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Motor Mouth articles 2010

French lessons can be costly

BRITISH school holidays signal the start of the hunting season for the traffic police who patrol the highways and byways of France – at least, that is the impression that many motorists have formed in recent years.

The annual invasion of British holidaymakers, pouring from the ferries and the Channel Tunnel in their thousands in cars loaded with luggage, children and happy anticipation, routinely results in a huge boost for the French economy from on-the-spot fines levied on their unsuspecting guests.

After the plague of flight disruptions caused by volcanoes or industrial disputes, more Brits than ever are opting to drive to the Continent this summer, and this could mean even richer pickings for the law-enforcers in France and all points beyond.

And because every country seems to have its own set of road rules – some quirky, some sensible, some plain bizarre – it is important that British travellers arm themselves with the necessary information and equipment for their journeys.

In some places, even something as simple as not displaying a GB sticker can lead to an instant fine. Some countries demand that you carry a first-aid kit. In France they insist a reflective vest is carried, as well as a warning triangle; Spain demands two triangles and a vest for each occupant of the vehicle.

Other countries say you must carry spare light bulbs and fuse kits, fire extinguishers, headlamp beam deflectors, aerosol puncture repair kits; in many countries it is a legal requirement to drive on headlamps at all times.

The drink-drive limit also varies across national borders. In France, Belgium and Italy, for example, the alcohol limit is 50mg compared with 80mg in the UK. In sober, sensible Norway it is just 20mg.

And how about these for a few oddities: in Belarus it is illegal to drive a dirty car, although in all probability there will not be a vast army of British families choosing to take their offspring to Minsk for their summer fun.  

In Bulgaria you are not allowed to sound your car horn between the long lunchtime hours of noon and 4pm; in Germany it is illegal to use a GPS navigation system that indicates the whereabouts of fixed speed cameras.

The nice people at Škoda have teamed up with the RAC to produce a straightforward guide to European motoring, aimed at clarifying the many dos and don’ts of driving in more than 40 countries. It is available free of charge at all Škoda retailers.

As it happens, Mrs Mouth and I have just got back to England after driving nearly 1,300 miles through seven countries. I’m ashamed to admit that we didn’t have reflective jackets or spare bulbs or even a GB sticker, but we will next time.

For what it’s worth, though, I’ll let you in on our personal experience of last week: Germany’s usually free-flowing autobahns were choked by traffic and roadworks and it rained all the way, while the toll-laden highways of France were expensive, free-flowing and bathed in sunshine. Happy holidays!

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