I’ve never found too many people in the UK who have much of a quarrel with any of our laws associated with driving. Just about every law you can think of is either pure common sense, or you can at least see a big part of the logic behind it.
Maybe some people will think our drink-driving laws are too draconian, but a lot more will think they are actually too lax. Likewise; some people think our speed limits are too high, while others will argue that those limits were set at a time when cars and their braking and safety systems were much more rudimentary, and it would now be safe to increase those limits accordingly.
It’s not necessarily the same elsewhere
When it comes to driving laws in other parts of the world, however, it can sometimes be hard to understand the thinking behind them as they can appear quite bizarre on occasions.
If you scratch below the surface of driving laws around Europe that appear strange to us at first glance, there’s usually at least a modicum of common sense, but not always. Here are a few examples of strange driving laws found throughout Europe you might want to know about to avoid falling foul of them, or just to have a good laugh about instead.
Too careful or just paranoid?
When it comes to those laws that you can see what they’re thinking but they may be going too far is one regarding glasses and contact lenses. If you need glasses or contact lenses to be able to see properly, it wouldn’t be considered too out of order by most people if it was an offence to drive without them. After all, most driving tests around the world have at least a cursory eyesight test included, so it wouldn’t be a giant leap for it to be illegal to drive without glasses or lenses if you need them to see properly.
In Spain, Portugal and Switzerland they go a step further than that, in fact, a whole lot further if we’re being honest. If you are driving in any of those three countries and you need glasses to see properly, you are also legally bound to carry an additional pair with you, just in case.
Spain used to have a similar law, but now it has been modified. While you cannot be fined for not carrying a spare pair of glasses or contact lenses, you can be fined if they’re broken and you are caught driving without them.
Although it’s now pretty commonplace for drivers to have and use daytime running lights while driving during the day, the practice came about as drivers in Scandinavia and some Baltic states have long been required to have headlights on at all times, even in bright daylight.
In Slovenia, they go further than most countries with safety when reversing. You’re vehicle’s reversing lights are not enough for the powers that be in Slovenia, so when you’re reversing your vehicle you are legally bound to have your hazard lights flashing too.
Things are a lot more relaxed when driving in Malta where it isn’t even customary, never mind legally required, to indicate when changing lanes.
Don’t be too careful in Portugal
Ok, so the Portuguese lean to the cautionary side when it comes to eyewear, but they positively clamp down on drivers who may be seen as too prepared in another way. If you’re one of those people who are fearful of running out of petrol when you’re driving your car in foreign places, don’t you dare think about taking a jerry can of petrol with you on a road trip if you’re in Portugal.
That’s right. It’s illegal to carry a can of petrol with you in a car at any time in Portugal, so this probably falls into the category of a law you can sort of understand the thinking but probably goes a little too far.
Meanwhile, in France…..
If you want some interesting laws regarding driving, France is a rich and fertile country. To say they send some mixed messages could be a bit of an understatement, although they do still seem well-intentioned.
For a start, it’s a legal requirement in France that you must carry a breathalyser with you. That’s right, and you can now find single-use breathalysers for sale throughout France in supermarkets, chemists, garages and service stations. They don’t usually cost much more than €1 each, so it’s no real hardship to comply with the law.
But then we have the mixing of the message. Although the French consider drink-driving (rightly) as a serious crime, the punishment for not complying with the breathalyser law borders on laughable. How much would you expect to be fined if you’re caught without a breathalyser in your car in France now that you know it’s illegal? Thirty, forty, fifty, a hundred euros? Maybe more? Not even close. The penalty for not complying is a paltry €11, so it appears they don’t take it that seriously after all.
Even if you think that’s enough to be fined for not carrying a 1€ piece of equipment, you might be left scratching your head when you hear about another piece of equipment you have to carry with you when driving in France; the yellow vest.
In France, every car has to have a luminous yellow vest on board for the driver to wear in the event of an emergency. If you are caught driving a car and you don’t have a vest for the driver to wear in the event of an emergency, the fine is a hefty €130. That’s right. It’s an €11 fine for no breathalyser, but €130 for not having a luminous yellow vest.
Driving, drinking and eating
Although there’s no specific law here in the UK that bans you drinking or eating while driving, you can still be fined under the laws for distracted or dangerous driving. Some European countries are more specific.
Macedonia has a bit of a curious law that says front seat passengers must not be visibly under the influence of alcohol. What actually constitutes being visibly under the influence is probably down to the judgement of the police officer at the time, which could be a bit of a worry and be open to considerable interpretation.
In Cyprus, the drinking laws for inside the car are at least limited to the driver, which makes a lot more sense in my opinion. The Cypriots don’t go easy on you if you fall foul of their law in this area though. They adopt a zero-tolerance policy as far as the driver drinking or eating is concerned, and anyone caught in the act faces a fine of €85.
It is theoretically possible you could get done for smoking at the wheel here in the UK under the same distracted driving laws used for drinking or eating, but it’s highly unlikely. It’s a different matter in Greece though, where it’s been against the law to smoke while driving for some time now. A couple of years ago the law was extended considerably, but this time more on health grounds than road safety.
If you are smoking in a car where a child below 12 years of age is a passenger, the Greek authorities are prepared to fine you a massive €1,500. If the vehicle is one designated for public use, such as a bus or taxi, the fine is doubled to €3,000. Although the law applies if anyone is smoking in the vehicle, the smoking passenger will not get the fine but the driver will. You have been warned!
The really bizarre
I’m not going to try and offer an explanation for these, but they’re interesting laws to know about, at least. For example, it’s illegal to drive a dirty car in Bulgaria, Belarus and Russia. What actually constitutes an illegally dirty car and the not-quite illegally dirty car is anyone’s guess, but at least you now know.
It’s quite the opposite in Switzerland though, where you are not allowed to wash your car at all on a Sunday. It used to be the same in Germany, but now the law has been loosened to allow car washing after midday on a Sunday so that all-important church-going time isn’t disturbed.
However, if you do want to wash your car inside the permitted time you’re not allowed to use water and detergent on the street, even if it’s at your own property.
Parking is way more complicated in Spain than it really should ever need to be. In some cities, you can only park on certain sides of the road on certain days, and in others, you can only park on the side of the road with houses with even numbers on days of the month with even numbers, and on the side of the road with uneven numbers on days where the date is also an uneven number.
If you’re not already confused enough about the different rules for driving on the continent, how about using roundabouts in the Netherlands? With some roundabouts, you have the right of way when you’re on the roundabout, but with others, you have the right of way when entering. It might be an idea to learn Flemish – or at least the signs relating to roundabouts – before driving in the Holland then, or just try driving where you know you’re not going to come across any roundabouts.