Brits abroad breaking driving laws

19th Aug 2010
Brits abroad breaking driving laws

Almost 6.5 million British adults (14%) are planning to take their cars abroad over the next 12 months, according to new research(1) from Sainsbury’s Car Insurance. However, millions of these drivers will, sometimes unwittingly, break the law by engaging in driving acts that are illegal in some foreign countries(2).

Unsurprisingly, France is by far the most popular country for Brits planning to drive their cars abroad with 4.3 million of us (9%) planning to do so. One in three of those people (32%) won’t carry a reflective jacket in their car, 15% won’t carry a warning triangle, and 2% will use a speed trap warning radar detector; all illegal acts in France.

Sainsbury’s Finance is warning motorists to check the local driving laws before setting off abroad by car. Its findings reveal that 30% of motorists won’t carry proof of ownership in their car despite it being compulsory in many countries including Austria, Belgium and Italy. Spectacle-wearing motorists intending to drive abroad may not be aware that it is compulsory to carry a spare pair of glasses with you in Spain, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

Almost one in three motorists (28%) will go abroad without carrying a warning triangle, which is illegal in Spain and the Netherlands as well as France, and 8 per cent say they will drive at night without headlamp converters. One in 20 drivers (5%) planning to take their car abroad will illegally try to detect speed traps with their radar detectors; merely having one of these devices in your car is illegal in several European countries such as Belgium, Switzerland and Austria.

Ben Tyte, Sainsbury’s Car Insurance Manager said: “Drivers taking their cars abroad need to prepare, not just because they’ll be driving on the other side of the road, but because laws differ from country to country. For example, in Spain, drivers must carry a spare wheel, a full set of spare bulbs plus the tools to change them, and if you use any radar detecting device in France, your car and device could be seized and you could be fined, even if the device is switched off.”


Sainsbury’s Car Insurance is also warning motorists that unless they inform their insurer before they set off, they could find that their fully comprehensive policy in the UK has diminished to third party. While most insurers will provide cover for driving in Europe, they also require policyholders to notify them before setting off. If they don’t they are likely to have third party cover only.

Ben Tyte continues: “When going on holiday, most people remember to take travel insurance but we are concerned that some motorists forget the need to ensure that their car journey is fully covered. Having an accident anywhere is bad enough but when abroad it can be compounded by a lack of local knowledge, so to then find that the other party’s damage is covered but not your own is surely a risk worth avoiding. Our research shows that around 1.5 million Brits have had an accident while driving their car abroad so it is not uncommon at all.”

Sainsbury’s Car Insurance reveals that while 9% of people intend to drive their cars in France this year(1), 3% will take their car to Belgium and Germany respectively.

Top destinations for Britons driving abroad
Country(1)    Percentage of motorists who intend to take their cars there in the next 12 months     Number of motorists who intend to take their cars there in the next 12 months
France 9%    4.29 million  
Belgium 3%    1.22 million  
Germany       3%    1.19 million  
Spain   2%    821,000    
Ireland 2%    749,000
The Netherlands 1%    675,000

Sainsbury’s Car Insurance suggests the following checklist might be helpful for anyone planning to take their own car abroad:

      1. Do some basic checks on your car to help minimise the risk of breakdowns or accidents, e.g.: check tyre pressures, oil, brake fluid and water levels.
      2. Plan your route: invest in a map or use a European route planner on the internet.
      3. Call your car insurer: even if you think you have fully comprehensive cover abroad, it is worth calling before you leave to double check and to top up your policy.
      4. Take your time: Set a realistic timescale for your journey to avoid feeling pressured to drive fast or not take enough breaks. Driving on unfamiliar roads abroad can be even more tiring than usual, so give yourself time and consider planning your route to avoid the centre of major cities where driving is likely to be most stressful.
      5. Check the motoring laws for the countries you are visiting. This can be done for free at . If you are going to be driving in several countries across Europe make a note of the different rules that apply in each country and take this with you.  Make sure you refer to the notes before you cross the border and enter each country.


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