Direct Line magazine

Driving abroad: Know the local rules

Updated on: 9 March 2020

Image of road with cars at night

There’s more to driving abroad than just making sure you’re on the correct side of the road. There are specific laws to obey dependent on your location.

Make sure you have your licence, insurance and vehicle registration documents with you wherever you travel. It’s also a good idea to keep your passport with you, as you’ll need ID if the police stop you.

If you’re taking a car from the UK it must also be equipped with GB stickers and headlight beam converters.

There are other rules particular to specific countries though, so here’s a rundown of rules to follow when driving in Europe.


French roads have varying speed limits, depending on the conditions (normal, rain, poor visibility).

  • Motorways: 130km/h, 110km/h, 50km/h

  • Urban motorways/dual carriageways: 110km/h, 100km/h, 50km/h

  • Other open roads: 80km/h, 70km/h, 50km/h (as of 1 July 2018)

  • Built-up areas: 50km/h

Speed camera warning devices are banned in France, so if your sat nav has this function, disable it before you start driving.

Make sure you have a warning triangle and a reflective jacket in the cabin of the car. It’s recommended you use dipped headlights during the day, whatever the weather, but be absolutely certain they’re on when visibility is poor.

You’ll also need to apply for a clean air sticker, Crit’Air vignette, at a cost of around £4. It can take weeks for the sticker to arrive, so be sure you apply well in advance of your trip. Driving without the sticker in restricted areas can result in an on-the-spot fine of up to €135.

It’s also advised that each car should have at least one unused breathalyser displaying the French NF certification mark. This is only guidance though, so you can’t be fined if you don’t have one.

Bear in mind...

The French police can fine you on the spot. They do take credit cards, but for extreme offences you could have your licence confiscated. If that happens, and there isn’t another driver with a valid licence in the vehicle, they’ll impound the car.


Like France, there are a variety of recommendations for travelling in Germany. Make sure you have a warning triangle, reflective vest and a first aid kit, and use dipped headlights or daytime running lights while driving.

Despite what you may have heard, German road users do have to abide by speed limits for the majority of travel. However, large portions of the Autobahn are unrestricted and carry only a recommended speed limit.

  • Motorways: 130km/h recommended

  • Other open roads: 100km/h

  • Built-up areas: 50km/h

Bear in mind...

If you’re driving in Germany during the winter, you must have winter or all-season tyres fitted. There’s a 60 Euro fine for violating that law which rises to 80 Euros if you hold up other drivers because your tyres aren’t suitable.


Drivers in Italy must stick to the following speed limits depending on conditions (normal, precipitation).

  • Motorways: 130km/h, 110km/h

  • Main roads: 110km/h, 90km/h

  • Secondary roads: 90km/h

  • Urban motorways: 70km/h

  • Built-up areas: 50km/h

Drivers are also expected to reduce speed at night, near intersections, schools, bends, etc.

The motoring law most commonly broken by Brits in Italy is straying into a Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL). These are areas usually in towns and city centres and are either totally prohibited to cars or limited to residents with permits. Enter one of these zones without permission and you’re likely to end up with a fine.

Italian law says drivers must keep a warning triangle, reflective jackets and replacement lightbulbs in their car. During the day, dipped headlights should be used outside built-up areas, irrespective of the weather. Snow chains or winter tyres must also be used during winter months where signs indicate.

Bear in mind...

Stay calm - it’s illegal to use your horn in built-up areas.


Speed limits in Spain line-up similarly to other major European destinations.

  • Motorways and dual carriageways: 120km/h

  • Roads with more than one lane in each direction: 100km/h

  • Ordinary open roads: 90km/h

  • Built-up areas: 50km/h

The rules of the road are strongly upheld in Spain. For example, not indicating when changing lanes on the motorway is a big no-no.

Cars must carry one warning triangle (two are recommended), and drivers should carry reflective jackets and spare spectacles if glasses are required for driving. You must also have a functional spare tyre or a tyre repair kit.

Bear in mind...

Spanish police can issue on-the-spot fines. Tickets should have an explanation in English on the back of them, and drivers have up to 15 days to dispute any fines. The dispute can be conducted in English too.

Just like Italy, it’s against the law to use your horn in a built-up area.


Speed limits are as in Portugal.

  • Motorways: 120km/h

  • Other open roads: 90km/h

  • Built-up areas: 50km/h

Like France, speed camera warning devices are illegal. Keep a reflective jacket, warning triangle, plus spare bulbs for your external lights in the car’s cabin. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, make sure you’ve got a spare pair in the car.


Speed limits in Belgium depend where in the country you’re driving

  • Motorways: 120km/h

  • Open roads in Wallonia and Brussels Capital region: 90km/h

  • Open roads in Flemish region: 70km/h

  • Built-up areas: 50km/h

  • Residential areas: 20km/h

Keep a warning triangle and reflective jacket in the car as you can be fined if you don’t have them.


In addition to speed limits, Austria enforces a minimum speed on its motorways.

  • Motorways: 130km/h limit, 60km/h minimum

  • Other open roads: 100km/h limit

  • Built-up areas: 50km/h limit

Be sure to keep a reflective jacket, warning triangle and first aid kit in the car. You should also note that dashboard cameras are prohibited in Austria.

Czech Republic

Speed limits.

  • Motorways: 130km/h

  • Other open roads: 90km/h

  • Built-up areas: 50km/h

Drivers must use dipped headlights during the day and cars must contain a warning triangle, first aid kit and a reflective jacket.

Be aware that no amount of alcohol in the blood is permitted when driving in the Czech Republic. Don’t be caught out by driving the morning after a few drinks.

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