Driving holidays gained traction during the pandemic, with around 1.6 million people estimated to have taken one throughout Europe during the summer of 2020 according to research by the RAC.
While the pandemic may have been partially responsible for this rise, it doesn’t seem like this travel trend is dying out anytime soon.
In fact, searches for ‘driving in Europe’ have increased by nearly 80 per cent in the past two years, according to Google Trends. With this came the ‘vanlife’ boom, which alone saw a 216 per cent increase in searches between 2018 and 2021.
If you’re planning a road trip in Europe, it pays to be on top of the local driving laws - some of which might surprise you.
We asked travel expert Simon Mawdlsey, co-founder of Grand Prix Grand Tours - specialists in Formula 1 and MotoGP packages, as well as luxury driving holidays in Europe - for insight on the most unexpected European driving laws that people might not be aware of.
9. No children in the front seat of the car
If you’re planning on driving in Europe with your little ones in tow, you need to get clued up on the restrictions.
Only children over the height of 1.35m are allowed to sit in a normal seat without the use of a booster aid in most countries. In some, however, children are required to be even taller than this. In Germany and Italy, for example, the minimum height increases to 150cm.
And it’s not just height you’ll need to consider. In some European countries, you’ll find that children are permitted to travel in the front, but with booster seats, whereas others, such as Spain, do not permit anyone below the age of 18 to travel in the front of a car.
“Most of the time, booster seats need to meet specific EU requirements, so ensuring that these are met before travelling is a must to avoid any last-minute stress,” advises Simon.
8. Know your speed cameras from your rubbish bins
No one wants to get slapped with a speeding fine while they’re on holiday.
“Speed cameras look different in all countries across Europe,’ says Simon.
“For example, in Italy, speed cameras can be large and bright orange. Whilst it may sound like it’d appear obvious, they can be easily mistaken for a postbox or even a brightly coloured litter bin on the side of the road.”
Searching for what speed cameras you may encounter before starting your trip can save you a lot of stress and even a hefty fine.
7. Carry spare glasses in the car
You might be surprised to hear that in France, Spain and Switzerland, glasses-wearers must have a second pair with them at all times while driving.
“There have been instances where people have been pulled over and asked to produce a second pair but, in failing to do so, have been slapped with an unwanted and, unfortunately, avoidable fine,” says Simon.
6. Pack a fire extinguisher and breakdown kit for your road trip
In countries including Belgium, Sweden, Denmark and Norway, it is a requirement to have a fire extinguisher in your car at all times.
Another unexpected item you may be asked to prove, should you be pulled over whilst in Estonia, is that you have blocks of wood or plastic that can be put under your car wheels to prevent it from rolling backwards.
“Breakdown kits are also required in some European countries,” Simon adds.
5. No sipping water or snacking at the wheel
Used to sneaking a quick snack or having a small slurp while driving? You could face some serious consequences for doing so in Cyprus.
The country has completely banned drivers from eating or drinking while driving. This even includes drinking water and you may face a hefty fine, or worse, if you fail to follow the country’s regulations.
4. Don't drink and drive
We all know not to drink and drive, but legal thresholds offer a little leeway.
In Europe, these thresholds vary widely between countries, with some even forbidding you from drinking entirely if you are to then get behind the wheel.
Denmark, for example, will not allow anyone to drive with a blood alcohol content above 0.2 per cent and those who do will most likely face much worse than a fine. Poland has an even stricter threshold, with anyone above 0.02 per cent blood alcohol content facing a ban from driving or even prison.
But Simon reveals that some countries are stricter still. “Eastern Europe doesn’t tolerate any alcohol from being consumed whilst driving at all, with Romania, the Czech Republic and Hungary all fining or sentencing anyone with a blood alcohol level above zero.”
So, rather than thinking you’ll be ok having a small glass with dinner before driving to your rest stop for the evening, you may want to triple-check the drink-driving rules for the country you’re in.
3. Keep your car clean
“In certain countries, you may even get into trouble for the condition that your car is in,” reveals Simon. “And we’re not just talking about the broken lights or malfunctioning windscreen wipers.”
In Bulgaria and Belarus, it is illegal to drive a car that is dirty. Whether you have a mucky licence plate or dirty windows, making sure that your vehicle is kept clean is a necessity if any of these countries are on your list of places to visit.
If you’re caught out, you may also find that the law is open to interpretation by different traffic officers, so what you may consider not dirty may be a law enforcer's idea of borderline dangerous.
2. Don't wear headphones while driving
It’s forbidden to use any headphones or earphones while driving in some countries in Europe.
France placed a ban on all hands-free headsets and any devices emitting sound in the ear in 2015. Those caught out can face a hefty fine and points on their licence.
1. Check for children underneath your car
Whether you’re going on a brief trip or making a journey further afield, you are legally required to check your vehicle’s engine before every departure in Denmark. This is to ensure your vehicle is safe before you drive off.
The country has another rule that may just surprise you: it is also a legal requirement to check under your car before you depart, to ensure that there are no animals or children hidden underneath.