Free driving on vacation traffic rules and fines abroad

During the vacations, many vacationers travel to other EU countries by car or book a rental car there. What to look out for in these countries to prevent accidents?

The suitcases are packed, the family car is filled up with gas, or the rental car is pre-booked at the destination airport. The most beautiful weeks of the year can begin. However, it is important to remember that the regulations abroad are often different from those in Germany. You should be aware of these when you are driving in foreign countries. Familiarize yourself with the rules in the country of destination before traveling. This is the best way to avoid accidents and to escape sometimes quite regid penalties.

New speed limit on country roads and environmental zones in France – and in many city centers only with vignette

In order to reduce the number of accidents on the roads, France has amended the “Code de la Route” several times in recent years. For example, the speed limit on rural roads without separation by median strips or crash barriers became the 1. July 2018 lowered to 80 km/h, but on freeways it remains at 130 km/h (110 km/h in the rain).

Because more and more accidents are caused by distraction, in France not only cell phones are taboo at the wheel, but all other “sound-producing devices at the ear”. This includes headphones and headsets for telephoning or listening to music. Only hearing aids are excluded. Important for all those who take bicycles with them on vacation or rent them locally: Children under the age of twelve are required to wear a helmet when cycling in France.

What may be particularly irritating for German drivers: In French traffic circles, the right of way is given to the entering traffic, unless otherwise signposted.

And it’s not just in Germany that many city centers have been declared environmental zones; in France, too, not every car has been allowed to drive everywhere since 2017. Only those who have the so-called Crit’Air-Vignette (officially Certificat qualite de l’air) affixed to their windshield are allowed to drive in the center of Paris within the Boulevard peripherique ring road (the ring road itself is not an environmental zone). The same applies to the metropolitan areas of Grenoble, Lille, Lyon and Strasbourg as well as the city of Toulouse. The sticker can be applied for on the Internet at www.certificat-air.gouv.fr. The German environmental badge is not valid as a substitute in France. A fine of 68 euros is levied for violations.

Are foreign fines also enforced in Germany?

Yes, EU countries help each other enforce fines once they exceed 70 euros, including administrative fees. The consistent punishment of road traffic offences committed in the European Union is an important part of the EU road safety policy. The cross-border exchange of information on road safety offences applies to speeding, failure to wear a seat belt, running a red light, drunk driving, driving under the influence of drugs, failure to wear a safety helmet, unauthorized use of a lane and improper use of a cell phone or other communication device while driving.

Traffic at the limit – even in Italy, the car is often left outside

When driving in Italy, note that a different color scheme applies to roads there: freeways are signposted in green, while state roads are blue. The speed limit on state roads is 90 km/h outside built-up areas, 110 km/h on expressways and a maximum of 130 km/h on freeways.

Italian city centers are narrow and notoriously congested, which is why many of them are now “Zone a Traffico limitato” – i.e., closed to all car traffic or at least to out-of-town vehicles. In many places, surveillance cameras photograph the license plates of all entering vehicles. If you are caught by the police with your car in a prohibited zone, you have to expect a fine of up to 100 Euros. Tip: Check with the hotel or tourist information office beforehand to find out whether you are allowed to drive to your destination in the city. Otherwise it means: lugging suitcases from the outskirts to the dream hotel.

Italy has also declared war on distracted driving: for some years now, the police have been carrying out more traffic checks to identify cell phone offenders. Fines for use at the wheel are from 160 euros upwards. And on the first offense, your driver’s license can be revoked for up to two months. This also applies to foreign holidaymakers!

What to do when a letter arrives from abroad?

If you have received an information letter or even a fine notice for a traffic violation abroad, you should act quickly. Don’t sit this issue out at all. In the worst case, you risk having your license plate number put out for search in the vacation country. In some countries – for example in France – a fine can also be increased if not paid immediately.

In Spain, the statute of limitations for fines is four years, in Italy it is even five years. In addition, the Netherlands, for example, has been photographing incoming vehicles at many border crossings since 2012, checking whether the license plates are stored in the database of defaulters. Although German authorities usually only enforce the fine and do not issue a driver’s license ban. But there are exceptions, such as the case of a German driver who was caught speeding at more than 200 km/h in the Swiss Gotthard tunnel and sentenced in absentia to prison by a Swiss court. In the second instance, the Stuttgart Higher Regional Court ruled in early 2018 that the speeding driver must now serve his prison sentence in Germany.

Off to jail – severe penalties for speeding in Switzerland

In our neighboring country Switzerland, there are some different traffic rules that not every German driver is aware of: For example, motorists and motorcyclists must always drive with their lights on during the day. On mountain roads, uphill drivers have the right of way. Exception: the yellow post buses always have priority over other vehicles in the mountains. In built-up areas, yellow crosses at the edge of the road indicate a no-parking zone and yellow lines indicate a no-stopping zone.

