Driving in Europe
Driving in France (and the rest of continental Europe) is a joy to anyone used to enduring the clogged up roads of Britain. As the kilometers speed by, you pass through an agricultural landscape that hasn’t changed in decades.
With little effort you can turn on to small side roads to find a shady picnic spot or a town with an inviting restaurant. While the French have embraced modern technology, they have steadfastly refused to let go of their heritage or patrimoine and eating well is as important as ever.
The autoroutes have resting points called aires, where you can pull off to stretch your legs or take a rest. There are conventional service areas as well as the legendary routiers, catering mainly for truck drivers with hearty appetites and tight budgets.
Before you drive to the continent for the first time we recommend you read the advice and information that we have provided here.
Make sure you drive on the right-hand side on the road, and it may help to put a sticker on the dashboard saying "KEEP ON THE RIGHT" or something similar as a constant reminder.
Be especially careful when leaving service stations/restaurants on the left side of the road and when approaching roundabouts.
Take care when overtaking and allow more space between you and the car in front than you would when driving in the UK.
Be aware that urban speed limits apply as soon as you pass a town or city sign, and not necessarily when you reach the first 50km/h sign.
In built up areas you must give way to anyone coming from the right so be vigilant.
Before you go
Make sure you have all compulsory documents and equipment.
You may be asked to produce your documents at any time.
Be sure that the following are in order and readily available for inspection.
- A valid full driving licence (not provisional), with paper counterpart if you have a photocard licence.
- The original vehicle registration document.
- Your motor insurance certificate with cover for European travel.
- Your passport.
You must make sure that your vehicle is correctly equipped as follows:
- GB sticker (UK registered vehicles displaying Euro-plates (circle of 12 stars above the national identifier on blue background) do not need a GB sticker).
- Warning triangle.
- Reflective jacket / waistcoat.
- Headlamp adjustment for driving on the right.
- Spare bulb kit.
- First aid kit (not compulsory but recommended).
- Fire extinguisher (not compulsory but recommended).
Front and rear seat passengers are required to use seat belts, where fitted.
Children up to 9 months old may travel in the front seat if in a rear-facing child’s seat, except where an airbag is installed.
Children under 10 must travel in the rear seats.
Driving on the right
It is advisable to have an external rear view mirror fitted if you do not already have one.
Driving on the right needs care and attention particularly at junctions and when negotiating roundabouts.
The French rule of ‘priority to the right’ (priorité à droite) is still relevant in towns where, in the absence of any road markings or a yellow lozenge on a signpost, drivers entering the road you are on from your right take precedence.
Useful information on travelling in France and Belgium can be obtained from the Automobile Association website: www.theaa.com.
Drinking and driving
France and Belgium have stricter limits than the UK.
If the level of alcohol in the bloodstream is 0.5mg/ml or more (0.2mg/ml for bus / coach drivers), severe penalties include fine, imprisonment and / or confiscation of driving licence.
The only safe rule is if you drink, don’t drive.
Both countries have strict limits and radar traps and you can be fined on the spot.
In France speeding at 25km/h above the limit can lead to your licence being confiscated.
Speed Limits: France
- Motorways 130 km/h (81 mph) 110 km/h wet* (68 mph)
- Some motorways have tolls (Péage) and you should keep a handful of euros available, or you can pay by credit card.
- Dual Carriageway 110 km/h (68 mph) 100 km/h wet* (62 mph)
- Open Road 90 km/h (56 mph) 80 km/h wet* (50 mph)
- Towns 50 km/h (31 mph)
- Town limits may only be defined by the name of the town on a white background with a red border at the start and the same sign with a black diagonal line through it on your exit.
* Drivers with less than 2 years full licence are subject to wet weather limits.
Speed Limits: Belgium
- Motorways & Dual Carriageway 120 km/h (74 mph)
- Open Road 90 km/h (56 mph) Towns 50 km/h (31 mph)
- Near hospitals schools etc 30 km/h (19 mph)
On-the-spot fines or ‘deposits’ are severe.
An official receipt should be issued. Vehicles parking contrary to regulations may be towed away and impounded.