2017 Guide to Driving in Europe | Go Rentals Blog | UK

To ensure that you know the rules of the road when driving in Europe, the Go Rentals team have compiled this comprehensive guide to help you stay safe, stay on the right side of the law (and the road) and enjoy your driving experiences as much as possible.

This blog post is part 1 of the guide.

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Introduction: General preparation tips before driving to Europe


The first thing every driver needs to do is get familiar with the driving laws of the country(ies) you’re intending to visit. Whilst many laws are the same from country to country, there are some that will change. And so a quick check on your favourite search engine will help you find the answers you need.

Check for clarification on elements such as;

  • Speed limits
  • Required paperwork and documentation required by law
  • Alcohol limits

And other important rules and regulations.

A good tip we like to provide is to make up an essential document pack that you might need in the event of any emergencies…

UK Passport - Car & Van Hire London at Go Rental

In that pack you would put;

  • Your passport
  • Driving licence
  • Vehicle registration document (V5)
  • Vehicle insurance certificate
  • International Driving Permit (if required or advised
  • Breakdown policy and contact numbers
  • Travel insurance documents
  • Emergency helpline numbers
Investigate if there are any compulsory in-car equipment requirements.


E.g., as of 4 years ago in July 2012, when driving in France, it became law that all cars on French roads had to carry a portable breathalyser. With these mini kits on board, drivers are able to check if they have either exceeded or are under the French limit of 50mg per 100ml of blood.

N.B. This limit is 30mg lower than it is in the UK, so you need to remember to drink less if that is your intention.

Also, French motorists are also legally obliged to carry a warning triangle and fluorescent vest.

Car Problems - Car & Van Hire London at Go Rental

Before you leave, check with your insurance company that you’re fully covered to drive abroad.

If you’re hiring a vehicle to drive, then check with the rental company that they include European cover – without it, you’ll only have the minimum legal cover (usually third party only) in the EU, which means you’ll most likely have to pay an additional premium to be ok.

What to do if you fall ill, have an accident or break down.

In the unfortunate event you fall ill whilst away or get injured, you’ll want to have some kind of travel insurance policy in place. Should that not be so straightforward to organise for whatever reason, then getting a European Health Insurance card (EHIC – formerly E111) will at least entitle you to a reduction or possibly even free state healthcare if need be.

A full travel insurance policy is always best, but the EHIC can be a decent halfway house alternative if needs be. You can get further details from NHS England.

As with your insurance, it can be a mistake to assume your breakdown cover extends to being abroad. So check in with your breakdown provider to make sure you’re good to go, or if you intend to rent a car and drive, then check to see what breakdown cover your rental company provides.

Make sure your vehicle is in good working order.

Change Oil - Car & Van Hire London at Go Rental

Whilst you may think it’s stating the obvious, always make sure your car or van is in good nick before you start on that journey – if it’s well overdue a service, then get it done before you head off.
How are the tyres in terms of tread and pressure? What about the oil and coolant? And how about those windscreen wipers – are they actually wiping the water away or just spreading it across the windscreen and obscuring your view?

Display the country ID of origin.

Great Britain - Car & Van Hire London at Go Rental

Don’t forget that your vehicle must display the appropriate country identification letters (e.g. GB). Failure to do so may result in an on-the-spot fine, but if your number plates include the GB Euro symbol, you do not need a sticker within the EU.

Carry essential items in the boot just in case.

First Aid Kit - Car & Van Hire London at Go Rental

Because you never know what can happen on the roads, it pays to be prepared.So always have a number of essential travel items in the boot or back of the van or for those “just in case” moments.


  • Fire extinguisher
  • First-aid kit
  • Tool kit
  • Torch
  • Blankets
  • Tinned food and opener
  • Warning triangle
  • Hi-vi jacket
  • Car jack and wheel removal tools

You know the drill folks!

Specific Information for Driving in France

Flag of France - Car & Van Hire London at Go Rental

On the motorways.

In case you didn’t know, motorways in France are actually privately owned roads. So in the event of you breaking down on one, you’ll need to look for and use the orange emergency telephones. Normally these will be found every 2km along the motorway.

The phones should be used to either call the police or to call whomever is the official breakdown service operating in that area. Alternatively, if no orange telephone is available motorists should call the emergency services be dialling 112.

After you’ve provided your necessary details, you’ll be towed away to a safe designated area where you can then be met by your breakdown provider. And there is a charge for the towing of course, which in some instances will be paid directly by your breakdown agent, or in others, will need to be paid by you, which you can them claim back from the agent – check first to find out your particular setup to avoid any surprises.

Towing Service - Car & Van Hire London at Go Rental

As an idea of what these charges for towing might be, please see below…

The cost for recovery, correct as of 1 June 2016, is:

  • Vehicles up to 1.8t

    • Cost - €123.56
    • Cost - €185.34 between the hours of 18:00 and 08:00, weekends and bank holidays


  • Vehicles over 1.8t and under 3.5t

    • Cost - €152.79
    • Cost - €229.19 between the hours of 18:00 and 08:00, weekends and bank holidays


  • Vehicles over 3.5t

    • Cost - towing service’s discretion




Driving licence validity

You will need to be at least 18 years of age to drive in France, even if you are 17 and have passed in the UK.

