Taking Your Car Abroad – Some Advice To Make Sure You Don’t Get In Trouble.
Just because you’ve taken your car abroad before, it does not mean that you should do so again, without checking up on the latest rules and regulations. Many rules have changed and as you might expect, its hasn’t got more flexible or easier, but quite the opposite, it’s become more complicated and a good example of that is Frances new breathalyser laws.
“You need to carry an in-car personal breathalyser when you drive in France, it’s now the law. Did you know that?”
Not knowing what’s necessary could see you getting intro trouble innocently, so we have put together a list of the things that we think you should be aware of when you are thinking of taking your car abroad. We’ve also racked our brains to try and include everything we could think of that just might apply to you and at the very least; taking a read through the following will help you be sure that you’ve got all the bases covered. We throw in a little common sense, which you probably won’t need, but sometimes its the obvious things we overlook.
We are splitting this into sections. First we will look at how the driving laws in Europe might affect you. We then look at your car and what you should do to prepare things. We look at you and let you know the documents you need and also offer some advice from around the team here at BVL, then finally, a quick review.
Personal Breathalyser Kit
From July 2012, if you are not carrying a personal breathalyser kit in your car whilst travelling in France, you will be fined and if you’ve been careful and used your kit, to make sure you are not over the much lower French drink-drive limits, then go on to drive, you will still be fined, because you are not carrying “an unused” breathalyser kit, so this means you are again “breaking the law”. To be sure therefore you’ve either never got to use your kit, or you have to carry 2 breathalyser kits and every time you use one, go out and buy another.
French drink drive laws are harder than they are in the UK and motorists found with between 50mg and 80mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood, can be fined £112 and have six penalty points put on to their licence. Go over that and the French courts are talking fines of €4,500 or £3,744 as well as taking your licence away and slapping you in a cell for up to two years!
So effectively, the deal is if you are travelling in France, get yourself two personal breathalyser kits as they cost less than a couple of pounds each and not carrying an unopened kit will get you a fine of just £9. Don’t be afraid to use the kit because its cost is going to look like small potatoes compared to what might happen if you are caught drinking and driving.
Traffic Offences and On-The-Spot Fines
In many countries in Europe, the Police operate a system of “on-the-spot fines”, which effectively means that it’s very unlikely that if you are stopped, that you are going to get away with breaking any motoring law however small and when you do, you are going to be expected to pay the policeman that stops you there and then by the road. If you haven’t got cash, they will escort you to a cash point, as they will have their pound of flesh!
Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain & Portugal all expect you to pay up at the side of the road, and maybe that’s what they call instant justice and some of the fines, can be pretty heavy, so don’t go deliberately breaking another countries driving laws just because you are overseas and think you can get away with it, because you won’t.
UK drivers who break laws in Europe can still be chased for the penalties and fines even when back in the UK. Don’t think you are free and clear, because offences such as a speeding violation or even something as simple as a parking fine may see you pursued as the DVLA will pass on the drivers details to any foreign country that requests it. France is seen as the number one country for pursuing foreign motorists who commit motoring offences in their country.
You may not know this, but the DVLA are able to send out tickets in the UK on behalf of foreign countries. All European Union countries are legally committed to following up unpaid fines incurred by UK motorists whilst abroad.
Lets put some of this into perspective for you: Spain for example uses on the spot fines for both parking and speeding, or not wearing a seat belt, or something as simple as not having proper vehicle documentation and non-residents who commit these offences, can be hit with an on-the-spot fine of as much as €302, or over £250 in proper money.
Driving in Europe isn’t just a case of remembering what side of the road you should be on; it’s an absolute minefield, but hopefully, one that won’t catch you out. However to give you a flavour of how laws differ country to country, take a look at the following examples:-
- Drive over 25km above the limit in France and you can have your driving licence confiscated on the spot!
- In Austria, driving without dipped headlights is illegal.
- In Greece, diesel vehicles may not be driven in Athens, Piraeus or Thessaloniki
- Children under the age of 13 are not allowed to sit in the front seat of a car in Switzerland, whilst in Greece, its under 10 years old.
- In Germany, overtaking a school bus that’s letting kids off is going to get you prosecuted.
- In France a booster seat is required for children between 135cm to 150cm tall. The fine for not carrying a child properly secured in France is presently €135 fine and other countries adopt a similar law.
