Friday, 6 April 2012

Beware Tourists- Driving abroad this summer could get you in a lot of bother!


Whilst my team and I are expert motoring solicitors and know pretty much everything there is to know about driving offences, driving loopholes and strategies applicable to UK motoring law, I was surprised to discover just how much our motoring laws differ from those in other European countries.

Many will have heard by now about France’s introduction of a new mandatory law to carry a handheld breathalyser at all times in your vehicle. Handheld breathalyser devices can be purchased in this country or when in France. I was recently asked to comment on this and other European driving rules on BBC Breakfast. Here are some snippets from the research we did for the show:

     Documents

     In many European countries, is compulsory to carry a driving licence, car registration papers and insurance documents in the car .
     
     Children in cars

It is often obligatory that children under 18 who are less than 1.35 metres tall (although in some countries it’s 1.5 metres) must travel in an EU approved child car seat or raised booster seat. This applies to travelling in the front and back seats.

In Holland, a child under three may not be transported in a car without being strapped in to a seat.

Parking

Again, in Holland I was bemused to learn that parking is severely limited and strictly enforced, particularly in 
Amsterdam, where you can be fined or have your car towed away for illegal parking, or for failing to pay the necessary parking fee and displaying the ticket.

In some areas, signs marked 'I' and 'II' separated by a red diagonal stripe may appear. These mean no parking on the left on odd dates, no parking on the right on even dates!!. In cities, you need a cardboard disc to park in "blue zone" areas. These discs, placed on the dashboard, can be obtained at motor club offices, tobacco shops and police stations. There is no parking where the curb is painted black and white or yellow.

     Do you take American Express for that?

Watch out in Germany! Known for having a more relaxed speed limit on most roads, if exceeded, German police officers are allowed to collects fines on the spot for any minor motoring offence and drivers are allowed to pay cash and on their debit/visa card.

Warning triangles and High Visibility Vests

In many countries such as Austria, Belgium, France, Italy, Norway and Portugal and (and likely to become compulsory throughout the EU) vehicles must carry a warning triangle and a highway first aid kit at times.
In Germany you are required to place the warning triangle 100 meters behind your vehicle if it is disabled (200 meters on the Autobahn).

In France you must carry “high vis” vests – enough for every person in your vehicle. Watch out though because the vests and triangles must be accessible from within the vehicle and not in the boot! This motoring offence is relatively minor and punishable by a fine but still, unless you do your research, you could get stung by a gendarme looking to make some extra cash on his tour of duty, stopping an unsuspecting car marked, “GB” otherwise known as “mug!”

Visibility Vests are now also compulsory in Spain. The rules vary from country to country concerning number of vests required and whether they should be carried in the car or boot. Common sense suggests that there should be a vest for every occupant, and that the vests should be carried in the car, and put on before getting out.

Carrying a warning triangle is also compulsory in most European countries. In Spain, one only is required for non-Spanish registered vehicles but two are required for Spanish registered vehicles.

Income Related Speeding Tickets

Talking of fines, the worst country to get caught speeding in is Switzerland. The penalty for speeding depends on the amount by which the speed limit was exceeded and, for more major offences, an additional penalty linked to the daily net-income (‘DNI’) of the perpetrator can be imposed.

If you get zapped by a speed camera the police will send you the fine even if you live abroad. In Switzerland speeding is not a violation of a traffic code but a ‘legal offence’. If you fail to comply there is a good chance that an international rogatory (a formal request from a court to a foreign court for some type of judicial assistance) will be issued and you have to go to court in your home country. This is enforced by most countries, including all of Europe. Failure to comply can result in a warrant being issued for your arrest by your home country.

Some might say this level of penalty is deserved by someone convicted of such a high speed. Whilst this famous allegation of a record speeding fine of £1,000,000 was widely publicized, there are no further reports of the eventual outcome of this case. Unlike the Swiss millionaire who was forced to pay up! Not many of us will drive at these speeds or have this level of income so I probably wouldn’t lose too much sleep over it if you have an impending trip to Zurich!

It’s a “no-no to Tom Tom!”

In France and Germany, a GPS based navigation system which has maps indicating the location of fixed speed cameras must have the ‘fixed speed camera Points of Interest’ function deactivated. Radar detectors are prohibited even if not switched on. You can be fined as much as 1500 euros, have the device confiscated or even have your car impounded if found in possession of an offending device. So, use your Sat nav by all means but watch out for this one. Apparently you are not obliged to allow an officer to inspect your device if they stop you so policing of this motoring offence must be interesting!

Indicating

The law operating in Spain regarding the use of indicators on motorways is being strictly enforced. You risk being fined for not indicating before overtaking and again before pulling back to the nearside lane after overtaking.

Mobile Phones

Talking on cell phones when driving is prohibited by Spanish law. This includes talking in your car when pulled over to the side of the road. You must be completely away from the road.

Most European countries ban the use of a mobile phone while driving but in some countries, even holding a phone while behind the wheel of a car amounts to a defence.

My advice

If planning on driving while abroad, I would advise that you do some research on the country’s motoring laws before you go. Many motoring websites contain extensive advice about European driving laws. Don’t chance it by thinking they do things the same way as in the UK as the examples above hopefully show just how different our motoring laws are.

Check out the news story we posted last year about how speeding tickets can follow you back home if driving in Europe and get in touch with us if you require any advice on this or other motoring law issues. All initial enquiries are dealt with free of charge. 08000 85 27 84.

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