European driving laws that could land you a huge fine this summer

Millions of people are set to hit the roads this weekend, as school finally comes to a close, sparking holiday season.

And with cost-cutting on the forefront of many families’ minds, around 400,000 are set to embark on driving holidays to Europe, with Spain and France topping the list of destinations.

If that sounds like you, see our guide on where to get cheap fuel to ensure you get the best possible deal on your top up.

But remember it’s not just rocketing petrol prices that could catch you out. Thousands of drivers are unaware of local laws abroad that could land them a huge fine this summer – with new rules now making it easier for police forces to act on Brits who break highway codes abroad.

Worryingly, according to a survey by UK pay-by-mile car insurance provider, By Miles, 62% of UK drivers mistakenly believe they should drive on the left in France and Spain. In fact, motorists in both of these countries are legally required to drive on the right.

By law, motorists driving in France must also carry a certain accessories in their car such as a GB Sticker, spare headlight bulbs and a high-visibility jacket. Failure to carry these items can result in on-the-spot penalties of £135.

The law also states you should carry breathalysers in your vehicle when driving in France, however, at the moment it is not enforced, ie you cannot be fined for failing to have one.

Vehicles waiting at the ferry terminal ready to board the ship for the Calais-Dover crossing


As well as prepping the right kit list, those driving outside the UK will also need to brush up on some of the EU’s more unusual driving laws to avoid being caught.

In Spain, drivers can be fined up to €200 for driving shirtless. However, 91% of drivers are unaware of this rule.

With temperatures reaching over 30-degrees during the summer months, those driving in Spain need to be careful to avoid fines.

Other laws drivers are unaware of are; no driving in flip-flops in Spain and no wearing headphones whilst driving in France.

James Blackham, co-founder of By Miles, said: “Holidaymakers planning on driving to Europe this summer must take the time to swot up on local driving laws or risk facing fines.

“Little-known rules can often catch drivers out. For example, in France you must carry a breathalyser with you at all times, and in Spain if caught driving without a top on you can be fined €200!

“However, every road-tripper can protect themselves by following a few simple steps before setting off. Don’t presume your insurer automatically gives you the same full cover you have at home when you’re driving in Europe. Give them a ring to make sure you have the same level of cover – some drop to third party cover only once outside the UK.

“While you’re on the phone, check your annual mileage cap too. While Europe doesn’t seem all that far away, an unusually long road trip means some risk clocking up too many miles on the journey and invalidating their insurance policies as a result.

“Holiday-goers worried about falling foul of this rule would benefit from updating the estimated annual mileage on their policy, or better yet, exploring policies that don’t make you declare your annual mileage upfront.”

Important European driving rules that could catch you out

1. Bring a breathalyser

Both France and Spain have a number of driving laws that will be unfamiliar to most Brits driving abroad. In France you must carry a breathalyser, warning triangle and high visibility jacket with you at all times – amongst other things.

Before you set off, make sure to check you have all the compulsory items in your vehicle to avoid potential fines.

2. Keep your shirt on

Only 9% of us are aware that in Spain drivers can be fined up to €200 for driving shirtless.

But with temperatures set to hit over 30 degrees holidaymakers need to be careful to avoid fines. Drivers must also make sure they don’t drive in flip-flops when in Spain, and avoid driving with headphones in their ears in France.

3. Check your car is covered abroad

Before heading off on you road trip abroad make sure you have a conversation about cover with your insurer.

Not all will automatically cover you fully comp when driving in Europe – many may lower your cover level to third party only. When driving abroad you must always have your insurance documents to hand.

With some insurers you will be available to access via your app, so just remember to download or print off in advance.

4. Monitor your mileage

Check your annual mileage cap. For those planning a long distance drive, be aware that accidentally tipping over your limit could invalidate your cover.

There are tech solutions you can look into if worried – like pay-per-mile insurance – that let you pay as you drive and track your mileage in real time to help you avoid any nasty shocks.

5. Drinking overseas

The drink driving laws in Spain and France are much stricter than in the UK, with the European countries enforcing a limit of 0.5mg (a small beer) verses our 0.8mg (a pint).

Some black box insurers have a ‘find my car’ feature to help you locate your vehicle should you have forgotten which street you parked it down, after the night before.


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