Driving On The Continent

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spudqueen | 20:39 Sun 02nd Jun 2013 | Travel
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At the age of 51 Mr Spudqueen and I are thinking of driving on the continent for the first time (we've both driven hire cars in the US). We're thinking of driving our own car through the chunnel and into northern Italy, via France (obviously!) and possibly Switzerland. Can anyone with personal experience give us any tips and pointers? We've not booked anything - yet, just deciding whether we should actually do it!


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If you fo across on Le Shuttle you come onto the main road in the right lane, pointing in the right direstion. This, believe me, is a good thing. Once you've done a couple of miles on that you'll be fine.

Couple of things you must remember. You have to have at least one hi-viz vest in the vehicle, you can be fined for no GB plate unless you have one of the EC ones with the little blue thing and you're supposed to carry a couple of breathalysers with you. The people at the shuttle terminal can supply all you'll need.

Sounds like a good trip. Enjoy.
Rather than fo-ing across, I'd suggest go-ing across.
Start here:
but then use the menu on the right of the page to select the countries you'll be driving to, and download the relevant pdf documents.

My own advice is to ensure that you're thoroughly familiar with when ''priorite a droite' does, and does not, apply in France:
and that you remember that you need to go anticlockwise at roundabouts! (Thousands of Brits get that wrong!!!)

You might also find a decent route planner (with details of tolls, etc) useful:

Just do it. Perhaps one thing I'd say is; if you cross over the road to go into a filling station, be extra careful when pulling out again that you cross back over to the right hand side of the road.

I've driven down as far as Spain, and on another occasion drove to Italy. You mentioned Switzerland - wonderful scenery. I particularly loved Lugano, in Ticino Province.

Enjoy your trip.
............. that should be - Ticino Canton
France requires a warning triangle, hi-viz vest, spare bulb kit and your driving documents. The breathalyser requirement has been put on hold. I'm afraid I dont know about italy but the AA website used to have all the countries individual requirements.
There is no big deal to driving on the right, but be wary at roundabouts as obviously traffic is coming from the 'wrong' direction. The road signs are logical and largely self-explanatory. There is a growing number of speed cameras in France which are usually preceded by a warning sign OR an electronic speed sign that tells you how fast you are going.
In France when you pass a sign with the town name on it the speed limit is 50 kph (c30mph) unless you are near a school when it drops to 30 kph. You don't get any other warning. That lasts until you drive through a sign with the town name crossed through, then, unless told otherwise, the speed limit is 90 kph. (55 ish)
The gendarmes have a habit of tucking up against a hedge with a mobile speed camera and their uniforms blend in superbly so if someone flashes you coming in the opposite direction it is wise to keep within those limits for a mile or so.
French motorways are great but if you need to pee, try and stop at a services that sells fuel as well as they tend to have better loos. The picnic area type 'aires' are usually pleasant but can have awful toilets.
Get a good up to date sat-nav - worth their weight in gold as French signposts sort of assume you know where all the big cities are already.
The only thing I found difficult was turning left. You're in the right hand lane, indicate left, pull to the crown of the road and begin your turn.
Now is it to the left of center of the road you are entering or the right?
Obviously it's the right but it throws me a little bit.

Sat. Nav. in Paris entering the Champs Elise, "At the thirteenth exit, turn right. Turn right".
>>>"At the thirteenth exit, turn right. Turn right"

