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Special feature - Driving in Europe

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Motoring regulations differ from country to country – make sure your drivers comply with local rules.

When signs for the Low Emission Zone went up in London, helplines were jammed with calls from baffled motorists.

So imagine the confusion which could be caused if a driver from the UK encountered the same sign in Germany.

There, the Low Emission Zone applies to passenger cars, not just lorries or vans.

If a company car driver isn’t aware of the zone and its implications it could lead to a fine landing on a fleet manager’s desk.

But it’s not just environment zones that drivers need to be informed about when heading abroad.

Speed limits, tolls, the drink/drive limit and whether the use of mobile phones while driving is prohibited are all things a motorist should be aware of before taking his company car to foreign shores.

It’s not safe to assume that motoring laws are similar to those in the UK.

Take the law about having a warning triangle in the vehicle in the event of a breakdown as an example.

In the UK it is advisable to have one but in most European countries a warning triangle is compulsory – and in Spain two are needed. It is also compulsory in Spain for a driver who wears glasses to have a spare pair in the glovebox.

Another country where motoring laws differ to the UK is Germany.

There it is illegal to run out of petrol on the autobahn.

This results in an on-the-spot fine for the driver.

In fact, on-the-spot fines can be harsh in some European countries and a driver who doesn’t have the readies on them could be escorted to the nearest cash point.

Exceeding the speed limit by more than 40km/h in France will lead to a driving licence being confiscated on the spot too, and it’s worth bearing in mind that the French speed limit reduces in wet weather.

A driver also needs to be on the look-out for road signs indicating who has priority on the road.

A yellow diamond shows that traffic already on the road has priority, while a diamond crossed out means traffic joining has the right of way.

If a motorist in France flashes his lights at a junction it is not meant as a polite “after you” gesture; they are showing that they have priority.

Before the trip

It’s important to get all the correct paperwork together before taking a fleet vehicle overseas.

A driver will need a valid registration document (the V5) and an official letter from their employer authorising them to take the vehicle abroad.

If the vehicle is leased a fleet manager will need to apply for a vehicle on hire certificate (known as a VE103) from the leasing company.

It’s a good idea for the driver to take an MoT certificate abroad, too.

Insurance-wise, make sure the policy gives fully comprehensive coverage if the car is taken abroad.

Although a green card is no longer required for driving in the EU, a driver should take details of their insurance cover with them.

European breakdown cover is a must (in case the car has to be brought back to the UK), and it is worth booking the vehicle in for a full service before the trip.

Adjusting the headlamp beam for driving on the right should be considered in advance too, as it may need to be done by the dealer.

Check the vehicle’s registration plates before going abroad. If they don’t include the GB euro-symbol a separate GB sticker will be needed.

When travelling outside the EU a separate sticker is required, even if the car has euro-plates.

Along with a GB sticker it is advisable to have a warning
triangle, reflective jacket, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, spare bulbs and beam deflectors.

Radar speed camera detectors are forbidden in most European countries.

Useful sources

European Low Emission Zones:
www.lowemissionzones.eu

General advice on driving in Europe:

  •  Company Car Driver (www.companycardriver.co.uk) has an A-Z guide which can be downloaded.
  • Avis and BA (www.avisba.com) have an online driving guide. 
  • The AA (www.theaa.com) has a dedicated European driving section.
  • GEM Motoring Assist produces a free booklet ‘Your introduction to driving in Europe’, available by calling 01342 82 676.

Country checklist

Austria

Accessories
- Warning triangle.
- Reflective jacket.
- First aid kit.

Speed limits
- Built-up areas: 50km/h.
- Outside built-up areas: 100km/h.
- Motorways: 130km/h.

Alcohol limit: 50mg per 100ml of blood.

Other
- On-the-spot fines apply.
- Vehicles using Austrian motorways and expressways must display a motorway tax sticker (vignette).

Belgium

Accessories 
- Reflective jacket. 
- Warning triangle. 
- First aid kit (recommended).
- Fire extinguisher (recommended).

Speed limits 
-Built-up areas: 50km/h.
- Outside built-up areas: 90km/h.
- Motorways: 120km/h.

Alcohol limit: 50mg per 100ml of blood.

Other
- On-the-spot fines apply.
- The use of cruise control is banned on congested motorways.

Denmark

Accessories
- Warning triangle.
- First aid kit (recommended).
- Fire extinguisher (recommended).

Speed limits
- Built-up areas: 50km/h.
- Outside built-up areas: 80-90km/h.
- Motorways: 110-130km/h.

Alcohol limit: 50mg per 100ml of blood.

Other 
- On-the-spot fines apply.
- Dipped headlights are compulsory during the day.

France

Accessories 
- Warning triangle (compulsory in breakdown situation).
- Spare bulb kit
(recommended).
- Reflective jacket
(recommended).

