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A guide to driving in the EU zone if there’s a No Deal Brexit

Driving in the EU zone is a great experience but it can present many new challenges, not least getting used to driving on the “wrong” side of the road.

Most European countries (excluding the UK, the Irish Republic, Cyprus and Malta) drive on the right, which can take quite a bit of getting used to.

But before you even set wheel on autoroute, autobahn or autopista, there’s a whole heap of administrative work you will need to carry out in preparation for your trip. Things have been made even more complicated by Britain’s protracted and confusing Brexit delays.

The longer it takes to negotiate departure from the European Union, the less likely it seems we will leave with an agreement on October 31, the latest Brexit deadline set by the Government. And there will be even more to do if we leave without an agreement on that date.

Seven to-do’s before driving in the EU post No Deal Brexit

International Driving Permit

You will probably need an International Driving Permit alongside your UK driving licence before you drive in Europe though there is an agreement to ensure you won’t need one if you drive in Ireland.

Number plates

Under international conventions, GB is the distinguishing sign to display on UK-registered vehicles when driving outside of the UK.

Following the UK’s exit from the EU, it is recommended that you display a GB sticker on the rear of your vehicle, whether you currently have a number plate which includes the GB identifier or not.

Vehicle registration documents

You should carry your vehicle registration document with you when driving abroad. This can be either a vehicle log book (V5C), if you have one, or a VE103 to show you’re allowed to use your hired or leased vehicle abroad.

UK MOT

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, EU and EEA countries will not recognise UK MOT test certificates. If you live in, or are planning to move to an EU or EEA country with a UK-registered vehicle, you will need to have your vehicle retested locally.

Green Card international insurance certificate

If the UK leaves the EU without a deal on October 31 you will almost certainly need to carry a motor insurance Green Card when driving in the EU zone.

The Green Card provides proof that your vehicle is insured to at least the minimum level legally required in the country you are visiting.

Some countries may require a separate Green Card as proof of insurance for caravans and trailers. If you are travelling with a caravan or trailer, you will need two Green Cards: one for the towing vehicle, and one for the caravan or trailer.

To speed up the administration process, insurance companies may email the documentation to you. But the Green Card itself must be printed on green paper or it may not be recognised by border police.

Even if it is not obligatory, it makes good sense to get a Green Card because it will simplify and expedite matters should you need to swap insurance details with a foreign-speaking third party. Sterling insurance can provide more advice about Green Card cover.

Plan ahead, leave plenty of time

Expect delays as there will be more security checks throughout your journey.

The Government has already made contingency plans to turn parts of the motorway network approaching the ferry ports into waiting areas. Similar schemes are also being considered on the other side of The Channel.

Learn about the places you will be driving

Rather like London has its congestion charging zone and its ultra low emissions zone, cities throughout Europe have their own laws and ways of controlling traffic.

If you are driving in Paris, for example, you may need a “Crit’Air” badge showing that your car adheres to anti-pollution standards. Cars with insufficient ratings may not be able to drive in these zones, or could be restricted at certain “peak pollution” hours.

If you plan to drive in Berlin city centre meanwhile, you will need to buy a special permit for the “UmweltZone”. The permit, which is displayed on the windscreen, costs around £25 but if you enter the zone without displaying one you could face an on-the-spot fine of around £35.

And in Madrid from November last year, all vehicles were barred from the city centre, with the exclusion of those owned by residents who live there, zero-emissions delivery vehicles, taxis, and public transit.

It is imperative you find out what laws you will come up against before setting out on your trip.

For more advice on driving in the EU after Brexit check out the GOV.UK website which is updated regularly.

The practicalities of driving in the EU zone

Once the paperwork and legal issues are sorted, you can think about tackling that strange drive on the wrong side of the road.

Apart from the automatic desire to swap lanes from right to left, the first problem you will encounter, less than a quarter of a mile from exiting the cross-Channel ferry port or Eurotunnel terminal, is a roundabout.

Roundabouts are tackled in an anti-clockwise direction, rather than clockwise, so you will give way to traffic travelling from your left, as opposed to the right as you do at home.

Overtaking can be a problem too, especially if you are driving a right hand drive vehicle. Exercise extra caution – perhaps even wait till you reach a stretch of dual carriageway.

In the UK turning left is easy, turning right can be more problematic. The exact opposite is true in most European countries.

Other things to remember:

  • Don’t dazzle oncoming drivers. Make sure you adjust your headlamps ready for driving on the right-hand side of the road. You can also used headlamp conversion stickers which are widely available at motoring shops, and, rather more expensively, at the port and on your ferry.
  • Sat-navs are great, convenient, reliable up-to-date and usually accurate. But it’s worth double-checking your route with a detailed map of the area. Remember to bear in mind that sat-nav requirements may differ from country to country – in France, for example, it is illegal to use sat-nav equipment with radar detection indicating where fixed speed cameras are located.
  • Most European countries have toll roads so make sure you have plenty of loose change in the correct currency to cover the cost of tolls in the countries you are visiting.
  • Drive with care and exercise caution. The Foreign Office recommends driving “defensively” when abroad and to expect the unexpected at all times. You could even attend a defensive driving course before setting off on your trip.
  • Obey the rules and regulations of the road, sticking to speed limits and observing even the most obscure rules. In Spain and Switzerland, for example, if you wear prescription glasses, you will need to carry a spare set; never drive in flip flops in Spain and in Italy always park in the direction of the flow of traffic.
  • Driving is tiring at the best of times but if you are driving overseas in unfamiliar areas, concentrating on driving on the right hand side of the road and reading different road signs, it can be even more exhausting. Ensure you take frequent breaks.
  • Each country has its own laws as to what you must carry in your car. You will commonly need two reflective triangles, a hi-vis jacket for driver and each passenger (which must be clearly on display), a full set of replacement bulbs and two working breathalyser kits. A first aid kit and a fire extinguisher is not a legal requirement but is recommended when driving in the EU zone. You should check what else is needed in the specific countries you are visiting.
  • Remember, it should be “none for the road”. Drink driving limits are much stricter and penalties heavier in most countries within the EU zone.

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