Driving in Europe: the law

Once your car is in good working order it's important that before you leave you research the traffic laws of the country you're planning to visit. Pleading that you are a tourist is unlikely to wash with the authorities if you get stopped for a driving offence.

A good place to start for country specific advice is the Foreign Office website, which has detailed information on every European destination.

Drive on the right

It may sound obvious, but remember that every other country in Europe, except the UK and Ireland, drives on the right-hand side of the road. It's especially easy to forget or get confused when pulling out from a parking spot, at roundabouts or starting off in the morning.

In some countries it is compulsory to carry an emergency warning triangle with you in case you break down. On top of this, some countries (including Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria and Croatia) require you to have a reflective jacket in your car in case you need to get out of the vehicle on a busy stretch of road.

Drink and driving

In most other European countries, the amount of alcohol you are permitted to drink before you drive is lower than in the UK, so you need to be extra careful if you go out to a bar or restaurant. In the Czech Republic, the strictest country in Europe, the legal limit is zero - so you can't drink anything before driving.

The foreign office advises that wherever you go you should have a GB sticker clearly visible on the back of your car if your number plate doesn't include this information - if your car is more than seven years old it probably won't. Failure to do so could result in an on-the-spot fine in some countries.


Before you go, you will need to adjust your car's headlamp beam pattern for driving on the right-hand side, so that the dipped beam does not dazzle oncoming drivers - this is a compulsory requirement in most countries. Headlamp beam converter kits are widely available but don't leave it to the last minute, as a dealer may need to make the adjustment.

In many European countries, a valid UK driving licence is sufficient, but for some destinations you may need an International Driving Permit - you can get these over the counter at many Post Offices.

Finally, beware of any quirky laws. In Germany, for example, it is illegal to run out of fuel on a motorway, while in France amber filter traffic lights in towns allow you to turn right, with care.

Don't let a driving fine or a run-in with the local police ruin your holiday. Research the traffic laws of your destination before you go, and make sure you adhere to them.

Don't forget to ensure that you have adequate breakdown cover for driving in Europe. Our Route Planner can also help you plan your route!