If you plan to drive your own car on holiday this summer, its important to be aware of some old and some very new laws that will apply to you, to make your journey safe and enjoyable. There is little worse that falling foul of regulations you were not aware of that are enforced by zealous police officers.
Here is a simple guide to help;
- Check that your insurance policy covers you to drive abroad and include substitute drivers. It may be a statement of the obvious, but two aspects in particular need looking at. The first is the extension of the policy to cover you in the event that you have an accident that is your fault and the second is cover for car contents in the event your car is broken into. Cars bearing UK number plates are a target because there is a fair chance they contain something worth stealing, and insurers regard some parts of Europe as theft hotspots. So check with your insurer and make notes of what you are told and who by. Most insurers now deal with you through call centres so it’s important to have some record of what you were told should something go wrong. British insurance policies are obliged to provide third party cover in EU countries but unless arrangements have been specifically made you may well not have fully comprehensive cover, making repatriation of your car, for example, a very expensive exercise.
- Think about European breakdown cover and obtain it if needs be.
- It is compulsory to wear a seat belt front and rear. It is compulsory also for all children up to 10 years to travel in the back seat of a car and wear a seat belt or be strapped into a proper child seat. Only adults and children from 10 years may sit in the front passenger seat.
- Mobile telephones must not be used while driving except with a "hands-free" system. It’s the same rules as in the UK.
- While driving in France, it is compulsory to have your driving licence, car registration papers and insurance documents with you. Furthermore these must be the original, but take copies and keep them separate in case they get lost or stolen.
- You are required to carry not only a warning triangle in your car but also a fluorescent safety vest (one per passenger). More specifically, the safety vests must be carried inside the car and not in the boot. The theory is that if you break down in a dangerous place you should put your safety vest on before getting out of the car. If you fail to have these available, the standard fine is around 90 euros per item.
- Drinking and driving. Don’t do it. France has stricter drink drive laws than the UK. The level is 50 microgrammes rather than 80, and so two modest glasses of wine can put you over. The penalties can be severe too, ranging from a modest fine of 135 Euros for a reading of between 50 and 80 microgrammes to two years in prison and 4,500 Euros in fines for readings above. If you have an accident whilst over the limit the fines go up to 30,000 Euros, and even higher up to 150,000 euros in the event of injury or death. The reason is that France has historically had a huge death toll from drinking and driving and it now comes down very hard indeed on those who ignore the rules. Best just to avoid alcohol altogether
- From 1 July 2012 it will be compulsory to carry self testing breathalyser kits in the car. Two are advised in case one is used and 15 Euros fines will be issued after 1 November 2012.
- Radar speed detectors are illegal in France even when not in use and if caught the police can fine you 1,500 euros, have the detection equipment confiscated and even the car itself. From the 3 January 2012 satnavs giving out the position of speed cameras became illegal in France, so if in doubt may be best left at home.
- Be aware of the speed limits and the fact that police officers abroad can and will impose on the spot fines. Be aware also that speed limits are lower in wet weather. They are as follows:
- Motorway 130 km/h and 110 in the wet;
- Dual carriageway 110 km/h and 100 in the wet;
- Open road 90 km/h and 80 in the wet;
- Town 50 km/h
The limits are lower if you are towing, and also lower if you have held a licence for less than 2 years. For new drivers motorway speed comes down to 110 km/h, dual carriageway to 100 and open road to 80.
Driving in much more open roads abroad can be a real joy, and a little thought and planning will make sure it stays that way.