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Developments in technology have enabled cars with automated braking, also known as AEB, to be brought onto the market. AEB automatically slows the car if the driver doesn’t respond to conditions ahead.
Initially these could only respond to large vehicles, but developments introduced systems that could recognise pedestrians, and more recently a version that can specifically detect cyclists. It is hoped this may be the most significant development in safety since the seat belt was introduced, and potentially could save thousands of road casualties.
However well you plan for your trip, breakdowns can happen when you are driving abroad. Obvious preparation can help avoid this, such as basic car maintenance, checking tyre treads and pressures and oil levels, but checking the rules for any country you plan to drive through is a necessity as specific equipment may be compulsory.
For example, it is mandatory to have a warning triangle in your car in many EU countries, such as France, Italy and Austria, that has to be used in roadside breakdowns. While in areas such as France and Norway, a reflective jacket or waistcoat is a requirement, and in Austria and Croatia, a first-aid kit is required to be carried in your vehicle.
Do your research before you travel to help your own safety and to make sure you comply with local requirements.
If you plan to cycle when abroad, it is crucial to remember that the laws relating to cycle helmets vary. For example, children under 12 years old are obliged to wear cycle helmets in France, while children under 16 are required to wear them in Spain and all cyclists are obliged to wear one in Malta.
If you were not wearing a helmet when cycling and you were involved in an accident, in certain countries your compensation claim may be affected if wearing a helmet would have prevented or reduced your injuries, meaning you could receive less than you would otherwise be entitled to
Some European countries also have legislation to set what age a child can cycle on a road, for example, in Poland, children over 10 years old must have passed a test before they are allowed on the road.
For more information on cycling accidents, visit the Twisted Spokes page.
Despite the publicity and campaigns over the years to try to change people’s mindsets towards driving over the legal alcohol limit, it is estimated that there are still more than 5,000 deaths a year caused by drink driving. Research has proven that alcohol reduces concentration and visual acuity, which increases driver reaction time.
Various methods of reducing the number of drink driving accidents have been tried, including education, tougher sanctions and rehabilitation schemes. Belgium has introduced an innovative scheme recently for repeat offenders, who will now be obliged to follow an alcohol interlock rehabilitation scheme. This involves a breathalyser being fitted in a vehicle and requires the driver to blow into the device before the engine will start.
Getting quick emergency help after a road collision saves lives. All new models of car launched in the EU since 31 March 2018 now include eCall, which is an automated emergency call system.
This is an innovative development that automatically alerts the local emergency services after a collision using the vehicle’s GPS. It is hoped that when this is fully implemented it will considerably cut response times by the emergency services.
In the meantime, if you are involved in, or witness, a road collision in the EU and need to call the emergency services, the phone number is 112, which works in the UK alongside the traditional 999 phone number.
The most recent global safety report on road safety states that there are a staggering 1.24 million deaths around the world each year, which are a result of road traffic collisions.
The UK Government recorded 1,710 road deaths in the UK in 2017, which is a 5% decrease from the previous year. Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Croatia saw the highest statistics for European road deaths in the last published figures. However, road collisions are predicted to move from the eighth to the fifth leading cause of fatalities across the world by 2030. We can all play a part in reducing these statistics by displaying appropriate driving behaviour and committing to driving sensibly and safely.
Gales and Fog
If possible, you should avoid driving in bad weather conditions. If you are making a long trip across Europe, it may be sunshine when you set off, but a change in altitude or location may see a dramatic weather shift.
Make sure check the weather forecast for the course of your journey regularly when you stop for rest breaks to make sure you’re not going to face any bad weather.
You should avoid driving in heavy snow, fog or gales and take extra care when going over bridges or on open stretches of road if there are high winds. Also, keep back from high-sided heavy goods vehicles, as they can be particularly affected by the wind.
Remember to take the conditions into account, slow your speed and take corners slowly and steadily.
There are legal requirements across Europe to make sure that your headlights do not dazzle oncoming drivers.
Headlight adjustment is likely to be required if you are taking your own car out of England to avoid a fine because UK cars are designed for left-hand driving, meaning the headlights will be directed into the path of oncoming vehicles if you are in a country that drives on the right-hand side.
Headlight adjustment kits can be purchased at a relatively low cost and can be fitted yourself, so it’s a quick and easy step to take if you’re driving through Europe.
International Driving Permit
If you plan to drive abroad, it is crucial that you take important documentation with you, in case you come into difficulties.
If you plan to drive in Europe, make sure you take your full driving licence. Whilst we are still a member of the European Union (EU), an international driving permit (IDP) isn’t generally required, but may be necessary if you still have an old paper licence without a photo.
However, recent press suggests that you may need to be in possession of an IDP to drive in the EU after Brexit. You should check the rules before you travel so you aren’t caught out.
As well as your driving licence and IDP (if necessary), you should also take your motor insurance certificate, your travel insurance documents and your vehicle registration document.
If you plan to venture further afield, an IDP can be obtained from the Post Office. This is an official translation of your driving licence and is recognised worldwide.
If you get into trouble on the roads of Europe, don’t ignore any correspondence you get once back home.
