Driving in Europe: What you need to know
Taking a caravan to Europe for your holidays is a beautiful thing to do. There are so many places to stay and visit. Your caravan is the perfect base for adventure and relaxation.
However, have you thought about what you need for driving in Europe? What do you need to keep within the regulations across the continent?
Driving in Europe means you need to prepare properly. Preparation means you can enjoy your holidays by having the right equipment and paperwork to hand.
We've created a guide to help you plan with links to where you can find more information on the country you are planning to visit.
Safe driving in Europe
Number plates and National Identifiers
Firstly, you need to make sure your number plates comply with European standards and, when driving, you let people behind you know your country of origin.
You do this by either having number plates which incorporate the Union Flag, the Cross of St George, the Cross of St Andrew or the Red Dragon of Wales. Or, you place a GB, UK, CYM (Wales), ENG, SCO or WALES sticker on your car and caravan. It's compulsory.
Find out more about number plate regulations here: www.gov.uk/displaying-number-plates/overview
Low emission and congestion zones
Some countries in Europe have low emission zones (LEZ) rules and regulations to improve air quality in cities. They affect not just the locals but foreign visitors too. Don't get caught out with a fine by driving through a LEZ without the right documents.
In Paris, for example, their LEZ began in July 2015. Vehicles need a sticker to show they can access the zone. The LEZ is mainly in the city centre. There is no cost to getting bar the postage (Beware of services charging you for the Crit'Air certificate for anything other than postage!). But, you need one to enter. If you don't have one, expect a fine for over £100. You can apply online for the French 'Crit'Air' certificate here.
Italy has so-called 'ZTL' areas in cities. It stands for 'Zona Traffico Limitato', or 'limited traffic zone'. Like in Britain and France, the authorities want to lower congestion and pollution. Enter a ZTL without the right paperwork, and you will face a fine, automatically.
Ultimately, it's best to avoid them, if you can. Who wants to drive through a busy city centre, anyway?
Check for LEZs and ZTLs in the country you plan to visit here.
We all know 'drink driving' is both illegal and unwise.
However, it is also compulsory for drivers to carry a breathalyser in the car in France. You need to have one in your vehicle which shows an 'NF' number on it.
You can buy breathalyser kits in the UK here from Halfords for £4.99:
If you don't have a breathalyser in your car in France, you might get a fine. But, more importantly, it's worth having one or two to hand if you are not sure you are safe to drive anyway.
Have you ever wondered why Volvo's have the sidelights on permanently?
It's because any European countries require you to drive using your headlights dipped during daylight hours. Countries, where this is compulsory, are Croatia (this is seasonal, from the last Sunday in October to the last Sunday in March), Denmark, Italy, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.
There's no harm in keeping your headlights on during the day if it's not compulsory in the country where you are. It's better to be seen so you can minimise any accidents.
Talking of lights, you must adjust yours to driving on the right, so they don't dazzle oncoming drivers. You have to use headlight adjustments in all European countries (bar Ireland - they drive on the same side of the road as us!)
Fortunately, it's simple to do. You need a set of stickers to place on your headlights. They are quick and easy to fit.
Get headlight adjustment kits from Halfords for around £8.
Don't forget to take them off when you get back to Britain!
Some countries make it compulsory to carry a fire extinguisher in cars for locals. However, it's not mandatory for visitors to carry them in their cars.
Nevertheless, it's a good idea to carry one in your vehicle anyway. You never know when you might need it, especially if you have a fire in your caravan.
Screwfix sells vehicle fire extinguishers for £12.99
First aid kits
Although not compulsory to carry in most European countries (bar Austria and Croatia), we recommend taking one with you. Local drivers in some states have to carry them. Accidents happen, and it's wise to prepare for them.
Amazon sells The AA first aid kit for under £10
High visibility jackets
Imagine standing by the side of a busy road at night because your vehicle has broken down. You want to be visible to other drivers. How do you do it? Wear a high visibility jacket.
In fact, it's compulsory to carry and use high visibility jackets in your car in Austria, Spain, Croatia, Belgium and France. In Italy, you have to have one within reach of the driver. Some countries require all occupants to have one.
You can buy high visibility vests for under £2 from 'Worklayers'.
Emergency warning triangles
Compulsory in most European countries, we recommend having two available in your car or caravan.
They are easy to store and could make a difference to letting other drivers know about you if you break down before it's too late on a busy road. By law, you need two when towing a caravan in Spain, Croatia, Slovenia and Turkey.
Amazon has a range of emergency warning triangles which vary in price from £5 to £33.
The law states that, when towing a caravan, you need to be able to see 20 metres to your rear and four metres either side of the 'van. The wing mirrors on most cars are not big enough to meet the requirement, and the wing mirrors on many four-wheel drives are not good enough either.
That's why you need towing mirrors.