- There are low emission zones in Germany and it’s a nick if you drive through one without a permit
- Headlamp converters are compulsory in France, Italy & Germany
- In Italy, driving through historic zones called “ZTL’s” even by mistake can get you multiple fines.
- In Greece, you’ve got to carry a small fire extinguisher in your car at all times.
- France needs you to use dipped headlights when daytime visibility is poor.
- In Russia, you’re advised to avoid driving at night between towns and If you’ve held a driving licence for less than two years you must not go faster than 70km/h (43mph).
- For most countries in Europe you have to be over 18 to drive.
- In Belarus, it’s against the law to drive a dirty car.
- In Croatia and many other countries, it’s forbidden to carry petrol in a can in your vehicle when driving.
- In Austria, all vehicles using motorways and expressways must display a motorway tax sticker, which you can get at petrol stations.
- In Cyprus, you can’t use your horn between 10pm and 6am and never near any hospitals.
- In Spain, If you wear glasses it is also an offence not to have a spare set with you.
- In Finland, you must use dipped headlights during the day
- In Greece, police can take away your number plate for parking illegally, so beware.
- In Macedonia, it’s even illegal for a passenger, who’s obviously had too much to drink, to travel in the front passenger seat of the car.
- Proof of identity with a photograph on it is required in some countries (for example, in Greece, its compulsory to carry it at all times)
- In Slovakia, you can’t have any alcohol in your blood when driving. Drink driving is strictly forbidden, and in Romania you might go to prison.
- You must have any visible damage to your car certified by the authorities before you can enter some countries.
- Vehicles entering Bulgaria are required to have their wheels disinfected to minimise the spread of livestock diseases.
- In Germany, it is illegal to run out of petrol on the Autobahn, as it is to make derogatory signs at fellow drivers.
- Vienna in Austria doesn’t like car horns and it’s illegal to use one at any time.
So the answer is to get yourself onto the Interweb and Google the laws that apply to the countries you are going to pass through or visit and maybe familiarize yourself with the main points.
Check Your Car
Might seem obvious, but its never going to be cheaper to repair your car, or have it serviced than it is here in the UK. So, whilst most of us plan ahead, before you decide on your holiday dates, make sure that by the time you are intending to travel that your car wont by then be in need of a service or some other regular check and of course, take a real good look at your tyres and spare wheel or inflation kit, to be certain that they are going to last your journey. If you need to use a jack to change a spare wheel, make sure it works (try a dummy run). IMPORTANTLY, most cars now have locking wheel nuts and you need to make absolutely sure that you know where the locking wheel nut is and that it fits you car and once you are sure of that, you need to keep it somewhere safe inside the car.
It is required by law in many countries that you carry a first aid kit, fire extinguisher, warning triangle, headlamp beam reflectors, spare lamp bulbs and a high visibility jacket.
Whilst the exact details of what you need differs from country to country, it’s our advice that because none of this costs much money, that you make yourself up a “travel pack” which you keep at home and just throw into the car when you’re off to Europe, simples! If you want to be lazy, you can also pick up a ready made “European Travel Kit” from places such as Amazon for around £12.50
Another good idea is to make up a pack of easy service items for your car, such as a spare fan belt, so that if you are unlucky enough to break down for a simple reason, chances are you will have the bits to get it quickly fixed. It might be a good idea to talk to your local main dealer for your car and ask their advice as to what you should take and get him to make the pack up for you.
Some dealers will even offer to put a kit together for you, which you can take on holiday, then bring back once you get home and will normally only make a small charge for this, plus of course, charging you for any bits of the kit you use.
If you have a spare set of keys, it is wise to take them and its wise to have another member of your party carry them and taking a note of the key number and keeping it somewhere safe may be worth doing.
Vehicles displaying Euro-plates (circle of 12 stars above the national identifier on blue background) are no longer obliged to affix a GB sticker to the rear of the vehicle when driving in European Union countries. However, a GB sticker is still required on the rear of any UK registered motor vehicle, caravan or trailer when driving in non-European Union countries.
Driving Licences & International Driving Permits
You must carry your drivers licence with you at all times and in the case of a two part licence, that means both parts
You should be aware that a “provisional” driving licence is a national document issued within the framework of driver training and DOES NOT entitle the holder to drive outside the territory of the issuing member state.
