Car hire advice
Article 5 of 5
Know the country's rules and regulations before you set off. Here's our advice for a hassle-free road trip
Know before you go
Insurance and green cards
Check if your home motor insurance covers driving abroad. Otherwise you'll have to top it up with a foreign use extension or find a policy that covers you overseas.
In countries including Turkey, Israel, Morocco and Russia you'll need a green card. This is an international insurance certificate that proves your policy provides enough cover. You can get it from your current vehicle insurer, usually for free and it’s best to order it two weeks before you go.
International Driving Permit
In many countries such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada you will also need an International Driving Permit from the Post Office (£5.50) to supplement your UK licence. They last between 12 months and three years, depending on where you’re going, and there are three categories; 1926, 1968 and 1949, which refer to the year different road traffic conventions came into effect. The exception is the Republic of Ireland, which doesn’t require foreign drivers to have one. For more advice see our guide on international driving permits.
It’s always a good idea to think about this for a stress-free holiday. Which? Recommended Provider Gem Motoring Assist (gemeuroplus.co.uk) has a single-trip policy from £10.80, depending on time abroad and age of vehicle. Or consider a 12-month policy with And LV Britannia rescue.
If you hire a car abroad, see the top-performers in our survey of best rated car hire companies.
Rules of the road
Speed limit: Built up area 50km/h; outside built-up area 80km/h; urban motorways 110km/h; motorways 130km/h with a minimum of 80km/h. Lower limits apply in wet weather and if you have held a driving licence for less than three years.
Drink driving limit: 49mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. If you are involved in an accident or commit an offence such as speeding you will have to take a drugs test. On the spot fines can be up to €750.
Tolls: UK residents can use an automated toll-road payment tag, previously reserved just for French residents, which means you can breeze through the automatic télépéage lanes at payment stations (available in advance from bipandgo.com).
Low emission zones: These have been introduced in cities including Paris, Lyon, Lille, Grenoble, Strasbourg, Toulouse, Marseille, Bordeaux and Chambery. You have to display a Crit’Air sticker in your window or risk a fine of up to €135. Buy online at certificat-air.gouv.fr, €3.11 plus postage.
Need to know: You’ll see the sign priorité à droite in built-up areas, which means give way to traffic coming from the right. You must not overtake a stationary tram when passengers are boarding or getting off. It’s forbidden to use, carry or transport radar detectors. If you have a Satnav or navigation app that can show the location of fixed-speed cameras, this function must be deactivated. Drivers can’t wear headsets or headphones.
Thinking of buying a GPS for your next holiday? See our Best Buy sat navs.
Speed limit: Built up areas 50km/h; outside built-up areas 90km/h; dual carriageways 110km/h; motorways 130km/h. Lower limits apply in wet weather and if you have held a driving licence for less than three years.
Drink-driving limit: 50mg per 100 ml of blood. There is a limit of zero for those with less than three years driving experience.
Low emission zones: Several cities, including Milan, Turin and Bologna have these and many historical centres have access restrictions. In Milan for example, there is a zona a traffico limitato from 7.30am to 7.30pm weekdays with a daily charge of €5 for petrol and diesel vehicles. For more details see the Urban Access Regulations in Europe.
Need to know: You’ll have to pay tolls on many motorways: on entering keep the machine-generated ticket, then when exiting use the blue carte lane if you want to pay with a credit card, or the white lane if you want to use cash. Don’t use a radar detector, it could be confiscated with a fine of up to €3,200.
Speed limit: Built-up area 50km/h; outside built-up areas 90 or 110km/h; motorways 130km/h.
Drink driving limit: 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. Lower if you have held a licence for less than two years.
Restrictions: In the centre of Athens vehicles up to 2.2 tonnes (including motorhomes) are only allowed entry on alternating days, based on the last digits of the number plate. Foreign vehicles are not affected.
Need to know: The police can take away the number plates of illegally-parked cars for 20 days and fine you €80-€150. If you drive the car during that period, other than to get it home, you could be fined a further €5,000. You can’t use your horn in towns unless it’s the only way to avoid an accident.
Speed limit: Built-up area 60km/h; rural 100km/h; highways 120km/h.
Drink driving limit: 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood
Need to know: Drive on the left, as in the UK. Minibus taxis often swerve sharply across the road without indicating if they see someone to pick up. The local word for traffic lights is robots. Petrol stations are not self-service; tip 2-5 Rand. Some major roads between cities have tolls.
Speed limit: Built-up areas 50km/h; outside built-up areas 100km/h; dual carriageways 130km/h recommended; motorways 130km/h recommended.
Drink driving limit: 49mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. If you have held your licence for less than two years there is a zero limit.
Low emission zones: Around 80 German cities have these, for which you’ll have to display a Plakette sticker on your windscreen or risk a €80 fine. You can get them from the equivalent of MOT inspection centres and some garages or car dealerships, for a fee of €5-10.
Need to know: You must use dipped headlights during the day if snow, fog or rain restricts visibility. You can be fined thousands of euros for abusive language or rude signs under a 19th-century, still-in-use Beleidigung (insult) law. It is forbidden to use radar detectors.
Speed limit: Built-up areas 50km/h; second-category roads outside built-up areas 90km/h; first-category roads outside built-up areas 100km/h; motorways and dual carriageways in built-up areas 80km/h; motorways 120km/h.
Drink driving limit: 49mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. (29mg for drivers with less than 2 years’ experience.)
Restrictions and low-emission zones: Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Valencia and Valladolid have low emission zones. Stickers can be bought from a post office for €5. Palma restricts access to the city centre to residents and non-resident property owners but hotels can register guests’ cars with advanced warning.
Good to know: It’s forbidden to use a radar detector. You can’t honk your horn in an urban area except in an emergency – but it’s OK to flash your lights. In some towns, on one-way streets you have to park on the side of the road with even house numbers on even days of the month, and on the uneven-numbered side on uneven days. About 20% of Spanish motorways require tolls.
USA - Florida
Speed limit: Built-up areas 30mph except school zones 20mph; state highways 60mph; four-lane highways 65mph; interstates 70mph
Drink-driving limit: 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.
Tolls: The Sunpass (sunpass.com) is a credit-card linked tag that sits by your rear-view mirror and works on most of Florida’s toll roads. Avoid your car hire company’s sales pitch and their hefty “convenience fee” and instead buy one at a supermarket or pharmacy for $5.
Good to know: Unless otherwise signed, you can turn right at a red light when no traffic is coming. Drivers have to move over to the next lane or slow down to at least 20 mph below the speed limit when approaching emergency vehicles that are stopped on interstates or other highways. Front-seat passengers must wear a seat belt, as do those under 18 if they’re in the back.
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