Driving In Europe

Driving In Europe

When considering driving in​ Europe, the image that comes to​ mind for​ many of​ us will no doubt be something like the infamous driving scene in​ National Lampoon's European Vacation: eternally trapped in​ a​ roundabout, surrounded by aggressive French (or Italian or​ British) drivers who won't let the timid Americans out.

It's true that driving in​ a​ foreign country can be daunting at​ first, especially when you're unfamiliar with the driving rules in​ Europe, but driving is​ often a​ necessity for​ visitors renting a​ villa or​ apartment outside of​ the major cities.

So unless you've managed to​ convince your​ companions that a​ full-time chauffeur is​ the answer to​ your​ European driving woes, you're going to​ need a​ little help. Here, for​ your​ edification, are some general guidelines about driving in​ Europe.


Let's talk first about "driver aggression." in​ whether you're driving in​ Italy, France, or​ England, drivers tend to​ be more assertive and​ quick-to-act than we are in​ the US. I once came across a​ website of​ a​ British woman who had visited America and​ marveled at​ the way everyone came to​ an​ orderly halt and​ waved each other forward at​ a​ four-way stop. Americans will know that this​ isn't always the case in​ the US, but it​ does make the point!

When you​ start driving in​ Europe, you​ may find yourself feeling frustrated when someone "cuts you​ off" or​ fails to​ use their turn signal. However, because the pace of​ driving is​ faster in​ Europe, you've got to​ act more quickly. Often an​ opening between cars is​ only momentary, and​ if​ a​ driver takes the time to​ signal he'll have lost his chance.

The key is​ not to​ hesitate. Don't be reckless-- use your​ signals, even if​ others don't-- but act quickly and​ don't question​ yourself. Don't be afraid to​ use your​ horn, either! It's easy to​ become overly cautious in​ a​ new environment, but hesitation​ is​ likely to​ cause you​ more problems than anything else.

if​ you​ must drive slowly, however, be polite. When someone behind you​ flashes their lights, they are asking you​ to​ pull over and​ let them by. My advice? Do it! Being stubborn about your​ place on​ the road is​ considered incredibly rude, and​ if​ blinking is​ ineffective it​ will be followed by honking, cursing, or​ worse!


So now let's take a​ look at​ that roundabout, most commonly encountered when driving in​ France. The most important thing here is​ to​ realize that cars already in the circle have the right-of-way, so you​ need to​ let them out. You'll also need to​ wait for​ a​ break in​ traffic before you​ "go for​ it" and​ join​ the flow. The great thing about roundabouts is​ that you​ can, in​ fact, circle them as​ many times as​ you​ need, so if​ you​ miss your​ exit the first time, it's okay.


Since the Union, European countries are now implementing a​ set of​ standardized road signs that you​ should be familiar with. Here are some common​ international road signs to​ watch out for​ while driving in​ Europe:

  • A red circle with a​ white dash inside means NO ENTRY.

  • An inverted white triangle with a​ red border means YEILD.

  • An upright triangle with a​ red border is​ INFORMATIONAL. Inside there will be a​ fairly self explanatory symbol representing bumps, merging lanes, or​ other potential hazards.

  • A red circle with a​ slash on​ a​ blue background means NO PARKING.

  • A white circle with a​ red border means CLOSED to​ ALL VEHICLES.

  • if​ there are two cars inside a​ red circle, one black and​ one red, PASSING is​ PROHIBITED.

  • A yellow diamond grants the RIGHT of​ WAY.

  • A blue circle with white numbers indicates the SPEED LIMIT (in​ km!)

  • Anything with arrows arranged in​ a​ circle means ROUNDABOUT!


    Parking is​ usually not a​ problem in​ more rural or​ countryside areas, but finding parking in​ London, Paris, Rome, or​ another large European city can be a​ major ordeal. Traffic is​ simply horrendous, and​ the majority American drivers are just not prepared. My suggestion​ is​ to​ park in​ a​ garage on​ the outskirts and​ use local transportation​ within​ the city. you​ could search for​ a​ "free" parking spot, but these are few and​ far between. Finding one is​ also risky in​ an​ unfamiliar place, since most parking is​ restricted to​ locals and​ police are quick to​ give tickets. Having a​ rental car makes no difference: even if​ you​ try to​ avoid payment, they will track you​ down. it​ might be one year, or​ it​ might be longer... but they will find you!


    Wherever you're driving in​ Britain​ or​ France, it's a​ good idea to​ carry some cash. The reason​ for​ this​ is​ threefold: First, older gas stations may still be on​ a​ cash-only basis. Secondly, there are many toll roads, which you​ will need to​ pay for​ in​ cash. and​ thirdly, in​ many countries (France, for​ example) tickets are "on​ the spot," which means that if​ you​ get pulled over the officer is​ going to​ expect you​ to​ pay him immediately! Hopefully this​ doesn't happen, but it's good to​ be prepared.

    Now that you've got a​ leg up on​ driving in​ Europe, be bold! European drivers may seem reckless and​ aggressive, but in​ fact they’re accustomed to​ their way of​ doing things. So as​ long as​ you​ obey the rules, pay attention, and​ pull over when you're asked, you​ should be fine.

    Oh, and​ one last note to​ all Americans driving in​ Europe: NO RIGHT TURN on​ RED!

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