What do I need when driving abroad? Top 5 tips for safe motoring in Europe

Car stuff, Gadgets
Driving Abroad image iStockSergey Peterman.jpg
iStock: Sergey Peterman

Planning a driving holiday through Europe? From headlight beam deflectors to sat navs without speed camera detectors and compulsory breathalyser kits, Chris Price looks at the things you need to carry in your car if you want to avoid being pulled over by the local constabulary. 

It’s August and the long Summer break is here. Many families will, at some point, decide to holiday in France or perhaps drive through there on their way to other parts of Europe (or even further afield) for their Summer break.

However, whether you’re camping and canoeing in the Ardeche, driving through fields of lavender and old stone villages in Provence, visiting the Loire chateaux, sightseeing in the great cities or aiming for the Cote D’Azur’s sun-baked beaches, you will need to follow the local driving laws.

Here we look at some of the essentials you will need to drive through Europe as well as some items that you can’t use when driving abroad.

Essentials for France

Two breathalysers

Unbelievably, in France it is now mandatory to carry two breathalysers in the car, whether you drink or not. Importantly, these need to be government certified (NF) and of the disposable variety. AlcoSense sells a twin pack for £5.99 online.

These work quickly and accurately to show you if you are under or over the lower French drink drive limit with a simple colour change. The further up the graduated tube the green colour appears, the greater the concentration of alcohol you have in your system. If the green reaches the line, it means you’re over the French limit.

Headlamp beam deflectors

Drivers in right- hand drive cars will also need to fit headlamp beam deflectors to avoid dazzling other road users. For cars with newer Xenon headlights there should be a headlamp converter option within the car’s menu system.

Reflective jackets

In France, reflective jackets or hi vis vests must be within reach for all passengers ie. in the cabin of the car. If you break down or are in an accident and have to get out of the car you will be required to wear one of these and could be fined for not doing so. It applies to everyone of you in the car, not only the driver but all passengers.

GB stickers

If your car does not have a number plate that includes the GB Euro-symbol you must also invest in a GB sign to attach to your car.

Several different versions are available including self-adhesive vinyl stickers that can be fitted to the existing number plate. Alternatively if you want something that makes a little bit more of a statement how about this chrome GB emblem instead.

French clean air stickers (Crit’Air vignettes)

Low emission zones have been introduced in Paris, Lyon and Grenoble. As a result, you will need clean air stickers – called Crit’Air vignettes.

Part of a six-category sticker system that applies to all motor vehicles to identify what emissions they produce, these clean air stickers were introduced in late 2016. Click here to find out when you need a French clean air sticker and how to purchase one.

Warning triangle

You can be fined 135 Euros for not having a warning triangle in the car if you break down. 

Spare bulbs 

By law you’re also required to carry a spare bulb kit for your vehicle, as the French police deem it necessary to replace it there and then on the grounds of safety. If you don’t have spare bulbs then you could be fined up to 80 Euros!

Spare pair of spectacles

Do You Wear Glasses? If so you are required to take a spare pair of spectacles in the car with you when driving in France.

Documents You Need to Take

You will obviously take your passport with when travelling abroad. However, because you are driving your own car you will need to take a few other things.

These include Driving Licence, Proof of Ownership (V5 Log book), Insurance Documents and MOT if your car is more than three years old.

What you can’t use on French roads

Speed camera detectors

It’s long been the case that you’re not allowed to carry or use a speed camera detector in France. The law was extended to cover satnav and any other GPS-based systems in 2012.

If your satnav can show fixed speed cameras, then you’ll have to disable alerts before you drive in France, otherwise risk a €1,500 fine or even have your vehicle taken away.


As of March 2017, it is illegal to drive a car in France using headphones or earphones. The offence is liable to a €90 on-the-spot fine. Be sure to take off the headphones once you cross the channel.

Top 5 tips when driving through Europe

1. Tell your car insurers that you’ll be driving abroad as some policies will not cover you as standard and require your dates of travel.

2. Get European breakdown cover. However, as French motorways are privately managed, you are not allowed to request your own assistance company to attend to you if you break down. Instead you should use the orange emergency telephones situated every 2km along main roads and motorways or if no orange telephone is available call the emergency services on 112.

3.  Don’t use your mobile phone when driving unless you have a built-in fully integrated hands free kit in the car. Bluetooth earpieces or wired earpieces are strictly forbidden and receive a €135 fine.

4. Drive on the right and watch your speed. Speed camera detectors are illegal in France. By law, if your sat nav comes with them or with camera locations, you are required to disable the alerts.  Failure to do this can result in a €1,500 fine.

5. Don’t drink and drive at all.  And be aware of ‘morning after’ drink driving.  It’s easier to be over the limit the next day without realising than you might think.

What do I need when driving abroad? See the full list below. 

Driving Abroad Legal Requirements

Chris Price
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  • In France it is now mandatory to carry just one breathalysers but from 2016 you don’t receive no fine.
    In Belgium, btw is mandatory also to carry a fire extinguisher, and warning triangle is not recommended but mandatory!

  • Driving in foreign nations is not as simple as considered before. There are several dos and do nots along with tips and recommendations for holidayers having a vacation especially in the European nations. Even the slightest error or neglection can result in a huge amount of fine being imposed for not abiding by the local rules and regulations. This article cleverly sums up what has to be done so that the car riding experience does not turn into a disaster for the people visiting such countries on a trip and that they dont become embroiled in negative consequences.

  • This article provides a comprehensive insight related to the precautions the typical person had to take up when driving on the European roads especially that related to the nation of France. It covers everything from having breathalysers, head lamp beam deflectors, warning triangles and related documents which ensure that the particular individual does not get into trouble with the local authorities where they will be fined heavily related to the same. It also lists the items which are not allowed to be carried while driving. A must read post which covers all the guidelines so that any person on a trip to European countries doesn’t end up in any sticky messes when driving.

  • Thanks for the tip. It is scary to drive in France, thanks for the tip on the radars, did not know that. Great article!

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