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Essential tips and advice for driving abroad

Road safety and breakdown organisation GEM Motoring Assist has published its essential tips and advice for driving abroad.

The driving abroad advice takes the form of six top tips covering planning, equipment, safety, legal matters and security issues.

Neil Worth, GEM’s chief executive, said: “Ensuring that you and your vehicle are ready for those exciting holiday journeys greatly reduces the risk of breaking down, getting lost or finding yourself on the wrong side of the law. 

“By using our tips as a starting point, you can go a long way to boost your safety and reduce the risks you face while you’re travelling. You can also guard against the inconvenience and expense of being unprepared if anything does go wrong.”

Essential tips and advice for driving abroad:
- Wherever you’re heading, plan your journey so you can hopefully avoid the worst of the queues.
- Check your documents before you go, particularly if you’re leaving the UK.
- Know the rules for driving in other countries.
- Be sure to take the risks of fatigue seriously when you’re covering long distances on the motorway.
- Check your European toll road prices – and consider a windscreen tag to save time.
- Ensure a stress-free arrival by knowing where you can park. Pre-booking a space is a great way to reduce anxiety.

Plan your journey

Make good use of web-based journey planners so you can see how long a trip is likely to take.

You can also plan to avoid the times of day and days of the week when particular roads, airports and ferry terminals will be at their busiest.

Make a note of any long-term roadworks that could add to the journey time.

Building in regular breaks helps prevent fatigue, but sharing the driving where possible is an excellent idea.

Check your documents

Is your driving licence valid? If you’re leaving the UK, make sure all the passports for everyone in your party are in date.

This is particularly important for any children, whose passports last only five years and who may not have been away since before the Covid pandemic.

Do you have appropriate insurance? Are you covered for the country or countries you’re visiting? Do you have breakdown cover as well? 

Run through all the necessary paperwork in plenty of time, so that you have everything to hand on your journey.

Know the rules

The most basic rule for journeys abroad is of course that you will be driving on the right, not the left.

This makes turns to the left more dangerous because you are crossing lanes of oncoming traffic.

Make sure you understand the specific traffic rules and signs.

Drink-drive limits across Europe are lower than in the UK, and police officers in most countries can issue and collect on-the-spot fines for traffic offences.

When it comes to the equipment you need to carry, different countries have different rules.

Most require that you have high visibility reflective jackets, a first aid kit and a warning triangle.

Some countries also insist on replacement bulbs and fuses, a fire extinguisher or spare pairs of spectacles for any drivers who need them.

Make a point of checking the specific requirements for each country you plan to visit, so that you won’t risk a fine if you’re stopped.

Under the ‘Mutual Legal Assistance’ system, you are much more likely to be tracked down and charged for offences such as speeding, using a mobile phone while driving and running a red traffic light.

If you’re in any doubt about local parking regulations, ask someone before leaving your vehicle. Remember, ignorance is no defence.

Take fatigue seriously

Don’t ignore the early signs of fatigue when you’re at the wheel.

Share the driving if possible, and take regular breaks.

Fatigue-related crashes are most likely to happen between 2am and 6am, although there is also an increased risk during the afternoon, when our body clocks experience a natural dip in alertness.

Don’t be tempted to press on when you’ve been at the wheel for several hours.

Avoid heavy meals, as these can exacerbate the symptoms of fatigue, and certainly don’t drink alcohol during journey breaks.

Budget for motorway tolls

The European motorway network is excellent and extensive; you can cover long distances quite easily – but there is a price. 

For example, the 760-mile motorway journey from Calais to Fréjus on the Mediterranean coast will cost you around £100.

Toll tags such as the French ‘Liber-t’ device (www.emovis-tag.co.uk) can save time at tolls.

Register your details online before you travel and you’ll receive your own tag which you place in the windscreen of your car.

You can then drive through the toll plazas without needing to find coins or credit card, as you receive an invoice and pay shortly afterwards by direct debit.

Other countries, such as Switzerland, operate a vignette system, where you pay for a windscreen sticker allowing you to use the country’s motorways.

The vignette costs 40 Swiss francs (around £30) and is valid from December each year for up to 14 months.

Ensure a stress-free arrival

The smoothest journeys for holidays and days out can be spoilt if you get to your destination and can’t find anywhere to park.

Spaces in popular destinations fill quickly, so make it part of your planning to check you will be able to park somewhere convenient.

Book ahead if you can.

Check car park websites, and if you’re heading to a specific hotel or resort, check there will be parking available for guests, as well as any charges.

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