But, what about driving in Europe? It's no different there, and it's compulsory to fit towing mirrors in Spain. And, your towing mirrors need to comply with European standards. How do you know if your mirrors comply? Look for the 'e-mark' on the product. If it does not have one, find an alternative set of towing mirrors that do.
Outfits over 12 metres
If the length of your caravan and car is over 12 metres long, you need to comply with particular laws.
When you outfit is over 12 metres, you must fit 'long vehicle marker boards' on the rear of your caravan. These are red and white reflective panels, 50cm by 50cm. They are compulsory in Italy and Spain.
If you have bicycles on a rack on the back of your caravan, you have to place the reflective panels onto the bike facing the traffic behind you.
Fortunately, they are easy to fit and readily available. Buy the panels from Amazon for around £28.
Speed limits in Europe vary, and they measure speed in kilometres per hour (kph), not miles per hour (mph). It's wise to get used to using the kph dial on your speedometer before you go abroad. It's easy to forget, and you could find yourself speeding by mistake because you're looking at the wrong scale.
Roughly speaking, 50kph is about 30mph. 80 kph is about 50 mph. 120 kph is about 75 mph.
Generally speaking, the speed limit on motorways is 120 to 130 kph, on rural roads the limit is between 80 and 90 kph, and 50 kph on urban roads. However, check before you go.
It's also worth knowing that some speed limits in Europe vary in inclement weather too.
We've put a table together showing the speed limits for the most popular European countries:
|towing caravan under 3,500kg||50||90||120|
|towing caravan over 3,500kg||50||90||90|
|towing caravan under 3,500kg||50||90-110||130|
|towing caravan over 3,500kg||50||80-90||90|
|towing caravan under 3,500kg||50||80||80|
|towing caravan over 3,500kg||50||80||80|
|towing caravan under 3,500kg||50-70||70||80|
|towing caravan over 3,500kg||50-70||70||80|
|towing caravan under 3,500kg||50||75||80|
|towing caravan over 3,500kg||50||75||80|
|towing caravan under 3,500kg||50||90||90|
|towing caravan over 3,500kg||50||90||80|
|towing caravan under 3,500kg||50||70-80||80|
|towing caravan over 3,500kg||50||70-80||80|
For more detailed information about speed limits when towing a caravan in Europe read The Caravan and Motorhome Club's 'European speed limits for touring' guide.
European rules forbid drivers to use radar detectors to warn them of speed cameras. The police in many countries make 'on the spot fines', so avoid using a radar detector and keep within the speed limits.
If your satellite navigation system warns you when you are approaching a speed camera, you will need to switch off this function when driving in Europe. It could help you avoid getting a fine if caught.
The UK law now means that it's an offence to use your mobile phone while driving unless you are using it 'hands-free'. It's no different in parts of Europe.
In Spain, you must use a 'hands-free' system to use your mobile phone while driving. The same applies for earpieces too. You are not allowed to use them. It has to be hands-free when you take a call on your 'phone.
Here's our table of countries which have banned using a mobile phone while driving unless you use a hands-free kit:
|The Isle of Man||Yes|
Documents and insurance
Getting your paperwork in place before driving in Europe is important. Having the right documents to hand will save you time and money if you have an accident, let alone being legal.
It's compulsory to carry your vehicle registration documents when driving in Europe. Don't leave home without them.
You must also have insurance. Check your car and caravan insurance rules for driving and towing abroad. Don't risk being uninsured and not carrying all your documents. What happens if you have to have your caravan repatriated from Europe? Do you have insurance which covers this possibility?
Read our Guide to Caravan Insurance article for more help.
Do I need an International Driving Permit?
No, you don't need an International Driving Permit. Your UK driving licence is all you need in most European countries. You don't need a UK driving licence with a photo incorporated either. But, you do need to support it with photographic evidence of your identity.
Children and seating
You need to make sure you have the right child seats in your car when driving in Europe to comply with the law. In Switzerland, for example, children up to 12 years old have to sit in approved child seats (UN ECE regulation 44.03), unless they are taller than 1.5 metres.
In the Netherlands, anyone under 18 who is less than 1.35m tall cannot travel in the front or rear passenger seat of the vehicle unless it has suitable seat belts fitted. Children under three can sit in the front seat as long the airbags are deactivated, and their seat faces to the rear.
In France, children under 10 sitting on the front seat of a car can only do so if they have a special child restraint. But, this is not the case if your vehicle has no back seats (such as a van), or there are small children already occupying the back seats in your car already.
Visit the European Commission site on child seats for more details.
Driving in Europe - it's worth it in the end
When you are driving in Europe and find you are missing a piece of equipment we mention above, where do you go to find it?
Fiamma makes lots of products for the outdoor leisure vehicle industry. And, they have stockists all over Europe. Visit their dealer page and find your nearest stockist here: www.fiamma.it