Holiday Driving on the Continent

Europe's open roads are calling

Vive la France! There is nothing quite like the French open roads – an experience that makes driving a real pleasure. Off the motorways you can count the cars you pass on one hand. But do check you're insured before you head off for the Channel port.

In 2009 it was the year of the 'staycation' – people tightened their belts and took their holiday on home soil. But this year seems to be the 'Eurocation', if the number of enquiries to the AA about driving in mainland Europe instead of flying is anything to go by.

Driving in Europe is certainly appealing. Roads in France, for example, are well maintained, smooth and relatively empty. Away from the motorways driving is a pleasure that is all too rare on Britain's roads.

A recent AA/Populus* survey of AA Members showed that most of the 16,000 people questioned have at some time driven outside the UK, with nearly half doing so at least once every two years.

For those who don't drive to the Continent very often, popular concerns include driving on the wrong side of the road, keeping within the law, or the driving standards of local people. Even so, one in five (19%) thinks that the standard of driving in mainland Europe is generally better than in the UK.

Nicola Saunders, AA Car Insurance manager, says that driving in Europe is not something to be worried about, provided you use common sense: "Of course it is important to take extra care as you get used to driving on the right. What concerns many people is negotiating roundabouts because it feels odd driving round them anti-clockwise. But apart from that the rules of the road are similar to the UK and most of the road signs will be familiar too.

"But it certainly pays to gen up a bit on the local laws before you go. For instance, if you don't have an EU number plate on your car – it has a blue rectangle with GB on it – then you must have a GB sticker. When you go to France (and some other countries) you must also carry a reflective jacket – and have it in your car ready to use, in case you have to stop and get out on a motorway because of an emergency. And most countries ban using a radar speed-camera detector, so it's best to just stick to the speed limits.

"In France you will find that when it's raining a lower speed limit applies. And talking of speed, if you do get caught by a speed camera the fine will follow you home."

Also, some European cities – especially in Germany and Italy – now have strict emission laws, which mean that some older and more polluting cars aren't allowed in.

You can read more about the emission laws and other travel information on the AA's website.

Are you covered?

Nicola strongly advises that you are properly insured before you go. The research showed that nearly two-thirds (61%) of potential travellers were either uncertain or had no idea at all whether their car insurance covered them while driving outside the UK.

"In fact, under EC law your car insurance will provide the minimum legal cover when driving outside your home country – and that is usually only third party. This means that if you do have a prang the damage to other cars or property, or any injuries you cause, will be covered – but not damage to your own car, while you could end up with huge bills for recovery of your vehicle, legal and other costs," she points out.

"So it's really important to make sure your have fully comprehensive cover while away. If you are insured with AA Insurance your comprehensive cover automatically extends to the rest of Europe without additional cost, and there's no need to tell us when you're going. But some insurers don't provide such cover or only do so for an extra premium."

Taking out European Breakdown Cover is also a must, adds Nicola: "'Gives you real peace of mind' is a much misused term, but in this case it genuinely is true.

"If your car breaks down or you do have an accident miles from home, you need to know that you will be rescued and your car repaired – or if not, you will be able to continue your journey and have your car sorted out while you enjoy the rest of the holiday.

"Of course, hopefully you won't ever need to find out how well it does work, but there are plenty of people who have come to grief and will be eternally grateful they took European Breakdown Cover out – so take their advice."

* AA/Populus interviewed 16,097 AA Members between 16 and 21 June 2010.