Important UK & European Driving Laws & Road Rules You Don’t Want to Break

Important UK & European Driving Laws & Road Rules You Don’t Want to Break


Last updated September 2, 2021 11 minutes read

What to Know When Driving in Europe & UK

For experienced drivers, handling a car and following the rules of the road (and sometimes bending those rules) become second nature. Steering, accelerating, braking and stopping at red lights are all done instinctively while we listen to the radio, talk on our phones (hands-free, of course) or think about our day.

That can change when people find themselves driving in a foreign country. Anyone planning on driving in Europe and the UK, will need to make some adjustments, and focus a little more than they do during their daily commute to work.

Americans driving in Europe or the UK need to become comfortable with roundabouts, which are traffic circles where traffic moves in one direction. Although they aren’t that common in the U.S., they are quite popular in Europe. Drivers seeking to enter roundabouts must yield to cars that are already in them. The real problem can come when you want to exit. Knowing your exit the first time you drive a roundabout isn’t always easy, but don’t panic. You can stay in the circle, continuing to drive it, until you learn which exit is yours.

Road Rules in European Countries

To help you drive overseas with confidence and make the transition smoother, these tips will make it easier to drive in various countries.

The United Kingdom

Even if you’ve never been to the UK, you probably know the big difference — drivers drive on the left side of the road, and that passing is done on the right. Once you get a handle on that—and the roundabouts—you should adjust well. Keep in mind that right turns on red aren’t allowed, and you cannot block an intersection, even if that means not driving through a green light. Cell phone use while driving is prohibited, and the driver and all passengers must wear seat belts. Horn use is forbidden in built-up areas from 11.30 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Car insurance is required for drivers in the UK. Learn about your UK car insurance coverage options.


Driving in Ireland requires adapting to some key differences compared to other countries. One major aspect is that you will be driving on the left side of the road. Another one is roundabouts: always yield to traffic already on them and drive clockwise. Unlike some places, turning on a red light is illegal. Be aware of toll roads, payable at booths or electronically.

Speed limits vary by road type, generally starting at 30 km/h in special zones and going up to 120 km/h on motorways. Always watch for signs as limits can change quickly.

Seat belts are mandatory for all passengers. Using a phone while driving is illegal unless hands-free, and driving under the influence carries strict penalties, with a much lower legal limit than many other countries.

Car insurance is a must. If you are a new non-resident it can be a struggle to find a policy. Our car insurance for foreigners in Ireland accepts international driving experience and no claims bonuses.

Remember to yield to traffic approaching from the right, especially at uncontrolled intersections and roundabouts. With these crucial points in mind, you can navigate Irish roads safely and confidently. Check out our one-stop guide to driving in Ireland below:


Driving in some historic downtown areas in Italian cities and towns requires a permit, called a “ZTL,” which works similarly to EZ Pass in the U.S. Violations are tracked via cameras and most verification stations are clearly marked. However, if you are cited for a violation, you won’t find out until you return home, because fines don’t involve contact with a police officer, and are sent to the driver’s home in the U.S. A similar system is used for other violations on many highway stretches.

Driving is done on the right, with passing on the left. Seatbelt use is mandatory, and children under 150 centimeters (which is a little under 5 feet) must sit in a child seat designed for their size and weight.

Legally, it is mandatory to have proper car insurance in Italy that provides coverage at least to a third-party liability level.

Hands-free cell phone use is allowed. Fines are given on the spot to motorists who use bus or cycle lanes. Trams, buses and emergency vehicles always have the right of way, and a vehicle going uphill has priority on a gradient.

Required paperwork includes a red warning triangle (called a “trangolo”) and a reflective vest, to be used in a breakdown or accident. Eyeglass-wearing drivers must have a spare set of glasses or contact lenses, and special documentation is needed for vehicles with 10 or more seats.

Tolls for motorways are charged for each journey, with tickets usually being dispensed at the start and paid for when leaving the motorway. If you’re taking a long drive, be prepared for tunnel driving. Italy is a mountainous country, and the motorway system involves lots of long tunnels.


Perhaps the most important adjustment in France is being aware of the ‘priorité à droite,’ which is signified by a black cross in a white triangle with a red outline. It means that traffic from the right driving into your road has the right of way, and does not have to stop, but you do. This is particularly important to be aware of in rural areas.

There is a requirement for car insurance in France, which at the minimum has to cover third-party liability protection.  Clements currently offers worldwide car insurance for physical damage and excess liability options. At this time we do not offer Third Party Liability insurance for France.

Even hands-free cell phone use isn’t allowed in France. Also forbidden are right turns on red lights. Everyone in the vehicle must wear seat belts, and children under 10 must sit in the back. Foreign vehicles must display a sticker indicating the country of origin. Horn honking is illegal in cities unless it’s to avoid an imminent collision.


