The Daily Telegraph, March 14, 2012
A spate of recent fatal accidents abroad has put driving safety under the spotlight. So what can you do to reduce the risk? Here are ten key points to consider.
A spate of recent fatal accidents abroad has put driving safety under the spotlight. This summer about seven million British drivers are expected use vehicles outside of Britain. So what can you do to reduce the risk? Here are ten key points to consider.
Driving slightly more slowly than you do at home will give you more time to react to the unfamiliar. Be very wary of speed limits. In built-up areas on the Continent, the limit is normally 40kph (25mph), even if there are no speed restriction signs, and speed traps are common.
It's important to keep up to date with changes in the law. Some countries, such as Germany, are less rigid and allow speeding on certain sections of the highway (autobahn), but this is an exception. If you are caught speeding, expect a fine, which can range from € 150 in Italy to over thousands of euros in France.
Make sure you have the correct safety kit for the countries you are driving in: in most countries on the continent you must carry a reflective warning triangle and spare bulbs. In France motorists will also soon be obiliged to carry a portable breathalyser .
For a guide to each country's requirements, see either the AA or the RAC websites.
Note that in most countries, phoning while you drive is illegal and is only allowed if you use an earpiece or a hands free kit. In Spain even the use of an earpiece is forbidden and in Ireland your phone must be switched off completely. Be aware that in countries such as Belgium and Norway it is illegal to smoke behind the wheel and in the U.S.; you cannot smoke in the car whilst accompanied by children or teenagers.
If you have an accident, there is a risk that, because you are a foreigner, you are more likely to be blamed for it. So it is more crucial than ever not to admit liability, nor to apologise. In serious cases, make sure the police are called and try to take the names and addresses of as many witnesses as possible, as well as the registration details of any other driver involved. If you’re involved in an accident, contact your insurer immediately and take photographs of damage to your vehicle.
Limits are lower in most European countries than they are here [in the UK]. In France, the drink-driving limit is 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood (the UK limit is 80mg per 100ml). In some countries, if you have more than a glass of wine or beer, there is a risk that you could test positive. In Scandinavia the limit is so low that effectively you can't drink for 24 hours before you drive. You are more likely to be randomly tested for drunk-driving in Europe. Police roadblocks on Sunday afternoons in France are not unheard of.
Long drives on empty motorways - especially at night - are particularly hazardous. Take regular breaks and share the driving if possible. Use your GPS or the AA or Rac's route planners to mark out your stops in advance.
Be wary of other drivers flagging you down. Road bandits have been a problem in Spain, targeting tourists by indicating that something is wrong with the car or even by deliberately puncturing tyres. If you stop, you are vulnerable to theft or mugging. If you think something is wrong, it is best to drive on until you find somewhere safe to stop (ideally a service station).
Remember that you are at your most vulnerable when driving a hire car out of an airport: potential thieves know that you have all your luggage, documents and money with you.
Study local driving habits and etiquette. The AA and RAC websites both have comprehensive details.
Check out the specific traffic rules, regulations and if possible familiarise yourself with local road signs of your destination country before you leave home.
One example of local etiquette that can be problematic is in the U.S., at four way stops (the equivalent to British crossroads). Here the first car to arrive at the junction has priority and then others follow in the order that they arrive at the junction.
Ensure you have a good road map – or GPS – and chart your course before setting off. Check your lights, indicators and mirrors before setting off and don’t overload your vehicle and ensure you can see out of the back window.
Before taking your car abroad, check with your insurer. Although you should be covered automatically for third-party liability abroad, it may be a condition of your policy that you inform your insurer before going and make arrangements to ensure that cover is upgraded to comprehensive level.
If you want to enjoy the driving as much as the holiday, a good place to head for is Scandinavia, which has an excellent safety record, little traffic and spectacular scenery.