Vehicles with over 9 seats also have special requirements and you need to be over 21 years old and have held a full licence for 12 months before you can legally drive one. Special documentation and the use of Tachographs are mandatory throughout the EU. For more information, contact your local Department of Transport.
In addition to your current full UK Driving Licence, you may need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to allow you to drive in certain countries. An International Driving Permit is internationally recognised and normally allows the holder to drive a private motor vehicle without additional formality. Please check the requirements in the countries that you are visiting.
European Health Insurance Card
You need to have a European Health Insurance Card when you travel to any E.U. country. The card will allow the holder access to state provided health care in all European Economic Area (EEA) counties and Switzerland at a reduced cost, or sometimes, free of charge. You will be treated on the same terms as insured nationals of the country you’re in, but remember: overseas state-provided healthcare may not cover things you receive for free on the NHS because few EU countries pay for the full cost of medical treatment, even under the European Unions healthcare arrangements. Because of this, you still need sufficient travel insurance to cover your healthcare costs.
You can apply for a European Healthcare Insurance Card via the NHS website, or by telephone on 0845 6062030, or by picking up an application for from the Post Office
Should you need to contact the emergency services in any EU country, you can do so by dialing 112
Insurance for your car
Whilst we all try to get our car insurance as cheaply as possible, its often the little add on’s such as overseas travel which gets watered down to give you a cheaper quote. So you really should
Insure that your vehicle is covered by a fully comprehensive policy for use outside of the UK and that this policy includes repatriation of the vehicle to the UK in the event of an accident. If your policy does not provide for this facility you should upgrade its status for the period the car will be outside of the UK. Keep your insurers emergency number close to hand. If you’ve got to pay, to recover your damaged or broken down car back to the UK, it’s going to cost you a fortune, so don’t take chances on this, take out some cover.
A Green Card is a document which is recognized in over 40 countries, including all of the countries in Europe. Whilst it offers no insurance cover, what it does do is act as proof that the minimum legal requirements for third party liability insurance in any country in which the Green Card is valid are covered by the insured’s own motor policy. Whilst most European counties do not require you obtain a Green Card, the following counties most certainly do. Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel, Moldova, Morocco, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine. So the answer is, if you are intending to visit, or pass through any of these countries, you must ask your insurers to issue you a Green Card.
Taking A Leased Car or Hired Vehicle Abroad – Form VE103B
If the car you intend using isn’t your car, or owned by your employer, but a leased car or a hire car, you will need to obtain further specific documentation and permissions, before you can take the vehicle overseas and whilst this is all very simple to obtain, should not be carrying this document, your vehicle could be impounded by the police or other authorities until such point as its ownership is clearly established. You need a form VE103B “Vehicle on Hire” certificate. This applies to ALL EU countries.
Effectively, as the vehicle isn’t yours, you can’t produce the Log Book or V5 and so need a document in substitution and the form VE103B is the only document that is a legally recognised alternative to the vehicles V5. Photocopies of the V5 and even a letter of authority from the vehicles owners are not acceptable.
You can get a form VE103B can be obtained from the RAC for just £6 but you will also need a letter of authority from your leasing company or hire car provider to allow this to be issued.
Take photocopies of your passport and other important documents and keep these separate from the originals when you travel.
Digital documents take up so little space, so another good idea is to store electronic copies of them on your phone or computer, or you could even keep an electronic copy on the memory card in your camera or perhaps hold them on an online with something like “Cloud”. This goes for everything from travel tickets to driving licence and indeed anything else that relates to you and the trip and the bookings you have made. This can save you a phenomenal amount of hassle, should the worst happen.
Take enough money with you to cover your trip and some back up funds in a mix of cash and perhaps travelers’ cheques and of course, make a note of the numbers before you go. Most of us have some kind of credit card, some of us have many. It’s not wise to take a whole load with you, because if they get lost or stolen, sorting out stopping them with each individual bank is going to be difficult and ruin your holiday. If you don’t normally use your credit card to draw out money from a cash machine, you should go to an ATM and perhaps just draw a small amount out, just to check it works ok, as it would be awful to get abroad, with a card you intend to rely on, only to find it doesn’t work.
Keep any passwords or pin numbers separate and if you are one of those that have trouble remembering your pin, why not set up a fictitious contact in your mobile phone that relates to the card and make your pin number as part of the “pretend” number.
