Although Ireland isn’t too distant from the UK, the driving experience can vary greatly to what you’re used to.
Whether you’re planning a holiday to Ireland, visiting for work, or taking a trip for any other reason, it’s vital that you understand the rules of the road and know the differences between driving in Ireland and driving in your home country. It’s also a good idea to ensure that you prepare for any unexpected eventualities that could happen by purchasing AA European Breakdown Cover before you go.
We’ve put together some guidance for safe and legal driving in Ireland to help you prepare. Here’s a run-through of everything you need to know about driving in Ireland, including details on speed limits and penalties, vehicle insurance, and travelling in an electric car.
In this article:
Important information for driving in Ireland
General rules to keep in mind when driving in Ireland:
- You must be at least 17 years old to drive in Ireland
- You must not use your horn between 11:30pm and 7am.
- Just like in the UK, cars in Ireland drive on the left side of the road and use the right lane for overtaking.
- Some level crossings have manual gates that must be opened and closed by hand.
- Radar detectors are not allowed and if you’re found using one, it may be confiscated by the Garda.
As of August 2021 drivers visiting Ireland will no longer need an insurance green card or a GB sticker, however, there are a few other important documents you need to remember to bring.
- A UK-issued driving licence. If you live in the UK and hold a valid UK driving licence, you can drive in Ireland.
- A third-party motor insurance certificate. In Ireland, all vehicles must have third-party insurance as a minimum.
- V5 registration document. The original and a copy of your V5 registration document.
- Proof of rental or permission to drive. If the vehicle you’re driving is rented or not registered in your name, you’ll need to bring a contract or letter from the registered owner to prove you have permission to drive it.
Speed limits in Ireland are given in kilometres per hour (kph) rather than miles per hour (mph), which can cause some initial confusion. Luckily, the speedometer in your vehicle should tell you your speed in both metrics.
Speed limits in Ireland are as follows:
- Motorways: 120 kph
- National roads: 100 kph
- Regional roads: 80 kph
- Urban areas: 50 kph
- Special limits (i.e. near schools): 30 kph
Regardless of the speed offenders are caught driving at or the type of road they’re travelling on, speeding fines in Ireland are currently issued at a flat rate of €80.
However, the Irish Government has considered replacing the flat rate fine with graduated speeding measures based on how far over the speed limit the driver is.
Since the UK's departure from the European Union, EU countries can no longer write to or send fines to UK drivers for offences caught on camera, such as speeding. However, exceeding the speed limit could still result in an on-the-spot fine and other serious repercussions, as well as endangering your safety and the safety of others.
The traffic light system in Ireland is similar to that in the UK, but the sequence of traffic lights in Ireland is a little different. In Ireland, traffic lights typically go from red to green, then amber, red and green again.
Red light = Stop before the stop line or if there isn’t one, stop before the light.
Amber light = As long as it is safe to do so, stop before the stop line or if there isn’t one, stop before the light. However, if the driver is too close to the stop line when the light turns to amber and it is unsafe to stop, they may proceed.
Flashing amber arrow = Continue in the direction indicated by the arrow if it is safe to do so, give way if other traffic is approaching.
Green light = Drive on if the way is clear and give way to any pedestrians crossing.
Green arrow or filter light = Continue in the direction indicated by the arrow, even if a red light is showing.
In Ireland, every passenger in your vehicle is required to wear a seat belt at all times and as the driver, it’s your responsibility to make sure anyone in the vehicle that’s under 17 is using a safety belt or suitable child car seat.
If you don’t wear a seat belt while driving, you could be fined €60 and don't go to court.
However, if you do go to court for this offence and are convicted, you’ll be fined €2,000.
Children under the age of 12 years old or less than 135cm (4ft 5in) must sit in the back of the vehicle in a suitable car seat or booster seat for every journey.
Drink-driving offences are taken very seriously in Ireland. The Gardaí has the right to test drivers on the roadside for alcohol and drug levels, these tests are mandatory so refusing to be tested is considered an offence and you could be arrested. The legal limit for drivers of private vehicles is 0.05% or 0.02% for newly qualified drivers with less than 2 years worth of driving experience.