Spain has a reputation for tough driving laws, and strict enforcement of those laws.

Be sure to pay attention to speed limits, and to follow those limits. Drivers in Spain must have two red warning triangles in the vehicle, and those must be displayed in the event of an accident. You must also have a reflective jacket, to be worn in case you need to exit the vehicle on the side of any highway. These jackets should be kept in the car, not the trunk, because you need to put it on before leaving the vehicle. These jackets are readily available in stores. Drivers who wear glasses must have a spare pair.

Ensure you have proper car insurance for Spain. There are multiple options so you can choose the coverage that best fits your needs and circumstances.

In some Spanish cities, parking is allowed on one side of the road, and the side parking is permitted and changes from day to day. All cell phone use is prohibited, and passing is mostly done on the left. Spain also has very strict drinking and driving laws.


Anyone from the U.S. who’s going to do some driving in Germany is likely looking forward to—or is fearful off—driving on the country’s famous autobahn highway system. These highways do not have federally mandated speed limits, but that doesn’t mean you can zip along them at top speed. Speed limits are established in areas that are urbanized, sub-standard or accident-prone. Limits also exist in areas where construction is going on. Limits also are set for certain weather conditions, and those are strictly enforced.

The right car insurance for Germany will protect your ride from breakdown and towing charges, repairs, accident damage, and more.

Also be aware of Germany’s environmental green zones, which require all vehicles to display an environmental badge in order to drive through such zones.


Drivers coming from the right in Belgium generally have priority, but buses and trams always have priority. At traffic lights, a flashing orange light means the driver should pay attention, while a steady orange light means you cannot drive through the intersection.

Look out for ‘no cruise control’ zones, which are marked with signs. Running your engine while stationary isn’t allowed, and there are other circumstances where unnecessary running of an engine isn’t allowed, including at crossings. Talking on your phone in a place where you’re not familiar with the roads and driving laws is never a good idea, but if you do have to talk, make sure it’s done hands-free, because holding a cell phone while driving in Belgium isn’t allowed.


Portugal is considered by many to be one of the more difficult countries to drive in, and that reputation is supported by Portugal’s high rate of accidents.

Be sure to strictly follow all driving laws because penalties there are big. Passing on the right, for example, can result in a fine of EUR 1,000. On motorways with three lanes, the center lane is for passing. Failing to stop at a stop sign also can lead to a costly fine. And fines can be collected on the spot.

Drivers also are required to have a reflective jacket and a warning triangle, both of which are to be used in the case of a breakdown. Know that the roads in Portugal are not well-lit, and drivers of motorized vehicles share the road with other users.

The Netherlands

Driving in the Netherlands should be pretty easy for U.S. drivers. Passing is done on the left. Cell phone use is allowed if you’re talking hands-free, but simply holding the phone, even if it’s not being used, is illegal. Everyone in the vehicle must wear seatbelts. Be aware of cyclists as they’re common there. Vehicles coming from the right have priority, and buses have priority when pulling out. Trams have priority, except where noted.


The most important thing to be aware of while driving in Switzerland is that driving on toll roads requires a sticker, known as a vignette. They cost 40 Swiss francs, and allow drivers unlimited use of toll roads. Keep in mind, that a vignette is required even if you’ll be driving on one toll road, just once.

Other than that, the laws in Switzerland are pretty basic, and the country has a reputation for quality roads. Vehicles must have a warning triangle to display in case of an accident. Drivers who wear prescription glasses must keep a spare pair in the car as well. Cell phone use is forbidden, and all passengers are required to wear seat belts. Fines can be given on the spot.


Luxembourg is known for its quality roads and toll-free driving. Driving here doesn’t come with a lot of surprises, passing is only allowed on the left, you can talk on a cell phone hands-free, and everyone in the vehicle must wear seatbelts. One small thing you may notice is that stop and yield signs aren’t common in Luxembourg, and horn honking is allowed only in emergency situations.

Moscow, Russia

Some culture shock is likely to come with driving in Moscow. The city’s roads are big and busy, and traffic is notoriously heavy. One piece of advice is to stay calm in traffic; Moscow drivers are used to bad traffic, and tend not to get frustrated with it. It’s common to see people eating, putting on makeup, reading, using their phones, and even flirting while stuck in traffic.

Some laws to keep in mind are that it’s illegal to cross double white lines; turning right on red isn’t permitted without a green arrow light; it is illegal to pick up hitchhikers; and driving a dirty car, especially when the license plate is covered by mud, can result in a fine.

Do You Have Proper Borderless Car Insurance?

Anyone driving in Europe should have borderless coverage. In addition to physical damage and third party liability, make sure you are covered against political violence and other catastrophes. Clements Worldwide provides comprehensive international car insurance across 170 countries. You can easily obtain a quick quote for car insurance and ensure you peace of mind as you drive in the UK and countries around Europe.

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