From the soaring spire of the Eiffel Tower to the charming, cobble-stoned streets of Rome, Europe is home to some of the world’s most spectacular destinations. Visitors to these sensational locales are treated to one of the most incredible experiences on the planet. While it’s easy to get lost in the fairy tale of a European vacation, however, it is vitally important to keep practical matters in mind when traveling abroad. For example, renting a car in Europe is something that can really add to your trip and allow you to explore the way many visitors don’t. Once you know some of the rules and regulations, you can make a booking through our Europe Car Rental page.
- The UK has one of the lowest motorway speed limits at 112 km/hr (70 mph) while most European motorways are restricted to 130 km/hr (80mph). Take care when driving in France where the speed limit drops down to 110 km/hr (68 mph) in wet conditions. A handful of countries have a speed limit of 120 km/hr (75 mph), notably Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Belgium. The Nordic and some Soviet bloc countries tend to have lower speed limits between 100-120 km/hr (62-75 mph). And, of course, Germany’s autobahns have no official speed limit (although a speed limit of 130 km/hr is recommended).
- For those countries that have dual motorways, speed limits are usually 20 km/hr (12 mph) less than the normal motorway speed limit with the exceptions being Spain, Belgium, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.
- The speed limit for urban areas is mostly 50 km/hr (30 mph). The most notable exception is in Portugal where the speed limit is 30 km/hr (19 mph).
General Driving Rules
- Every country in Europe requires the front and back passengers to wear seat belts. All Sixt rental cars have fully functioning safety belts for all seats.
Emergency Equipment Requirements
- Aside from the UK & Ireland, nearly all European countries require the vehicle to be equipped with an emergency triangle to be used in accidents and breakdowns (and take note, Spain, Cyprus, Estonia, and Bosnia even want 2!). Even if the country does not require an emergency triangle by law, it is still recommended to carry one.
- The majority of European countries require a reflective jacket or vest for either just the driver or every passenger in the car. The notable exceptions are for driving in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and some Nordic and Eastern European countries. Even where it’s not a legal requirement, it’s still recommended you have one in your car.
- A car first aid kit and a fire extinguisher are required by law in most Nordic, Eastern European, Baltic and Soviet countries. A vehicle first aid kit and a fire extinguisher are not legally required when driving in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and other Central European countries, but having these is still recommended.
- For driving in France, the Czech Republic and some Central European countries, vehicles are required to carry spare light bulbs.
- The infamous self-test car breathalyzer is required for driving in France only, although the penalty for not having a car breathalyzer in France is on hold indefinitely.
If you are renting a car with Sixt, we provide the key safety equipment required for driving in the country that you are in. However, don’t forget that as the driver it is your responsibility to ensure that you are aware of the driving regulations and that you fully comply with them. And you should be especially careful if you plan to cross borders.
- All European countries prohibit the use of handheld mobile phones when driving, although the vast majority do allow mobile use with a hands-free kit, including France, Spain, Italy, and Germany.
Some Sixt rental cars have built-in hands-free kits for your mobile phone. Ask about adding this to your rental when booking.
- The permitted legal alcohol limit for driving for the vast majority of Europe is 0.05%, less than the UK & Ireland where the limit is 0.08%, or 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. Some Eastern European, Soviet and Scandinavian countries even have zero tolerance. Portugal is the only mainland European country where the legal alcohol limit is 0.08%.
Baby Seat/Child Seat Minimum Age (Front Seat)
- This is another area of regulation to watch out for as some European countries have an absolute minimum age for a child seat in the front. In the UK the regulation is based on the height as well as the age of the child. The child seat laws can be quite complex based on age, and sometimes combined with height and weight, plus if the child seat can be in the front or back and which direction they are allowed to face. If you are driving with children we recommend that you thoroughly research the specific country regulations. When driving in France, children under the age of 10 must be in a child seat.
- The UK & Ireland are relatively unusual in allowing 17-year-olds to drive–the legal driving age in the majority of European countries is 18. Only in Hungary and Iceland can you also drive at 17.
Insurance, Vehicle, and ID Documents
- Most European countries require you to have your insurance, vehicle registration, and sometimes personal identification documents with you in the vehicle while you are driving. Don’t forget to keep them with you!
Seeing Europe with a Rental Car
Sixt car rentals in Europe open the door to a myriad of different activities and destinations. Travelers may wish to consider some of the following great ideas after renting a vehicle:
- Island Getaways: France’s Mont St. Michel, Greece’s Mykonos and the Italian island of Sardinia are all easily accessible with a rental car.
- Overnight Adventures: Europe is surprisingly drivable! A rental vehicle is a perfect way to visit several European nations.
- Train Treks: Many of Europe’s long-distance rail trains can carry vehicles, ideal if you would like to head to the UK. Hop aboard and cross the English Channel in style!