Being caught and convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs leads to an automatic fine and a mandatory fixed-period driving disqualification. However the scale and severity of these penalties depends on the amount of alcohol detected in the driver’s system.
For example, if an experienced driver is found to have 51mg to 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, the minimum drink-driving offence penalty is a €200 fine and a 3 month driving disqualification. But if they’re found to have 81mg to 100mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, the penalty doubles to a €400 fine and a 6 month driving disqualification.
It’s illegal to use a mobile phone whilst driving in Ireland, unless it’s with a hands-free system or you’re calling 999 or 112 in an emergency. Using a mobile phone when you’re driving makes it harder to stay in your lane, stick to the speed limit, and judge safe stopping distances, ultimately limiting your ability to drive safely.
Holding your phone or balancing against another part of your body (like in between your head and shoulder) is also against the law. If you’re caught and charged by the Gardaí for this you’ll receive a fixed fine of €60 if you pay the fine and stay out of court. However, if you decide not to pay the fine, go to court, and are convicted, you’ll receive a fine of up to €2,000.
If you plan to use a hands-free system whilst driving around Ireland, it’s important to take note of the fact that your concentration will not be 100% on the road which can put yourself and other road users at risk. If this impacts your driving, you can be prosecuted for dangerous or careless driving, which might mean you end up losing your licence.
All cars driving in Ireland are legally required to have the following lights in working order:
- 2 headlights and 2 white sidelights at the front of the car
- 4 amber indicators, 2 at the front and 2 at the back
- 2 tail lights and 2 brake lights at the back of the car
- 1 or 1 white reversing lights at the back of the car
- Number plate lighting
Daytime running lights should be used when it’s light outside and full headlights should be used when it’s dark. However, if you’re in an urban or residential area with suitable street lights, driving behind another vehicle, waiting in traffic, or approaching an oncoming vehicle, use dipped headlights.
If visibility is poor due to adverse weather conditions such as heavy rain, thick fog, or snow, use dipped headlights instead.
If you’re driving through dense fog or falling snow, you might opt to use fog lights instead but these should be switched off as soon as the drivers’ visibility improves.
Vehicle insurance in Ireland
In Ireland, the law requires all drivers to have third-party liability insurance at a minimum, so all UK vehicle insurance provides the compulsory cover required to drive in Ireland.
Parking in Ireland
Ireland has plenty of on-street parking available in its towns and cities, which usually operate with pay and display systems. Be sure to read the signs located nearby indicating the rules and any payment required.
As a general rule, you can’t park anywhere in Ireland that interferes with the normal flow of traffic, blocks other road users, or puts others in danger. Some more specific situations where parking is illegal include:
- On double yellow lines at any time
- On single yellow lines during the times listed on nearby signs
- On roads with a single white lane in the middle or roads that have ‘No Overtaking’ sign
- On zig-zag road markings
- Where signs show ‘No Parking’ or ‘Restricted Parking’ during the times listed
- On a Clearway (which are shown by a circle with an X inside)
- In cycle lanes during hours of use
- In contra-flow bus lanes or with-flow bus lanes during hours of operation
- In bus stops, taxi ranks, or loading bays
- In tram lanes
You can find out more about parking with our guide on where not to park in Ireland.
If you park illegally or don’t pay the required parking fee, you’ll be issued with a fine to pay within 28 days. If you fail to pay within the 28 days of the fine being issued, the amount you’ll have to pay will increase by 50%.
If you’re found to have parked dangerously, you’ll receive a fine. You might also have your car clamped or towed away in some circumstances.
Fuel in Ireland
Most cars in Ireland run on either petrol or diesel, with the exception of EVs. Some of the main petrol stations in Ireland include Applegreen, Circle K, and Valero Energy - the majority of petrol stations provide the option for drivers to pay for their fuel with cash, credit or debit cards, and in some cases fuel cards.