In Switzerland the penalties for speeding violations are high. Since Switzerland has no mutual legal assistance agreement with Germany, the authorities are keen to levy fines directly on the spot. If you are caught driving 11 km/h too fast in the city, you pay a fine of 250 Swiss francs. Exceeding the speed limit of 50 km/h in built-up areas, 60 km/h outside built-up areas or 80 km/h on the freeway can result in a prison sentence and a lifelong ban on driving.

In Switzerland, too, there is a ban on cell phones at the wheel. Those who do not comply risk not only serious accidents, but also a fine of 85 euros.

Arriving sober – especially high penalties for alcohol and drug offenses

Drinking and drugged driving are among the main causes of accidents in vacation destinations. That’s why many states are cracking down. In Italy, the authorities can expropriate the vehicle and auction it off if the driver is caught with more than 1.5 per mille of alcohol in his blood or under the influence of drugs. In Denmark, a fine of one month’s income is due for more than 0.5 per mille, in France, fines of up to 4 per mille are imposed for this offense.500 Euro and a two-year driving ban. Hungary has zero drink-drive limit, violations cost up to 1.000 Euro. Great Britain (0.8 per mille, Scotland 0.5 per mille) does not have any upper penalty limit at all, here fines for drunk driving can be as high as desired. So it is best to simply follow the rule of conduct “He who drives, does not drink”!

High visibility vests – other countries, other regulations

In Germany, it has been mandatory to carry a high-visibility vest in all cars, trucks and buses since 2014. In Spain and other countries, high-visibility vests must also be carried for all other vehicle occupants; in Belgium, the high-visibility vest requirement also applies to motorcyclists. Find out in advance which regulations apply in the countries relevant to you; for example, with the free smartphone app “Mit dem Auto ins Ausland” from the Center for European Consumer Protection or on the Internet at the ADAC website.

Please do not dazzle – in countries with left-hand traffic, pay attention to the headlights

Most German cars are squinting: By default, high and low beams are set to illuminate not only the road, but also the area to the right of the road. This allows drivers to see hazards on the side of the road more quickly in the dark. However, in Great Britain, Ireland, Malta and Cyprus – the EU countries with left-hand traffic – asymmetrically illuminated headlights dazzle oncoming traffic and thus pose a great danger to others. Blinded drivers are unintentionally “flying blind” for a few seconds, resulting in serious accidents time and again.

That is why countries with left-hand traffic have prescribed special stickers for such headlights, the so-called beam converters. The stickers are available on the Internet, at automobile clubs and on many ferries. On many cars with automatic cornering lights, the headlights can be switched at the touch of a button or lever under the hood. Check the operating instructions for your vehicle. Anyone who fails to turn off the glare and causes an accident as a result must expect a heavy fine.

Even during the day – where drivers should see the light during the day

In many EU countries, drivers must also drive with dipped headlights during the day. This has been proven to reduce the risk of accidents, especially during twilight, in dark forest areas and wherever there are no street lights outside towns. If you are driving without lights when there are no street lights, you endanger yourself and others, because you are seen much less clearly. In Italy and France, the fine for driving without lights is at least 35 euros, in the Czech Republic 53 euros and in Denmark at least 70 euros.

Cell phone driving – dangerous and expensive

The number of accident fatalities caused by distraction has risen across Europe in recent years. Driving with a cell phone behind the wheel is particularly dangerous and is prohibited in all European countries. Even brief moments of inattention behind the wheel can have fatal consequences. Anyone who is inattentive for just two seconds at 50 km/h is driving around 30 meters in blind flight. This is why Germany and most other EU countries have high penalties for unauthorized cell phone use. In Austria the fine is 50 euros, in Greece 100 euros, in France 135 euros and in Sweden and Italy 160 euros each. In Denmark, a fine of 200 euros is levied, in the Netherlands it is as much as 230 euros.

Checklist

You should check these points before you start driving:

Make sure that your papers are complete:

● Valid driver’s license for all persons driving the vehicle

If you carry an older gray or pink German driver’s license instead of an EU driver’s license, you can print out the EU explanatory notes in the language of the country you are visiting in case your driver’s license is mistakenly not recognized at a police checkpoint. The EU explanations are available online at: eur-lex.europe.eu

● Green insurance card in the event of an accident abroad

● Find out what the speed limits are in the relevant countries before you start your journey. Information at: ec.europe.eu

● Check in good time whether you need toll or environmental stickers, where to get them and how to attach them to the vehicle. Information is available from all automobile clubs.

● When driving in winter sports regions, find out what the regulations are regarding snow chains and winter tires. In the event of violations, sometimes severe penalties are possible. Anyone who disregards the obligation to use snow chains in France, Italy or Switzerland must expect a fine of around 100 euros. In Austria, up to 5.000 Euro fine possible. Who is on the way with a rented car, can not excuse himself with the fact that the lender has forgotten winter tires or snow chains. Responsible is the driver.