What you need to carry whilst driving in France

  • A full, valid driving licence
  • Proof of insurance (third party or above)
  • Proof of ID (Passport)
  • Proof of ownership (V5C Certificate)

Not carrying the following items will most likely incur a large on-the-spot fine;

  • Hi-vi reflective jackets
    • One per person
  • Warning triangle
    • Compulsory for any vehicle with at least 4 wheels
  • Breathalysers/alcohol test kit
  • A GB sticker (or euro plates featuring the GB initials)

If riding a motorbike;

  • The rider and passenger need to wear helmets
  • Those helmets should have reflective stickers

Driving rules.

Rules Apply - Car & Van Hire London at Go Rental

In the same way that there are caveats for overtaking in the UK, the same applies in France. So normal overtaking takes place on the left, given you drive on the right. However, if traffic on your left is moving more slowly, then you can pass/overtake on the right.

If you happen to be overtaking a tram, however, overtaking actually happens on right and only on the left if you happen to be travelling on a one way street and there isn’t enough space on the right hand side.

In terms of granting right of way and priorities…

Again, similarities here with the UK when it comes to driving on hills – vehicles coming up the hill have right of way. At junctions, drivers of a vehicle must give way to vehicles approaching from their right, unless signs say otherwise. And of course, all travellers must give way to police and fire brigade vehicles and ambulances.

You must wear a seatbelt when driving.

When transporting children;

  • No travelling in front seats for under 10s, unless;
    • There’s a special child restraint
    • There’s no rear seat present
    • The rear seat already has an under 10 sitting in it
    • There are no seat belts
  • Car seat use is weight not height dependent as it is here in the UK
    • Under French law, children up to the age of 10 must travel in an approved child seat or restraint.


Group 0: < 10 kg

Rear-facing child seat placed either at the front passenger seat or at the back seat (if placed at the front, the airbag must be switched off). Babies can also travel in a carry cot (this can be placed at the rear seat only).

Group 0+: < 13 kg

Child restraints in this category are slightly bigger versions of those in Group 0. They must be installed under the same conditions as those in Group 0.

Group 1: 9 - 18 kg

Child seat with a harness or a protection tray.

Group 2: 15 - 25 kg

Booster seat or cushion with an adult seatbelt.

Group 3: 22 - 36 kg

Booster seat or cushion with an adult seatbelt.


French speed limits

90 Speed Limit - Car & Van Hire London at Go Rental

Traffic conditions Motorways Urban motorway or dual carriageway with a central reservation Other roads Built up areas
  Normal traffic conditions 130 km/h 110 km/h 90 km/h 50 km/h
  Rain or other precipitation 110 km/h 100 km/h 80 km/h 50 km/h
  Visibility less than 50m 50 km/h 50 km/h 50 km/h 50 km/h

The following national speed limits apply:

  • Vehicles in excess of 12 metric tons may not exceed 50 km/h in urban areas, 90 km/h on highways, and 80 km/h elsewhere
  • Vehicles under 12 metric tons but over 3.5 have the same limits except 90 km/h on motorways
  • Holders of EU driving licences exceeding the speed limit by more than 40 km/h will have their licences confiscated on the spot by the police
  • French law prohibits drivers from devices capable of detecting speed cameras and warning drivers of their location. Penalties can include fines of up to €1,500 and confiscation of the device and vehicle. This has recently been extended to include GPS-based systems capable of displaying fixed speed camera locations as points of interest


Where to park.

When there are 2 lanes of traffic present, you are allowed to either stop or park on the right-hand side of the road only. You can only park on both sides of a one way street if the road is wide enough to do so.
Any parking terms or restrictions will be visible on signs by the side of the road, or by a variety of road markings.

For example, when you see a continuous yellow line on the road, this means any stopping or parking is not allowed, whereas a broken yellow line indicates that only parking is prohibited.

For disabled parking access, there are strict regulations in place as there are in the UK and parking discs for ‘blue zone’ parking areas can be obtained from police stations, tourist offices and some shops.

Traffic lights

Traffic Lights - Car & Van Hire London at Go Rental

Light operations are slightly different in France. Whilst they also have the 3 colour system as we do, the signal ordering is different.

The sequence is red, green, amber and then back to red. There are, however, some additional caveats within that you’ll need to know.

A flashing amber light means proceed with caution, slow down, and give way to vehicles coming from the right.

A flashing red light means no entry, or it can also mean there’s a level crossing present or an exit used by fire engines, etc.

If you see a yellow arrow at the same time as a red light, this means motorists may proceed in the direction indicated by the arrow, provided they give way to vehicles travelling in the flow of traffic which they are entering and to pedestrians.


French motorways are operated by a variety of private companies, with most featuring tolls. Tolls can be paid in cash or with a MasterCard or Visa card. (Maestro and Electron debit cards are not accepted)

New regulatory updates

The following apply to both drivers and riders in France.

  • For motorists with under 3 years experience, the alcohol limit is 0.2 grams per litre compared to 0.5 grams per litre for those with 3 years + experience
  • Apart from riders who have helmets with integrated systems, use of headsets or headphones whilst driving is now banned
  • As of January 2016, motorcyclists are required to have reflective jackets to be worn in the event of a breakdown or an emergency.
  • Paris now has a Low Emission Zone which this means any petrol and diesel cars registered before 1997 are banned between 8am to 8pm on weekdays

And so this concludes part 1 of the guide. In the next part, part 2, we’ll dive into the requirements for driving in another popular European country that’s near UK shores.

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Published on 21 Dec 2016

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