Driving in Europe – The law, tips and practical advice

This is the first of a number of posts aimed at road trippers looking to head off across Europe. When we visited earlier this year there were some things we needed to have with us that we had no idea about.

Some countries require you to have your headlights on at all times, some ask you to carry a fire extinguisher in your car and in some countries it’s illegal not to have a GB (or wherever you’re from) sticker on your car.


Most of these are pretty obvious but you’ll need to take with you:

  • Valid full driving licence
  • Driving licence paper counterpart
  • International Driving Permit (if you have one. Generally, not compulsory in European countries)
  • Vehicle registration document (V5c) – the original not a copy
  • Insurance certificate (if taking your own car)
  • Hire car receipt/details (if driving a hired car)
  • Passport(s)
  • Travel insurance documents
  • European Health Insurance Card (not compulsory but good to have with you if you get in an accident)

Items that you must carry with you

Some countries require you to carry certain items in your car at all times. If you don’t have these then you might be subject to fines or worse.

Breathalyser – These are compulsory in France. You’ll need one that has been certified by French authorities carrying the symbol ‘NF’.

Hi-vis jackets – These are needed in most countries in Europe. It’s always good practice to carry one for every person in your vehicle. Keep them in the passenger compartment of your car for easy access should you have an accident or be asked to produce them by the authorities.

GB Sticker – If your number plate has your country code on it then you don’t need one of these stickers. However, whenever I’ve been travelling in Europe I’ve thought ‘better safe than sorry’ and have a sticker as well as the little sign on my plates. You’ll need one or both of these across Europe.

First Aid Kit – Recommended in all EU countries, compulsory in a few. You’ll need one if you’re travelling through Greece, Austria, or Turkey.

Fire Extinguisher – As above, recommended in all EU countries.

Warning Triangle – Not compulsory for visitors to carry one but it is the law that you have to display one if you have an accident. As a result, you should always carry one with you when travelling in Europe.

Headlamp Adaptors – It’s the law to ensure your headlights don’t blind oncoming traffic. In some cars you can change the angle of your headlights but in most models you’ll need to buy adaptors or take your car to a garage. Even if you don’t think you’ll be driving at night, this is recommended in case you get caught out and have to travel in the dark.

Extra Bulbs – In Germany you have to carry a spare bulb kit with you. This is always good practice as it’s against the law in most countries to drive with a light out.

Snow Chains and Winter Tyres – Compulsory in al countries where you’ll be driving on snow-covered roads. It’s also illegal to drive on summer tyres in winter conditions in most countries. Usually UK tyres are summer tyres, unless you request something else.

Other stuff you need to know

Sweden, Iceland, Latvia, Macedonia, Norway, Denmark, Romania, Slovenia and parts of Portugal require daytime running lights. That means, dipped lights on at all times unless you have something like a new Audi that has those lovely little LEDs.

Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic require daytime use of headlights in the winter only, while Hungary and Italy require daytime running lights outside built up areas.

The road laws vary from country to country so spend some time getting to know the rules of the road so you don’t end up stuck in a bus lane in the middle of Eindhoven. (Happened to me on the way to Sweden last year. Red light, bus, no way out of the lane, traffic everywhere. An adventure but not one I’d like to repeat.)

You’ll be driving on the right-hand side of the road in Europe unless you’re in the UK, Ireland, Malta or Cyprus.

Carry loose change in your car for all those lovely toll roads you’ll be encountering.

Keep your sat nav up-to-date so you can avoid mystery roads that lead to Eindhoven…

Keep a map with you too. Just in case the sat nav is unhelpful/broken/out of signal.

Take the road less travelled. It’s more fun.

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