Erin De Santiago a RoamRight Blog Author

Tips for Driving in Europe

DrivingContent

One of the best ways to see Europe at your own pace is to hop in a rental car and drive between destinations. While you might assume driving in Europe is very similar to the United States, there are some important things to keep in mind.

Here are a few helpful tips to get you started on your European road trip.

Crime

Just as some cities are notorious for property theft against tourists, some European motorways are hotbeds for property crimes and more. Be wary of people who jump out in front of your vehicle on dark isolated roads. Some European countries are popular with hitchhikers. Use caution if you plan to pick up a stranger in your vehicle. And when parking, especially in city centers, make sure no valuables or luggage are left visible to passersby. Even something as minor as a phone charger or iPhone cord may be enough to incite thieves to break in.

Handicapped Parking

If you are in possession of a handicapped pass issued in the United States, this may not be recognized in some countries. You need to research the disability parking laws in the countries you plan to visit as the recognized placard in European Union (EU) member countries is the “Blue Badge”. The FIA Guide for the Disabled Traveller has a listing of what each country’s rules are regarding the use of disabled parking permits.

Vignettes

Pay close attention to some countries that require “vignettes” or stickers that allow you to drive the bigger highways. Some countries like Switzerland check at the border to ensure you have purchased the vignette, while others have electronic monitoring checkpoints. Don't try to save a few dollars by not purchasing the vignette as you may wind up with an expensive fine down the road.

Speed Cameras and Traffic Fines

While you may find some motor officers actually running radar along smaller country back roads; most highways are monitored by speed cameras. Unlike many spots in the United States that just note “controlled by radar”, these are live and active camera systems. Be wary, as, unless you have a GPS system in your rental car, you will have very little warning when these cameras are coming up. It’s not uncommon for unsuspecting drivers to come home to hundreds of Euros in fines.  And don’t rely solely on your GPS either as, in some cases, speed limits may have changed, some places are now using trajectory control which calculate an average speed over a length of highway, some speed cameras are temporary and change locations, and some countries’ cameras may not be loaded into your GPS.

Note: Carry ample cash, as some countries will issue fines and expect payment on the spot. And they may require local currency versus Euros if you are in places like Croatia or the Czech Republic. Depending on the enforcement agency, you may be eligible for a discount for paying on the spot – some even accept credit cards!

Drinking and Driving

Do not drink and drive in Europe. Yes, beer may be served to 16 year-olds in Germany, but DUI or DWI laws are extremely strict in many European countries. And some, like Romania, have 0.0% BAC laws.

Please drink responsibly and use a designated driver, as your RoamRight policy does not cover loss resulting from or caused by being under the influence of alcohol.
 

Required Safety Equipment

If you are renting a vehicle, it will come with the required equipment to be utilized in the event of a breakdown. Some countries require vehicles to display a warning triangle and passengers to wear reflective vests when on the side of the highway. Check with your rental car company for provided equipment and what the local laws are regarding disabled vehicles.

Highway Rest Areas

Unlike the often rundown and gas only stations seen on some US highways, Europe has their act together when it comes to long haul drivers. Rest areas typically have very clean restrooms, mini-marts stocked full of road trip munchies, free Wi-Fi, and in some cases, restaurants and hotels. In countries like Italy, you can find excellent sandwiches, pizzas, and a grocery area offering some of the best in Italian gourmet food products.

Left-Hand Lane or Passing Lane

One of the biggest mistakes is utilizing the left lane as a regular driving lane. It’s called a passing lane and Europeans take that very seriously. Drive in the right lane and utilize the left lane for passing only.

Automatic versus Manual

If you prefer an automatic vehicle, book your rental far in advance. Some rental car agencies tend to stock mostly manual transmissions, and automatics may be hard to come by, especially in Eastern Europe.

Insurance and Rental Car Contracts

Check with your auto insurance carrier and credit card on what is covered for damages to a rental car when driving in Europe. And pay close attention to your rental car contract – many rental agencies have a list of countries in which you cannot drive.  If you violate that clause and an accident occurs, you void any insurance coverage purchased from the rental agency and may be personally liable for all incurred damages.

Restricted Traffic Zones

Be cautious of driving in city centers, especially spots like Rome, Athens, and London. There may be a congestion charge or special permits required to drive in spots like Rome. 

Would you consider taking a road trip in Europe?

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About the Author

Erin De Santiago

Erin De Santiago, a RoamRight Blog Author Erin is a travel and food writer who currently splits her time between the Netherlands and Belize. She's traveled to 60+ countries on 5 continents with a passion for culinary travel, luxury hotels, and all things Disney. Her writing has appeared in numerous online outlets including Gadling, BootsnAll, CNN, Art of Backpacking, TravBuddy, CBS, and more. She was the major author of Belize's official visitor magazine, Destination Belize 2013; wrote the official AFAR Guide to Belize; and is also AFAR Magazine's local Belize expert.. In addition to writing for other publications, Erin maintains several blogs, Our Tasty Travels, No Checked Bags, Pooh's Travels, and the brand new Caye To Belize. Follow Erin on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus.

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