Driving abroad checklist

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The essential checklist of things to do before driving abroad
Going to the Continent by ferry or Eurotunnel is a great way to take your summer holiday. You can take as much luggage as your car will hold and you don’t have put up with the stresses of airport security, cramped airline seats or worrying about missing bags.

However, it’s not a case of just jumping in the car and going. Many European countries require you to carry certain items with you at all times and, if you’re stopped by local police, you could face a fine if any of them are missing. There are also some common-sense checks you should make before a long journey. Here, Stephen Errity from Auto Express magazine explains how to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable holiday this summer.
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DIY breathalyser
DIY breathalyser
Since 2012, it has been a legal requirement in France to carry a disposable single-use breathalyser in the car with you at all times. The law was adopted due to what was seen as a serious problem with drink-driving in France — up to a third of road accidents there are thought to involve drink-driving, as opposed to around 5% in the UK.

The idea is that by having a breathalyser with them in the car at all times, motorists will be constantly reminded not to take the chance of drinking and driving.
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Carry full documentation
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Full documentation
If you’re stopped by police on the Continent, things will go a lot smoother if you have your full driving license (including paper counterpart), certificate of insurance cover and V5 (proof of ownership) certificate with you.

Failure to produce any of these can result in a fine.

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Warning triangle and hi-vis vests
Warning triangle and hi-vis vests
If your car breaks down or you run out of fuel while driving in Europe, you’re expected to have a warning triangle and one high-visibility vest for each occupant. The warning triangle should be placed some distance down the road from the car to warn other motorists of the stationary hazard up ahead.

The vests should always be kept in the passenger compartment (not the boot) so you can put them on before getting out of the car and walking to a safe location to await the arrival of the breakdown or emergency services. Note that when driving in Spain, you need to carry two warning triangles at all times.
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Speed camera detectors
You face a heavy fine of up to €1,500 if you’re caught driving in France with a device that reveals the location of speed cameras. This includes dedicated camera and radar detecting equipment, as well as sat-navs or smartphone apps with the speed camera location warnings turned on.

Note also that if you have a dedicated radar detector, you’ll still be liable for a fine even if it’s turned off and stowed away in the boot or glove box.
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Speed limits
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Speed limits
Speed limits on the continent are always displayed in kilometres per hour and can vary depending on weather conditions — look for overhead signs indicating this. The maximum speed on motorways is 130km/h in some countries, but 120km/h in others, so keep an eye out for signs as you cross borders.

Some sections of motorway in Germany have no speed limit at all, but 130km/h is the recommended maximum and becomes the legal limit if it’s raining.
Local laws
Some European countries have specific laws that will be unfamiliar to UK drivers. In Austria, for example, overtaking at railway level crossings is strictly forbidden. Dipped headlights must be used at all times of the day in the Czech Republic and Denmark, while in Spain, using a mobile phone while driving — even with a hands-free kit — is against the law. Drivers in Greece should be aware that traffic entering a roundabout has right of way, which is the opposite of UK regulations.
 
Lights
Check your headlights, indicators and rear lights before setting off to make sure you haven’t missed a blown bulb. You should always have a full set of spare bulbs with you, too. Some of the newest cars have automatically adjustable headlamps that can be switched to suit driving on the other side of the road, but for older cars, you’ll have to purchase headlamp deflectors to avoid dazzling drivers coming the other direction.
 
Tyres, fluids and air-con
Before embarking on any long journey, it’s prudent to examine all four tyres to make sure they’re at the correct pressure, have plenty of tread remaining and don’t have any bulges or marks that could indicate damage. Also check your car’s fluids, making sure the engine oil is at its maximum level and you have plenty of windscreen wash. Finally, if you’re heading for a hot country and haven’t used you air-conditioning for a while, give it a blast to make sure it’s still working — it may need re-gassing if it hasn’t been used in a few months.
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