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Driving Abroad After You Pass Your Test

By: Norman Thomson - Updated: 16 Jul 2019 | comments*Discuss
Driving Abroad After You Pass Your Test

Driving abroad can be great fun. New scenery, different cultures and picturesque towns and villages to explore await the eager new driver. Organised coach trips are a good way to see a new country, but much more can be gained when doing a self-driver tour. Driving abroad for the new driver can be a challenge however and should not be undertaken without some initial planning. By taking some simple precautions, a great experience can await.

What is the Law?

The first thing to bear in mind is that driving laws abroad can be quite different from the UK. For example, speed limits on the continent may be considerably less than in the UK. The maximum speed limit on open roads in France is 90 km/h (55mph). In urban areas, a strict 55 km/h is enforced. Remember too that speed limits reduce when road conditions deteriorate. So although a maximum speed sign may indicate 90 km/h, in fact the police may pull you over if you exceed 80 km/h in wet road conditions.

Another example of differing legal requirements is alcohol limits. In Norway, for example, a small glass of beer or a half glass of wine may be enough to push a driver over the legal limit. Many European countries have a much less tolerance to Drink Driving than the UK, and these lower limits are strictly enforced. It is no defence to say that you were unaware of the differences, so it is very important to ensure that alcohol consumption is reduced while driving, in fact the best approach is zero alcohol intake before driving abroad.

Look Left and Right

A very good reason for taking a zero approach to alcohol when driving abroad is because concentration and reflexes need to be sharp when driving in a foreign country, and alcohol has been known to reduce both of these. Remember, the UK is one of the few countries that drive on the left. Most accidents that involve UK drivers when abroad occur when turning left at junctions and at roundabouts. From the very first stages of learning to drive in the UK, we are taught to look right when turning right. Of course, looking left is also important, but we must always check oncoming traffic before we cross their lane, which is why we need to look right. Now imagine driving in a country that drives on the right. If we wish to turn left at a junction it is automatic for us to look right when we approach. Seeing an empty lane, we move off – only to find that a vehicle is approaching from our left. Good visual awareness in all directions is one of the most important considerations while driving abroad.


Poor overtaking technique is the second most common cause of accidents involving UK drivers abroad. Unless driving a hire car, it is most likely that your car from the UK will be right-hand drive i.e. the driver sits in the right seat. But, this means that, when driving on the right-hand side of the road, the driver will sit nearest to the grass verge, and therefore his view of the centre-line of the road will be greatly restricted. Oncoming traffic will not be obvious to the driver, so overtaking can be quite hazardous. To overcome the lack of clear vision, the driver needs to move very close to the grass verge so that a good view of the road ahead can be seen. Alternatively, you may have to rely on a passenger checking the road ahead, but this is not a good idea, especially if the passenger is a non-driver or someone with little experience of driving. Only when 100% sure that nothing is approaching, should an overtaking manoeuvre be undertaken.

Although driving abroad does carry more risk of an accident, this should not deter a new driver. Careful planning, knowing local regulations, and concentration at all times, will all ensure that a safe and pleasant experience is achieved.

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Hi I passed my driving test in March and I’m due to drive to France at the end of August. Do I need to driving longer that what I have to drive in France it would be 5 moths
Samh - 16-Jul-19 @ 3:34 PM
I changed my licence to a Spanish one when I lived in Spain. I am now back in England and wish to change it back to an English licence. How do I go about doing this? Thank you
BULLDOZER - 3-Jun-11 @ 10:39 AM
I'm thinking of emigrating to France in the next few years. Please could you tell me if I can drive round France using my current UK full driving licence which I've held for over 27 years or will I have to take a French driving test ?
kivver - 5-May-11 @ 8:09 PM
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