If you commit a certain listed road safety offence, such as a speeding offence, or using your mobile phone behind the wheel, the local authorities can demand your details from the DVLA, which is obliged to provide them. If you have committed the offence, you should consider paying the fine, but if you haven’t committed an offence, seek legal advice to take appropriate steps to challenge the accusations. Your motor insurance may have legal cover to help you to do this.
Above all, don’t bury your head in the sand; tackle issues as soon as you become aware of them.
Kit for Cycling Abroad
If you are taking your bike overseas, whether to train in the Alps or to enjoy road cycling in sunny Spain, check if your bike is road legal as rules vary country by country.
For example, in Germany bikes must be fitted with lights, even if they are not to be ridden after sundown, while in Holland, bicycle bells are compulsory.
You may wish to consider hiring a bike locally to ensure compliance with local rules, and to save you the hassle of transporting your own much loved bike from home.
Make sure you have taken out specialist travel insurance - theft is more common in certain cities and countries. It is also vitally important that you make sure you have cover for any medical treatment should the worst happen and you have an accident or injury.
For more information on cycling accidents, visit the Twisted Spokes page.
Only the UK, Cyprus, the Irish Republic and Malta drive on the left-hand side of the road, so it can be hard for drivers from those countries to adapt to driving on the opposite side when they are abroad.
A driving school for motorists travelling abroad has been trialled, but if that isn’t available to you, then you need to consider other approaches to safe driving abroad.
The general advice is to drive slowly and take it steady until you become accustomed. Have a test drive around the car hire centre if you are hiring a car. Stick to the right-hand lane, which is the ‘slow’ lane, until you are confident.
Having a passenger designated as your navigator can also help, so you are able to plan your approach to junctions and other intersections.
Mobile Phone Use
In the UK we all know it is now illegal to use and hold your phone whilst at the wheel; the penalty can be six points on your licence and a fine.
Most EU countries also only permit hands free equipment, and some countries such as Spain and Germany have banned handheld phones at all times the engine is running, even if stationary.
The European Transport Safety council has called for a complete ban on mobile phone use whilst driving.
Research local laws before you travel, or safer still avoid using any function of your phone whilst driving. If you use your phone’s map function in the UK, consider hiring a car with satellite navigation or charging your passenger with the responsibility for route planning.
If you are planning to picnic in the South of France, or drive to the mountains in Italy, you will be faced with a long road after the ferry or Channel Tunnel. It might be tempting to drive through the night, so you miss the worst of the traffic, and many English holidaymakers take that option.
However, fatigue has a considerable effect on your driving - road safety charity Brake suggests one in six crashes resulting in death or major injury are fatigue related, with the hours of 2am to 6am being peak times for fatigue-related incidents.
Motorways and dual carriageways are particular risk points, as the environment can be monotonous and there is little to stimulate the driver.
You should plan your journeys carefully, allowing for rest breaks every couple of hours to make sure you are well rested before you set off. You should also think about booking an overnight stay mid journey, which is a good opportunity to explore a town or village you may otherwise not have visited.
It can take time to adjust to overtaking on the left-hand side when visiting a right-hand side driving country.
You need to be aware of the various rules relating to overtaking when on your travels, such as:
- In Germany, it is prohibited to overtake a school bus that has stopped to let a passenger off
- In Belgium, when overtaking a cyclist or moped you must ensure you leave at least one metre between them and you
- In Belgium, it is also forbidden for heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) to overtake in rain, snow or other bad weather, unless it is an agricultural vehicle they need to pass.
- In Greece, it is prohibited to overtake on approach to an unguarded level crossing
The police in any country may demand to see your documents, including your driving licence, passport, car insurance documents and vehicle registration documents, so ensure you have them with you at all times while driving.
If you don’t have them, you could face a fine or have to attend the local police station, which puts a dampener on your trip.
If you are stopped by the police, it can be intimidating, particularly if they are armed. For instance, in France, it is a branch of the army called the gendarmerie, who are responsible for road safety.
If someone tries to flag your vehicle down and you are concerned they may not be a genuine law enforcement officer, find a brightly lit area, lock your doors and wind the window down so you can ask to see their identification documents before you unlock your doors and get out of the vehicle.
Queueing traffic can lead to driver frustration and fatigue, which can result in accidents, as well as representing an inconvenience and a source of pollution.
However, the UK isn’t top of the congestion list, as London comes second to Moscow and is just ahead of Paris, which is in third place, so if you plan to drive through either of these capitals, think carefully.
Wearing a seat belt should be second nature to us all now, but European Transport Safety Commission research shows that the level of seat belt use varies dramatically across EU countries, despite it being compulsory. The highest rate of seat belt use was in France at an impressive 97%.
It is crucial to ensure you have the correct child car seat if travelling with youngsters. Hire companies should always be able to provide appropriate child seats, and inflatable travel booster seats are available to easily fit into your luggage if you plan to take local taxis or transfers. Additionally, most airlines allow you to take a car seat in the hold at no extra cost, alongside your baggage allowance.
