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Driving on the continent; what do I need to know?

Taking your car on holiday to Europe can be a great value way of avoiding expensive air fares, especially if you have children over 12 who would pay full fare with most airlines. Regular ferries from ports around the UK make France, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium easy to reach, while Eurotunnel can transport your car by train to the heart of Europe.

However, before driving on the continent, you need to take a number of steps to ensure that you comply with local legislation and can drive safely on foreign roads. These vary from minor adaptations to your car, to essential equipment and paperwork. You will also need to think carefully about how you drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, as all other European countries drive on the right with the exception of Malta, Cyprus and the Republic of Ireland.

Preparing your documents for driving on the continent

The first, and perhaps most important, preparation for driving overseas is to check with your car insurance company that you are covered. Some companies will ask for an extra premium, while others will only provide third party cover. With Octagon Insurance you get 90 days European car insurance cover as standard.

You should also ensure that all other documentation is up to date and carry this with you when you travel, as you may be asked to produce this at the roadside. This includes your V5c ownership document or the equivalent from your hire company. Even if the car is a company vehicle, you may still need the ownership document in some countries. You will also need proof of car insurance, both your paper and photocard driver’s licences and your passport. Failure to produce these documents on demand may lead to an on the spot fine.

Preparing your vehicle for driving on the continent

Staying legal on the continent

It is important to remember that different countries have different laws when it comes to driving. For example, the level of alcohol allowed varies widely, and the best advice is to not drink at all if you are driving. Not only is it dangerous to do so, but it could invalidate your motor insurance. As in the UK, in most European countries it is illegal to use a mobile phone while driving.

Speed cameras are another area of difference, with French authorities taking a much tougher line than the British. France has installed more than 400 new unmarked speed cameras recently, and removed warning signs for a great deal more. Furthermore, France has outlawed speed camera detectors and even satnav systems that can identify their locations. You should always disable this function on your satnav, or download an update that removes the French information, before you leave.

Take care on unfamiliar roads

It can take a while to get used to driving on the ‘wrong side’ of the road, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to adapt. You should also know your route well in advance, so you are not trying to read road signs in a foreign language while coping with right hand side driving. If you are in a rush then you may find yourself making overtaking manoeuvres that you are not ready for, or speeding on unfamiliar roads.

You should also take into account the larger distances involved in European driving. UK routes are relatively short compared to the continent, so it is easy to underestimate total driving time. Always plan your journey to allow plenty of rest stops, remembering that you will need extra concentration while driving on the right in order to negotiate roundabouts and turnings in the right way.

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