Speed limits
- Built-up area: 50km/h in all weather conditions.
- Outside built-up areas: 90km/h in dry weather, 80km/h in wet weather.
- Motorway: 110-130km/h in dry weather, 100-110km/h in wet weather.

Alcohol limit: 50mg per 100ml of blood.

Other
- On-the-spot fines apply.

Germany

Accessories
- Warning triangle (compulsory in accident/breakdown situation).
- First aid kit (recommended).
- Replacement bulbs
(recommended).

Speed limits
- Built-up areas: 50km/h.
- Outside built-up areas: 100km/h.
- Motorways: recommended maximum of 130km/h. Many have also posted speed limits.
- Speed limits differ in bad weather.

Alcohol limit: 50mg per 100ml of blood.

Other
- On-the-spot fines apply. Can be fined for using abusive language, making derogatory signs and running out of fuel on the autobahn.
- To enter a low emission zone a vehicle needs to display a special sticker – the colour depends on the type of engine and emission classification of the vehicle.

Ireland

Accessories
- Warning triangle (compulsory for vehicles with an unladen weight exceeding
1.5 tonnes).

Speed limits
- Built-up areas: 50km/h.
- Outside built-up areas:
60-100km/h.
- Motorways: 120km/h.

Alcohol limit: 80mg per 100ml of blood.

Other
- On-the-spot fines for parking and speeding offences apply. Police are not authorised to collect fines on the spot – they issue a notice which must be paid within 21 days.

Italy

Accessories
- Warning triangle.
- Reflective jacket.
- Replacement bulbs
(recommended).

Speed limits
- Built-up areas: 50km/h.
- Outside built-up area: 90km/h.
- Motorways: 130km/h.
- Speed limits differ in wet weather.

Alcohol limit: 50mg per 100ml of blood.

Other
- On-the-spot fines apply (police can collect a quarter of the maximum fine).
- Use of dipped headlights compulsory during the day outside built-up areas.

Luxembourg

Accessories
- Warning triangle.

Speed limits
- Built-up areas: 50km/h.
- Outside built-up areas:90km/h.
- Motorways: 130km/h (100km/h in bad weather).

Alcohol limit: 80mg per 100ml of blood.

Other
- On-the-spot fines apply.
- Forbidden to carry petrol in a can.
- Compulsory to flash headlights at night if overtaking outside built-up areas.

Netherlands

Accessories
- Warning triangle recommended (compulsory in accident/breakdown situation).

Speed limits
- Built-up areas: 50km/h.
- Outside built-up areas: 80km/h or 100km/h.
- Motorways: 120km/h.

Alcohol limit: 50mg per 100ml of blood (lower for new drivers).

Other
- On the spot fines apply.

Norway

Accessories
- Warning triangle.
- Reflective jacket
(recommended).
- First aid kit (recommended).
- Fire extinguisher
(recommended).
- Spare bulbs (recommended).

Speed limits
- Built-up areas: 50km/h.
- Outside built-up areas:
80km/h.
- Motorways: 90-100km/h.

Alcohol limit: 20mg per 100ml of blood.

Other
- On-the-spot fines apply.
- Dipped headlights compulsory during the day.

Spain

Accessories
- Warning triangle (it is recommended to have two warning triangles as local officials may impose an on-the-spot fine if only one is available).
- Reflective jacket (must be worn if driver or passenger exits vehicle immobilised on carriageway).
- Spare bulb kit.

Speed limits
- Built-up areas: 50km/h (some residential areas 20km/h).
- Outside built-up areas: 90-100km/h.
- Motorway: 80-120km/h.

Alcohol limit: 50mg per 100ml of blood (30mg for professional drivers and new drivers).

Other
- On-the-spot fines apply. 
- If a driver wears glasses it is compulsory to carry a spare pair.

Sweden

Accessories
- Warning triangle (recommended).
- First aid kit (recommended).
- Fire extiguisher
(recommended).

Speed limits
- Built-up areas: 30-50km/h.
- Outside built-up areas: 90km/h.
- Motorways: 120km/h.

Alcohol limit: 20mg per 100ml of blood.

Other
- On-the-spot fines can be issued but not collected for minor traffic offences.
- Dipped headlights compulsory.
- Congestion charges in Stockholm not applicable to foreign-registered vehicles.

Switzerland

Accessories
- Warning triangle (must be kept within reach; not in the boot).

Speed limits
- Built-up areas: 50km/h.
- Outside built-up areas:
80km/h.
- Motorways: 120km/h.

Alcohol limit: 50mg per 100ml of blood.

Other
- On-the-spot fines apply.
- A special tax disc (vignette) must be displayed when driving on motorways and semi-motorways.
- Compulsory to use dipped headlights in tunnels.

This article is meant to give an overview of driving in Europe. It is not a definitive legal guide.

You should always check the motoring laws of the country you intend to travel to.
 

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