You have probably heard stories about various aspects of driving in Europe – like driving on the German autobahn, or the chaos of driving in Italy. Then there are the very narrow roads in Ireland, and the challenge of driving on the left side of the road.
And, while I do believe that much of your travels in Europe can be done relying strictly on public transportation and local guides, there are some cases in which driving yourself is simply more convenient.
So, while I do recommend leaving the driving to someone else whenever possible, if you do have to drive, there are some things you need to know.
Driving on the Autobahn
The Autobahn is the origin of high speed driving lanes. While their history is a bit dubious (it wasn’t started by the Nazi’s but they claimed it as their own), it is without a doubt an engineering marvel.
While the Autobahn and the US Interstate system look very similar, and serve much of the same purpose, there are some specific behaviors that you need to be aware of:
Most, but not all, of the Autobahn does not have a speed limit. Once you get closer to the major metropolitan areas there will be posted speed limits. But, that doesn’t mean you can, or should put your foot to the floor. You have to think of weather conditions, traffic conditions and the capability of the car you are driving. And, the recommended driving speed in the unrestricted areas is 130 km/hr (80 mph).
Use the left lane is for passing only. If you get into the left lane and hold up traffic, you are creating a safety hazard. And Germans will also signal their approach by flashing their lights. If you are in the left lane and someone flashes their lights behind you, get over to the right as soon as possible.
And no passing on the right! It is illegal. Tailgating is also illegal, and so is running out of gas on the autobahn.
If you get in a traffic jam on the autobahn (it happens), you are required to leave a center area of the road clear for emergency vehicles. So move to either the left or the right as much as possible.
Be aware of different road signs
While Yield Signs. Stop Signs and Warning Signs are easily recognizable, there are some differences. These include signs that indicate priority (right of way) lanes, and other special regulation signs. Autoeurope has a good summary of road signs for different countries. Click here to see their explanations.
Some Countries require an international driving permit
In Europe, this includes Italy and Spain. Getting a permit is not difficult, though. You can get them through AAA.
And something else to remember is that certain areas have put restrictions in place to reduce traffic. For example, you can only drive in the area of the Amalfi Coast on certain days, based on the license plate on your vehicle, and London requires a special permit to drive in certain areas.
Check Your Insurance
Above all, before you go, check whether your own auto insurance policy will cover you in case of a problem while you are traveling. Not all policies will, and the car rental agency may require proof of coverage.
So, driving in Europe has some cultural and legal differences to keep in mind when you are there. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. You just have to remember that you are in their country, and they do things a little differently.
I will be glad to work with you on making sure you have a safe, enjoyable experience in your travels.