an a-z of driving abroad
travelling abroad the a-z of it
Germany's Autobahn (motorway) network is one of the few places in the world you can legally drive as fast as you like - though you're best advised to stick to the 130 kph (80 mph) recommended speed limit. 130 kph is also the legal limit on French motorways, but slow down in Norway where it's just 90 kph (55 mph).
It could cost you more than £2,000 to have a stranded car and four passengers brought home from southern Europe, so be sure to take out breakdown cover before you venture overseas.
If you have a company car, let your fleet manager know well in advance that you're planning to drive it abroad. You'll need to get an official letter from your employer authorising you to take it overseas, and if it's a lease car you also need a vehicle-on-hire certificate from the leasing company.
Unlike the UK, in most countries it's a legal requirement to carry your licence at all times when driving. A modern pink or photocard UK driving licence is acceptable throughout the European Union, but if you're driving further afield you may need an International Driving Permit (available from motoring organisations for £4).
The more recent states to join the European Union are all attractive destinations for Brits looking for an adventurous driving holiday. But look out for some unfamiliar road rules: in Estonia, for instance, speed limits vary on certain roads from summer to winter, headlights must be used at all times and winter tyres must be fitted from October to April.
Carrying a can of spare fuel in the boot isn't as sensible as it might sound: fuel cans are not permitted on car ferries or Le Shuttle, whether full or empty, and in several European countries it's illegal to have one in the car.
Vehicles fitted with the europlate (a number plate that incorporates the EU symbol plus the letters GB) no longer need to show a separate GB sticker when visiting other EU countries. However, if your car has the old number plate, you must by law still fit a GB sticker as close to your rear number plate as possible. If you are towing a trailer or caravan, you'll need another sticker for that too.
Motorists in some countries love the sound of their horn, but don't be tempted to join in the local horn chorus. Many places are getting sick of incessant honking and are introducing laws to stop unnecessary horn use, especially in town.
Italians, always known for their fast and furious driving, have an extra opportunity to put their foot down now that the speed limit on major motorways there has been increased to 150 kph (93 mph). Visitors to Italy should also note the requirement to keep headlamps lit at all times when driving out of town.
British motorists can come to grief in countries such as France where a give-way-to-the-right rule applies. You must be prepared to give way to vehicles joining your road from the right even if you appear to be on the main road, unless signs indicate you have priority.
Skippy is a real hazard on roads in Australia, and collisions with a kangaroo can have tragic consequences. Avoid driving in the Outback at night when most collisions occur.
Ever wondered why Volvos have their headlights on all the time? It's because in Scandinavian countries it's a legal requirement for vehicles to have their headlamps lit day and night.
A mobile phone can be a good way to keep in touch with home while overseas, but never use one while driving. As in the UK, many countries have introduced laws which specifically outlaw the habit.
It's tempting to press on through the night when heading off on a continental holiday, but be wary about trying to keep driving when your body thinks it should be in bed. One in five motorway accidents are blamed on drivers falling asleep at the wheel.
On the spot fines
If the police pull you over to hand out a fine, in many countries they'll demand to be paid there and then, in cash. French police, for instance, are empowered to collect up to 375 Euros on the spot. If you don't have the readies, expect to be escorted to the nearest cash machine to cough up.
Check carefully before parking as local rules vary enormously. On some French streets parking is allowed only on one side of the road for the first half of the month, after which it switches to the other side; in Austria at night you must leave sidelights on where street lights aren't lit - but watch out for those streetlights that turn off at midnight.
If traffic starts queuing where two lanes merge into one, in Germany the Reissverschluss or zipper law applies. It means vehicles from each lane must give way one at a time.
Always check your hire car for damage before driving off, or you could end up being charged for it after you've returned the car. Make sure you're fully insured too - in America, where civil litigation is common, you need at least $1m of Supplementary Liability Insurance cover.
If you need to wear glasses while driving, then in Spain you must by law keep a spare pair in the car with you.
Green means go everywhere, but in America you can also make a right turn when the traffic lights are red, after first stopping to check the road is clear.
Be cautious when swapping lanes on American freeways, because drivers there are allowed to overtake on the inside - a manoeuvre that's prohibited in most European countries.
Don't drive on the motorway in Austria or Switzerland without first purchasing a vignette, or motorway tax disc, and displaying it on your windscreen.
It's compulsory to carry a warning triangle in your car in most European countries except Spain and Turkey, which demand you must have two. In many countries, including France, you should carry a set of spare light bulbs too.
In America, where two or more cars stop at a cross-roads, the car that arrived first has right of way. If they both got there at once, the give-way-to-the-right rule applies
You can pass the UK driving test at 17, but you can't drive in France till you're 18, and for the first two years after passing your test you mustn't exceed 110 kph on the motorway there either.
In many countries, drivers don't always stop for pedestrians waiting at a zebra crossing. So if you do stop at a crossing, first check your mirrors carefully or you risk being rear-ended by a bewildered local driver.