Many people might hesitate at the thought of taking to the road in a foreign land, especially if they’ve not done it before. However, once you’ve got to grips with the concept of driving on the ‘wrong side of the road’ it can be a real joy! We spoke to Ian Crowder, Public Relations Manager for the AA and an expert on AA’s European breakdown cover. We asked him for some tips and advice on how to guarantee that you have a carefree and enjoyable time finding your way around behind the wheel on holiday.
Following the Signs!
- Fear not! Roads in most European countries and indeed many other parts of the world are nowhere near as congested as they are in Britain, especially away from city centres. Thankfully, the road signs are likely to be familiar too thanks to the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals (1968) which harmonised road signs in 52 countries.
- So the common triangle warning signs you find on British roads are pretty similar to those you’ll find elsewhere in Europe and in many other countries throughout the world. You don’t need to know the language to understand what they mean.
- There may be variations in colour. For example, in countries where there is a lot of snow, the triangular signs are likely to be amber, rather than white, with a red border. Some other countries have adopted a diamond shape with a yellow or other colour background rather than a triangle, but in most cases the message is clear.
- Hazard warning signs, which might have an exclamation mark on them, are usually qualified by a sign beneath explaining what the hazard is – if you don’t understand it, or any other signs come to that, make sure you take extra care.
- You’ll also find most road markings familiar too. However, in some towns and cities there are no road markings at all! The intention here is to ensure that drivers take extra care, and in general it works surprisingly well.
- There may be no road markings on small country roads either and again, the intention is that drivers will approach junctions with care. The important thing is, if you approach a crossroads with no road markings – do not assume it is your right of way!
Watch Your Speed…
- Speed limit signs in most countries are pretty similar to those in the UK – a red circle with a black speed limit number, but in km/h rather than mph. National speed limits apply much as in the UK and are generally very similar. For example, built up areas are likely to be 50kmh – which is about 30mph – or slower. Mon-motorway roads are about 80kmh – about 60mph – and motorways 100kmh to 120kmh – 70mph or 80mph. Remember that in some countries motorway speed limits are lower in wet weather or in poor visibility.
- Talking of speed, not every country has the proliferation of speed limit signs that we ‘enjoy’ in the UK. In Germany for example, drivers are expected to know that it is 50kmh limit – about 30mph – in built up areas, the limit being effective from the town or village name board until passing a similar name board but with a red diagonal line through it. You’ll only see a speed limit sign if it is anything different – either higher or lower.
- Speed limits really must be respected. Unlike in the UK, the police in many countries take a spot fine either by credit card or will go with you to a cash machine. Speed cameras are also common and are not necessarily very obvious as they are in the UK. In France, the locals, especially northern France, regard speeding as ‘a British disease!’
- Remember that if you are in a hire car and are ‘flashed’ then the fine will probably follow you home. If you don’t pay up you might find a collection agency knocking on your door and the country may ‘blacklist’ you from hiring a car until after the fine has been paid.
- Direction signs are generally helpful too but it’s certainly wise to arm yourself with a decent local road map. Familiarise yourself with the colours of signs – for instance, motorway signs might be green, rather than blue as in this country, so you might inadvertently find yourself on a motorway you didn’t want to go on.
- Don’t just rely on the navigation device that comes with your smartphone – if the battery goes flat or reception is poor, it will be useless. Although you can get some very good atlases and maps from the AA for example, for real detail you will need to buy a map locally, or talk to the local tourist office or your Thomas Cook representative for advice.
Don’t Drink and Drive!
- In most countries the drink-drive limit is less than in the UK, which is 80mg per 100ml of blood, the highest in Europe. In most other European and countries it is 50mg – the equivalent of one glass of wine. Some countries have a zero tolerance.
- Penalties for drink driving can be very severe, and might include immediate arrest and custody, an immediate driving ban, confiscation of the vehicle, a heavy fine, a court appearance and even a prison sentence.
- If you’re planning to drive, it’s certainly worth doing your homework and you will find stacks of useful information on the AA’s website.
Here are few extra tips to ensure that you can find your way around:
- Take or buy locally a decent road map of the area you are visiting.
- Talk to the local tourist office to get guidance on places to visit or where there may be driving problems.
- Remember that motorways are often toll roads – check that you understand how to pay if you plan to use them. Your car hire company may already have this covered but check first or you find a fine demand on your doorstep when you get home.
- Stick to speed limits as speeding fines could also follow you home especially if you’re in a hire car.
- If you have a speed camera detection device or a sat-nav that warns of cameras it may be illegal. Many countries prohibit the use of such devices.
- It may be a local legal requirement to carry equipment such as a warning triangle, first aid kit, high-visibility jackets, breathalyser and fire extinguisher in the car. Check what the legal requirement is and ensure that the equipment is in your hire car.
- Never, ever drink and drive.
You’ll find plenty more overseas driving advice on the AA’s website