurance documents
  3. Certificate of motor insurance
    You’ll be pleased to hear there’s no longer a need for UK drivers to carry an insurance ‘Green Card’ when driving in EU countries.
  4. Vehicle registration certificate
    Otherwise known as the V5C or log book. A copy will not do, you need to take the original.
  5. GB sticker
    Since leaving the EU the rules on country identifiers have changed somewhat. In some countries it's now compulsory to display a GB sticker on your car. It’s probably wise to buy and display a GB sticker in any event – they’re only cheap after all and could save you a travel headache.
  6. Emissions sticker
    As a way of reducing pollution levels some European countries now require drivers to display an emissions sticker on their vehicle windscreen. These stickers are necessary to allow you to drive through certain cities at certain times. If you don’t, you could face hefty fines. Indeed, in some places older cars are even banned altogether. You might need to order a sticker before you leave the UK, so check the requirements before you go.

Speeding offences in the EU – what to do

Just like in the UK, the most common driving offence in the EU is speeding. In view of the different rules and fines in different EU countries, it’s all too easy to end up in hot water as a UK driver if you’re not familiar with their roads and rules. Above all, do not ignore a fine that you get when you’re abroad. Local authorities have been known to pursue offenders back to the UK.

Here’s a quick breakdown of speeding fines for the most popular destinations for UK travellers.
Depending on how much you’ve exceeded the speed limit by, you’ll pay a different level of fine. With a starting point of €100 rising to €600 for the most serious offences. If the police stop you, you'll be required to pay the fine on the spot.

France is a common location for UK drivers to be caught speeding. Indeed according to The Times in 2020 more than 444,000 tickets were sent to British motorists caught speeding by roadside cameras. The standard speeding fine in France is €135 euros. But if you pay within 15 days it drops down to only €90. However, if you delay more than 45 days it can rise to €375. If the matter goes to trial, you could be looking at a fine of up to €750!

If you’re stopped by police, you can be issued with a fine on the spot. Be aware that it’s not just your speed that French road safety cameras are looking out for. A new generation of cameras are currently being tested as part of a planned installation across France from January 2022. They not only catch speeding cars, they’re also on the lookout for motorists not wearing seatbelts, ignoring red lights, or using mobile phones while driving so make sure you stay on the right side of the law.

Italy has very strict speeding laws that you’ll be fined for breaching. Speeding fines range from €41 for driving up to 10km/h over the limit up to €829 if you’re driving more than 60km/h over the limit. However, the Italian authorities are not the quickest at catching up with those committing speeding offences, but that doesn’t mean you should be blasé about it.

They may be slow when it comes to speeding, but they take their historic zones very seriously here. If you drive through a so-called Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL), even accidentally, you risk landing multiple fines of between €84 and €335. A high price to pay for simply getting lost!

Germany takes a strict but fair approach to traffic rules so will have high expectations when it comes to driving standards. Speeding fines start from just €30 for driving up to 10km/h over the limit within a town or city but rising to €680 if you’re driving more than 70km/h over the limit.

The traffic authorities are known for being particularly crafty when it comes to catching speeding drivers. Unlike in the UK, fixed cameras can be placed in difficult-to-spot areas, with most of them not having warning signs. Sneaky indeed!


Other driving laws in Europe

European driving laws are in many ways virtually identical to the UK but there are some important points to remember.

Drive on the right
The requirement to drive on the right-hand side of the road may sound obvious, but for UK drivers it still causes more accidents than anything else. Although if you drive in Cyprus, Ireland or Malta you need to stick to the left as in the UK.

Speed camera detectors
Many sat nav devices in the UK have the ability to detect speed cameras ahead. While this isn’t illegal in the UK, the situation is very different in Europe and you could face a hefty fine for using one.

Drink driving
The alcohol limit for driving in most European countries is much lower than in the UK. For example, France, Spain, Italy, and Germany all have a blood alcohol limit of 0.05%. Far less  than our comparatively lenient limit of 0.08%. We recommend that when driving in Europe the safest way to stay out of danger is to avoid drinking alcohol completely.

Important items to carry
In many European countries there are a variety of items that all drivers are required to carry in their vehicle. So, when packing your bags for your European driving vacation ensure you include the following:
  • A spare pair of driving glasses.
  • Spare set of replacement car light bulbs.
  • Headlight beam converter – UK right-hand drive vehicles need to have their headlights modified so they don’t dazzle oncoming drivers.
  • Warning triangle (or two).
  • Reflective safety vests for you and all passengers.
  • Spare wheel and a tyre repair kit.
  • First aid kit.
  • Fire extinguisher.
  • Winter tyres or snow chains in some areas at some times of year.
Always double check before leaving home. Such items can become very expensive if you need to buy them on your travels.

Can a driving conviction affect driving abroad?

If you’ve got a driving conviction and are unsure about whether you can drive in Europe then read our handy Insurance Factory guide to this thorny issue. Knowing the facts before you travel is a vital part of a stress-free trip.

Convicted driver insurance from the Insurance Factory

If you’ve ended up with a motoring conviction it doesn’t mean you can’t still get great deals on your car insurance. Our convicted driver insurance could be just right for you.

Driving convictions we can consider include:
  • Driving without insurance.
  • Driving/attempting to drive with a blood alcohol level exceeding allowable limits.
  • Speeding on a motorway.
  • Driving in a dangerous manner or at a dangerous speed.
  • Reckless driving.
  • Non-motoring convictions.
Don’t worry if you can’t see your conviction listed above, just give us a call to discuss your situation.
Get a quote for convicted driver insurance today.

Policy benefits, features and discounts 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.