Don’t get caught off guard on holiday, make sure you wear your seat belt and use the child seat even if you are only jumping in a taxi for a short trip, or you feel safe on the coach transporting you to your hotel. You never know when an accident will happen.
Strict Liability Laws
The law is different from country to country, and in some places, such as France, it is not even necessary to prove a driver was at fault to recover compensation following a road traffic collision, as the “Loi Badinter” is designed to protect victims to ensure pedestrians, cyclists and passengers are compensated for damage and injury.
This is very different to the English system where you need to prove the negligence of another party. It is therefore crucial to ensure you seek specialist legal advice following a road traffic accident abroad to understand if you have a claim.
If you plan to drive in Europe in the winter months, maybe heading off for a ski trip, or to experience the Christmas markets, then it’s vital to check the tyre requirements in the country you’re visiting.
Winter tyres, or snow chains, are compulsory in some countries under their local road laws. Some countries have specific dates between which these and/or other measures must be taken, commonly between November and April.
The AA also recommend tyres have at least 3mm of tread in winter months, even though the legal minimum is only 1.6mm. Tyre defects can cause serious accidents, and tyre maintenance should be a priority before embarking on any long trip.
If you have been involved in an accident and the other driver has fled the scene, or does not have insurance, you may not think you have any rights.
However, a victim of an accident involving an uninsured or untraced driver within Europe can be compensated as a guarantee fund has been established called the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB) in the UK, which compensates innocent victims.
If a UK citizen is injured in another European member state then he/she can still apply to the English MIB for compensation. There are specific rules and procedures to be followed so it is important you seek specialist legal advice if you wish to apply for compensation.
Vulnerable Road Users
Children are particularly vulnerable road users, because of their lack of experience and ability to assess risk. The European Transport Safety Council figures show that every day more than 30 children are seriously injured and two are killed in road collisions in the EU.
ROSPA figures also show that nearly half of all pedestrians killed are over 60 years old, and the charity gives advice on how drivers can help pedestrians, by giving extra time and room to cross, for example.
Cyclist and horse riders are also classed as vulnerable road users, advice includes slowing down, respecting the road users and checking mirrors and blind spots.
Watch your speed
Speed limits vary across Europe, but are generally 120km/h or 130km/h on motorways, and 50km/h for urban roads.
In Germany, there is no upper limit on the Autobahn, but there may be local restrictions from place to place. For example, in Holland, some stretches of motorway have permanently reduced speed limits to reduce pollution and noise. In France, lower speed limits are applied in bad weather and in Finland and Sweden, there are lower limits in the winter. It is best practice to check the local rules before you travel.
Remember to expect the unexpected ahead and allow yourself plenty of stopping time, particularly if you are driving in an unfamiliar place or an unfamiliar vehicle.
X roads and road junctions are a source of danger, particularly in unfamiliar locations, so what rules you should be aware of? In most EU countries, drivers must give way to vehicles from the right, unless road signs state otherwise.
In Holland, trams have priority at junctions with roads and the road markings are different, if you have right of way, it is marked by a yellow and white diamond-shaped sign but if you are to give way, there will be a row of white triangular signs on the road.
In Austria, vehicles on rails have priority at junctions while in Germany, buses and school buses have to be given priority when leaving bus stops.
The minimum age to hold a driving licence is 17 or 18 years old and therefore quite consistent across Europe.
Statistics show that three times as many young people aged between 18 and 20 die in cars compared to fatalities between the ages 25 and 65. This may be because of inexperience behind the wheel, bravado and excessive speed.
The European Transport Safety Council ran a three-year study to understand the risks young people face on the roads. As a result of the study, graduated driving licences and accompanied driving for novice drivers were encouraged.
If you are a young driver wishing to hire a car overseas, you may face a surcharge from the rental company.
In the UK, we are all familiar with the zebra crossing, obliging drivers to give way to pedestrians wishing to cross.
In France, laws state if a pedestrian or cyclist shows a clear intention to cross, i.e. by stepping towards the road from the pavement, the driver is required to stop for them, even if they are not at a designated crossing. In other EU countries, such as Germany, vehicles must stop at pedestrian crossings.
Over 5,000 pedestrians are killed in EU roads each year, so if you are driving abroad, the advice is to slow down, give way to pedestrians and be alert.
If you are planning on driving or cycling while abroad, you should ensure that you do everything you can to familiarise yourself with the different driving rules and regulations within the country you are visiting. To help you get started, we have shared some helpful advice that will keep you safe and save you time, money and stress.
Should you unfortunately be involved in a road traffic accident while abroad that wasn’t your fault, you will be entitled to make a claim for compensation. Our expert solicitors will be able to help you through the claims process, providing excellent legal advice throughout so you can get on with what’s really important - recovering from your accident.
To a speak to a member of JMW’s accidents abroad team, get in touch by calling us on 0800 054 6570 or by filling in our online form and we will get back to you.
- Automated Braking
- cycle helments
- drink driving
- emergency assistance
- gales and fog
- international driving permit
- kit for cycling abroad
- left-hand drive
- mobile phone use
- night driving
- strict liability laws
- uninsured drivers
- vulnerable road users
- watch your speed
- young drivers
- zebra crossing