Driving in Europe

If you think that driving in England and the United Kingdom is interesting, it is nothing compared to driving in Europe. Much of this stems from the varied roads and rules that you encounter.

Rules of the Road: The Basics

All cars drive on the right side of the road and most cars are adapted so that the driver sits on the left. Speed limits are mostly posted on white circular signs with a red border and black numbers in the middle. All speeds are in Kilometers per Hour (KPH).

A dashed line across your lane on approaching another road indicates that you are to YIELD to traffic on that road (an inverted triangle may also be drawn on the road to indicate that a yield intersection is ahead). A double set of dashed lines simply indicates an intersection with a major road whereas a single dashed line indicates a smaller road.

There are many regulations that you should be aware of, notably, if you are driving a car from the UK you MUST use headlight re-directors (as they are aimed into the face of oncoming traffic when driving in Europe) and you MUST have a country sticker on the rear of the vehicle. Similarly, many countries require that you carry a warning triangle, tire chains, and spare headlight bulbs. TIP: Check with your local automobile association if you have questions about specific countries you plan to visit.

European Cars

Most cars on the road have a standard transmission as petrol (gas) is expensive (though not as expensive as the UK) not many people drive automatic cars. In the past many European cars tended to be smaller than American cars though this is generally changing.


Roundabouts are so tricky to understand that I have decided to devote a whole section to them. Roundabouts operate in the COMPLETELY opposite manner to those in the UK, namely, on Roundabouts in Europe you drive counterclockwise and yield to traffic on the left. Simply speaking, a roundabout is a circular traffic intersection that allows traffic to move efficiently into different roads. In general though, roundabouts are easy to understand. All traffic entering a roundabout MUST yield to traffic from the LEFT. A roundabout is always in a counter-clockwise direction (unless otherwise directed, for example due to construction).

  • Turning Right - To turn right, get in the right lane (if present) and turn on your right signal on approaching. After entering the roundabout proceed to the outer-most lane, indicating right immediately after the exit prior to your own. To exit the roundabout, you can proceed to the outside lane (if your way is clear) or the inner lane (if present) on your exit road.
  • Turning Left - To turn left, get in the left lane (if present) and turn on your left signal. After entering the roundabout, proceed to the inner- most lane, indicating right immediately after the exit prior to your own. To exit the roundabout, you can proceed to the outside lane (if your way is clear) or the inner lane (if present) on your exit road.
  • Proceeding Straight - To continue straight get into the middle lane (if present or the right/left lane if not). Whichever lane you enter the roundabout using, you should stay in that lane on the roundabout (so, if you enter in the middle lane, use the middle lane on the roundabout and NOT the inner or outer lane). Signal right after the exit immediately prior to your exit. When leaving the roundabout, again, stay in the lane you entered the roundabout on (if possible).
  • Performing a U-Turn - Proceed as if turning left, continuing around the roundabout, signalling right immediately after the exit prior to your own. Proceed out of the roundabout as normal.

There are exceptions to these rules typically in larger areas or on bigger roundabouts where specific lanes may be indicated for specific destinations from the roundabout. A good guide is to always pay attention and take it slowly. Other recommendations I have heard are to stay in the far left lane no matter where you are turning too but this may be dangerous in that drivers will not be expecting this.

When approaching a roundabout, most will have a sign mapping the layout of the roundabout and indicate most exits. A good thing to do is to know which direction you are taking on the roundabout before entering it. The sign always indicates the point at which you are entering the roundabout at the bottom.

Driver's License

Most countries will allow the use of any (valid) driver's license though some countries require an International Drivers permit – this varies and you should consult the specific country regulations for all countries you are planning to visit.

Winter Driving

Winter driving can be VERY hazardous in Europe. Many places in the mountains actually REQUIRE that you have snow-chains fitted to the tires – they are NOT kidding! In winter be prepared for bad weather at any time – at least having a set of snow-chains in the boot (trunk) just in case. When it is snowing, take care as the roads can also get very slippery but, generally speaking, roads are kept fairly clear of any major accumulations of snow.


Signs can be somewhat confusing as you travel throughout Europe. Most are obvious since pictures are used however some rely on language, some of the most common are:

  • France (French)
  • Arret - Stop
  • Allumez Vos Phares - Turn on your headlights
  • Chaussee Deforme - Uneven road surface
  • Chantier - Construction/road works
  • Chemin Sans Issue - No exit/no through road
  • Fin D'Interdiction De Stationnement - End of parking restrictions
  • Passage Protege - You have right of way
  • Rappel - Restriction continues (caution)
  • Route Barre - Road closed
  • Sens Interdit - Do not enter
  • Sens Unique - One way
  • Stationnement Interdit - No parking
  • Toutes Directions - All routes
  • Italy (Italian)
  • Accendere I Fari/Accendere I Luci - Turn on your headlights
  • Divieto Di Sosta/Sosta Vietata - No Parking
  • Entrata - Entrance
  • Parcheggio - Parking
  • Senso Unico - One Way
  • Uscita - Exit
  • Spain (Spanish)
  • Alto! Pare! - Stop
  • Ceda El Paso - Give Way
  • Cuidado - Caution
  • Despacio - Slow
  • Entrada - Entrance
  • Estacionamiento Prohibido - No Parking

Further Information