Driving an electric vehicle in Ireland
Electric vehicles are growing in popularity amongst Irish drivers, and with this growth comes improvements in the charging infrastructure for drivers.
There is a growing number of publicly-accessible electric vehicle charging points across Ireland, especially in urban areas, like Dublin - which is one of the better served locations for EV chargers. You can also find points to charge your car at motorway service stations, public car parks, shopping centres, and by the roadside.
If you’re planning a long journey or are travelling a considerable distance away from a highly populated urban area, it’s a good idea to research charging stations along your route before you set off.
Take a look at this map of 1,350 public charging stations across Ireland provided by ESB, one of Ireland’s largest energy providers.
Most EV charging points require you to register via an app or website in order to pay. In general, providers offer you the choice of a membership in the form of a monthly subscription with a set monthly fee or a pay-as-you-go plan, whereby you only pay for the electricity you use.
Motorcycle regulations in Ireland
The minimum age for riders of mopeds or light quadricycles up to 125cc is 16 years old, riders of medium-sized motorcycles must be at least 19 years old, and to ride an unrestricted motorcycle above 35kW must be at least 21 years old.
Here are some of the key rules and regulations for motorcycle riders in Ireland.
- Motorcycle riders must use dipped headlights during the day and use headlights at night or when visibility is poor to ensure you can always be seen by other road users.
- Every person riding a motorcycle has to wear an approved crash helmet and protective clothing, you can be fined €80 if you use a motorcycle without wearing a helmet or allow a passenger to.
- Ensure your motorcycle is road safe at all times, make sure the tyres are the correct tread depth (minimum 1mm) and that all of your lights work properly.
- It’s illegal to carry a passenger on your motorcycle if you’re a learner driver.
Towing a caravan or trailer in Ireland
The first thing to note is that cars towing caravans or trailers cannot use the outside lane of a motorway with 3 or more lanes, you must also adhere to a restricted speed limit.
Some more important safely details include:
- Do not overload the car or the caravan
- The loaded weight of the caravan or trailer being towed must not exceed the car’s towing ability
- The weight of the loaded car and loaded caravan must not exceed the maximum ‘train’ weight for the car. You can find out the weight at a local weighbridge or you can calculate the total weight by weighing everything separately.
If you’re towing a caravan or trailer in Ireland, the speed limit is restricted to 80 kph on both motorways and national roads.
Toll charges in Ireland
If the car you’re driving is legally registered in your name, you’re responsible for ensuring the toll is paid, even if you're not the one driving at the time. Failure to do so can result in fines or even prosecution, however, if you drive an electric vehicle you might be able to pay reduced fares via the Low Emissions Vehicle Toll Incentive scheme.
Most tolls in Ireland don’t take credit cards, so it’s always best to travel with some change to pay with at the barrier or invest in an eToll tag - attaching an eToll tag to your windscreen allows you to pass through toll roads without needing to stop at the barriers as the charge is collected automatically from your account.
Roadside assistance in Ireland
If your car breaks down on a motorway in Ireland, the first thing you need to do is pull as far onto the hard shoulder as you can, leaving your wheels turned to the left and your hazard lights on. If you can’t get your vehicle onto the hard shoulder, put your hazard lights on and exit the vehicle via the left-hand door when you can safely get away from the carriageway.
Don’t attempt to make repairs to your vehicle and when you’re in a safe place, if you’re a UK breakdown member you can give us a call on (0)0800 88 77 66 44 to report your breakdown. It’s also a good idea to call TII's Motorway Control Centre on 0818 715 100 to let them know what’s happened and where you are.
You can reach the emergency services in Ireland using the same number you use in the UK, 999.
If you are planning a driving trip in Ireland, check out our European Breakdown Cover page for a quote. Our cover ensures driving in Ireland is never a worry – if your vehicle breaks down, we'll help.
We offer alternative accommodation and travel arrangements, recovery of your vehicle back to the UK, and up to £50,000 in legal costs.
21 June 2022