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Driving on the continent

February 2012  


Driving in France It is so easy now to take a car or caravan over to Europe. There is a choice of ferries or the fast tunnel from Folkestone to Calais start the journey off.

Short trips in winter are particular popular with retired people who like the cheaper prices and plan a week or two further south to find warmer, sunnier weather.

But rules and regulations may have changed since you last drove on the continent and it is very worthwhile just checking the regulations before you set off.

In most cases your first port of call will be in France and here you will need to take with you your complete UK driving licence (including the paper section as well as the photocard). You also need a clear GB sticker on the back of the car, that is mandatory unless you already have Euro plates on your car.

Most of us know that the French drive on the right, and of course that means that headlamps for UK cars will be shedding their light on the wrong side and also dazzling drivers of oncoming cars. You can buy simple headlamp converters from key motor shops and organisations which simply stick onto your current headlights and these are acceptable in France.

The country also demands that you keep a warning triangle and a reflective jacket in the car to use if you encounter any problems on the road and need to stop. The reflective jacket has to be kept within the body of the car, not in the boot, so that it is easily accessible. A few British drivers have learned to their cost that the French are serious about this and have been fined 90 euros.

Insurance companies are well used to covering vehicles for European driving but you can obtain a “Green Card” which confirms your cover and it is a good idea to obtain this before heading off.

One thing which has caused problems for many British drivers in France is the motorway toll system. The cost of travelling on French motorways can add up, and they are not always manned. Instead they are equipped with automated barriers that automatically collect your change and then open when the right amount has been paid. So it is important to carry enough Euros to cover all the toll charges before you set off.

Speed limits are in place of course, usually around 110 to 130 kph on motorways and 80 to 100 on open roads, but if you are caught speeding, you can be given a substantial on the spot fine. In some cases your car and licence can be confiscated immediately. Still on this subject, the French police have been known to check your toll ticket when leaving the motorway in order to calculate your speed over a long distance.

The old Priorite a droite which used to be so commonplace in France has diminished a great deal, but nevertheless it is still adhered to in certain places so you need to be on your guard. What this means really is that traffic on any road joining from the right has priority and you need to give way, even if you are on a fast main route and the road coming in from the right is a small side lane. Technically, the car from the right doesn’t even need to stop, it has the right to just drive out.

Generally this regulation no longer applies unless there are very clear signposts, a yellow triangle in a black bordered triangle on a square sign. Places where this system still can apply is on roundabouts in Paris and in small country villages.

Then there is the question of snow chains in winter. It is mandatory for these to be fitted to vehicles using snow covered roads when the maximum speed limit is 50kmh. However, these areas are clearly signed so you have warning before proceeding into these areas.

In opposition to the general conception of driving on the continent, in France the use of a horn is prohibited except in cases of real danger.

If you are driving over the border into Germany, or Spain, or Italy...well, each country has its own variations and local laws and regulations.

It can all be very off-putting but in fact most of it is common sense and it doesn’t take a lot of organisation to hit the continent fully prepared.

Both the AA and RAC have lots of helpful information on their websites about driving in Europe, and there are other resources also available on line.

The main thing is to be prepared.

 

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