Driving in Europe: 11 little-know motoring laws from France, Spain, Italy and beyond

From carrying spare specs to keeping your temper, these are some of the more unusual rules of the road on the Continent

With English and Welsh schools breaking up, the summer holidays are well and truly upon us, bringing with them the chance to head overseas after two years of restrictions and uncertainty.

Whether you’re driving to the continent or flying to Europe before hiring a car, it’s important to make sure you understand the rules of the road in your destination.

Many driving laws are common across much of Europe and you can read about the key requirements for all motorists in our guide to driving in Europe.

However, every country also has its own local laws and while some are fairly obvious common sense issues, there are a few more obscure ones that could catch the unwary out. Rules like:

Carry spare glasses (Portugal, Spain and Switzerland)

If you require glasses while driving it’s obvious you should carry your specs with you at all times. However, anyone driving on the Iberian Peninsula or in the Swiss Alps is required by law to ensure they always have a spare pair of glasses in the car as well.

Don’t use headphones at the wheel (France and Spain)

It’s not a sensible thing to do anyway but in France and Spain it’s a specific offence to use a vehicle with any sort of headphones in, regardless of whether they’re connected to music or for phone calls.

Spanish police can fine you if you’re using headphones or a Bluetooth headset while drivingSpanish police can fine you if you’re using headphones or a Bluetooth headset while driving
Spanish police can fine you if you’re using headphones or a Bluetooth headset while driving

Mind your manners (Cyprus and Germany)

British motorists who make a rude or offensive gesture towards another road user could be punished with a steep fine in both Cyprus and Germany, so calm any road rage.

Don’t run out of fuel (Germany and Portugal)

While it’s not illegal in the UK, in Germany it is against the law to run out of fuel on the high-speed autobahn and the offence carries a heavy fine. In Portugal, carrying cans of petrol in cars is banned, so fill up your tank before setting out.

Steer clear of snacks (Cyprus)

Cypriot road rules specifically prohibit drivers from eating or drinking anything while they’re behind the wheel.

Keep the air clean (throughout Europe)

As in the UK, many large European cities have introduced clean air or low emissions zones in recent years. In some cases more polluting vehicles are banned outright while in others they face hefty charges. In some countries you simply pay as you go while in others, such as France, you need to display a sticker showing your car’s emissions rating or face a fine. In others, such as Belgium, you must register your vehicle with the authorities before travelling into a LEZ.

Many European cities have implemented low emissions zonesMany European cities have implemented low emissions zones
Many European cities have implemented low emissions zones

No smoking (Greece)

Tourists travelling with children, whether in a hire car or their own vehicle, during a Greek holiday are banned from smoking and face a fine of €1,500 if they breach the country’s anti-smoking legislation.

Stick to the road (Iceland)

Iceland’s rugged landscape cries out to be explored in a tough 4x4 but to protect vulnerable plants and wildlife, it’s illegal beyond the boundary of a road unless there’s a specific parking area.

Reversing hazards (Slovenia)

Drivers who are reversing in Slovenia are legally required to put their hazard warning lights on, to make themselves more visible to other road users.

Carry rope (Serbia)

All drivers in Serbia are required to carry a tow bar and three metres of rope in their vehicle, in case of a breakdown.

No idling by the railway (Germany)

This is less of an issue now that most modern cars feature start/stop technology, but German law states that drivers must turn off their engines while stopped at a level crossing.