Tell a friend or relative where you are going and for how long for – give them some idea of your itinerary if possible and an emergency contact number, perhaps even agree to text each other to confirm you’ve arrived at your destination safely.
Where Are You Going?
Familiarise yourself with the driving laws in the countries you are going to visit, including their local speed limits and of course, which side of the road they drive on. Around 5 million motorists travel into Europe each year and lots find a ticket and a fine waiting on the matt when they get home, so take the time to find out the main laws that apply and outside of the “just do what all the other motorists around you are doing” that should keep you safe!
In addition to some of the weird and wonderful laws which one country considers important, whilst others don’t, one thing that’s quite wide spread in Europe is the use of toll roads as there are simply 100’s of them. So don’t plan your trip or work out your budget, without considering the cost, because a long journey across Europe can cost you 100’s of euros.
General tips and advice to make your trip safe and enjoyable.
- Pack an emergency kit in your car. Include motion sickness medication if anyone in your group suffers from it.
- Remove any items from the car that you won’t need on your trip.
- Prepare some on road entertainment for your trip. Include games and CDs of music and/or audio books.
- Research the roads you’ll take. You’ll especially want to know if you’ll be travelling through areas of major road construction.
- Ensure the maps you are using are up-to-date. Check the roads before you go!
- Familiarise yourself with road signs and general road rules of the country you are visiting before you go. Fortunately the principles of road signs are the same: triangles warn, circles prohibit and rectangles inform.
- Speed limits are implemented rigorously. Radar traps are frequent. In France, anyone caught travelling at more than 25km/h above the speed limit can have their licence confiscated on the spot.
- Remember – Speeding and other traffic offences are subject to on-the-spot fines.
- Europe has strict drink driving laws, at least as strict as in the UK, and in most countries stricter.
- Most accidents abroad are caused by forgetting which way to look, everything is the wrong way round and nothing is where you would expect it to be. Think back to front – especially on roundabouts and road junctions.
- Be especially careful when setting off from service stations or restaurants on the left side of the road.
- Take care when overtaking – allow more space between you and the car in front so you can see further down the road ahead.
- Watch out for amber filter signs at town traffic lights allowing you to turn right (with care) against a red light.
- Remember that locals will always drive faster than the speed limit. You’re on holiday, so there’s no need to race (or even match) them. A car that is just a dot in your mirror will very quickly become a car that fills your mirror with flashing headlights, so overtake with care.
- Lock all doors and the boot when leaving the vehicle as well as closing windows and the sunroof.
- Park in a well-lit place.
- Avoid leaving possessions in an unattended vehicle. If you have to leave property, make sure it is in a locked boot. In a hatchback, the rear shelf should be in position. In an estate car, cover up property with a sheet or blanket.
- Be sceptical of locals pointing out ‘problems’ with your car while you are driving (this includes being flashed from behind). Do not stop immediately. Carry on to the next busy public place to inspect your vehicle.
- If an attacker tries to pull you over or block your way, do not stop the car – sound the horn, flash your headlights to attract attention and stay in the locked car if possible.
- Don’t leave car insurance, passport, travel tickets or documents in your car when parked.
- Take your keys with you at the petrol station when you go to pay.
- Obey the rules of the road: being a tourist is no excuse for not being aware of them.
- The use or possession of devices to detect police radar is illegal in most European countries. Penalties can include fine, driving ban, and even imprisonment, so don’t risk taking one.
- Never pick up hitch-hikers or strangers, no matter how innocent they may appear.
- And finally remember, have a good trip.
So we’ve done our best to come up with a taster of the kinds of things you need to consider when you are arranging your trip and to be absolutely honest, for the main part, using and driving your car in Europe in a nice experience. But a bit like they say on “Crimewatch”, don’t have nightmares because providing you take things slowly, keep your distance from other cars around you but at the same time, do what everyone else seems to be doing, chances are that what you are doing is going to be right. The only problem will be that you will soon become complacent at how well you are handling things, so don’t forget the warnings in our little offering and try your best not to fall foul of the local Police or should I say the Stadtpolizei, Bundespolizei, Militsiya, Gendarmerie, Rigspolitiet, Police Municipale Autobahnpolizei Lögreglan Garda Carabinieri Koninklijke Marechaussee or one of any number of other European Police forces……