Easy peasy!
After your first overnight stop remember to drive on the right hand side of the road (although I've often driven abroad, I came out of a hotel one Sunday morning in a French hire car, turned left and kept on the left hand side of the road for the first 100 yards, until I remembered where I was - luckily it was a quiet road with very little traffic !).
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One further point - it is worth organising a prepaid debit card with euros on it because sometimes the only fuel available is from credit card only pumps (nighttime and bank holidays) and using an English credit card is possible but makes everything very expensive. They are also usefully quicker for getting through toll booths on M'ways.
'HFX' (currency supplier) do one.
Most of Europe requires you to have 2 warning triangles in the car and a high visabilty jacket for the driver. If English car then make sure the headlight bulbs are re directed.
oh yes and in Spain if you wear glasses for driving you must always have a spare set in the car!
I think you need a hi-vis vest for each passenger, they used to sell them in poundland. The breathalyser law has not been implemented and isn't likely to be because it was Sarkozy's mate who made them.
There are a few points about driving in France worth noting;
1.Speed limits are more strictly enforced than they used to be and the French are clamping down on non French drivers who used to get away with a lot. The normal extra urban speed limit of 90 kmh ends on entry to an 'urbanisation'. If there is a yellow diamond on a pole then the urban speed limit applies even if you can't see an urbanisation, assume this to be 50kmh unless otherwise stated. If you see a sign saying 'rappel' this is to remind you that there is a speed limit though it doesn't tell you what the limit is.
2. Giving way to the right.. on road juncions where the joining road has a white line at the join the main road has right of way if there isn't a line then you have to give way to traffic joining from the right. This rule also applies to roundabouts in towns and villages within the yellow diamonds.
About 50% of French don't understand this rule and so don't give way, proceed with caution.
3.The French have their own distinctive style of driving, they don't like using their indicators, they do like extreme tailgating(it's nothing personal). They like cutting corners especially at T junctions and they like to overtake at the last second, just when you think that they aren't going to.
They almost never use headlight signals except to warn of a police checkpoint/speed trap.
4.Road signs are confusing to the novice, a sign showing direction to a place does not mean go in that direction but go down the next road after that sign. Road signs are not placed ahead of junctions but at them so as soon as you see what might be a relevant sign ahead, slow down otherwise you will miss your turning. If in doubt follow 'toutes directions' until you get the destination you want signed.
At traffic lights drive up to the pole so that you can see the repeater light at eye level if you are at the front of the queue.
The motorways around Paris can get very busy but away from the large towns they are almost deserted and you can make very rapid progress, 130kph (80mph)is often the limit .
There are 'Aires' (rest areas)every 30 km, food & petrol stops less frequent.
Some motorway exits are quite a distance apart and you could lose an hour if you miss one so keep your satnav on to remind you.
A 'rocade' is a ring road where the 'toutes directions' sign is your friend.
Filling stations in the country are few and far between so keeep your tank above a third full.Driving in France is a lot easier than I have made it look, because the roads are so empty so give it a go.
I've been living in France for nearly 5 years so this is kosher info.
I notice that despite all the information given,there is one glaring omission,which I feel is the thing that will give you your major problem.

Your car will have the steering wheel on the right which makes overtaking difficult unless you have a competent passenger in the front seat,who you can trust 100%,to advise you of oncoming traffic,and when it is safe to pull out to overtake.

I have driven many thousands of miles abroad and I very much prefer to hire a car rather than use my own one,for this very reason.

Anyway have a good holiday and remember to have your headlights altered.
I must own up to driving the wrong way round a roundabout, and driving for approximately 10 miles on the left in France. Luckily it was rural France....
In my experience the speed camera's in France(on the autoroutes anyway) generally have massive signs warning you that you'll be approaching them shortly.

Also, sometimes the toll booths can record the time of your journey between tolls and work out an average speed. If you've been 'spanking it' a little too much, they'll know. They do give quite a bit of leeway though, so I'm told, so not actually that stringent!
Re: driving on the other side of the road

One idea for the first day or so...

If the driver normally wears a wrist watch, fasten it to the other wrist when driving

At a subconscious level it 'anchors' a change in orientation
Some countries also require you to carry a first aid kit.
Put a sticky note on the middle of the steering wheel DRIVE ON THE RIGHT - AND LOOK LEFT AT ROUNDABOUTS . It helped me to remember . Oh! and use your horn a lot!

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