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Weird and wonderful driving rules in Europe

By Richard Hipkiss - Tips & Advice

Every year thousands of people lose their life or are seriously injured in accidents on European roads caused by alcohol and drug misuse, drowsiness and speeding, amongst other negligent causes.

In 2019, there were 25,300 fatalities and 135,000 seriously injured people across Europe. Almost 14% of people killed on EU roads are aged between 18 and 24 while three quarters (76%) of road fatalities are male and only 24% female.

But the positive news is that between 2001 and 2017 the number of road deaths in Europe decreased by 57.5% thanks to social awareness and technological developments such as intelligent speed assistance, driver distraction warning and emergency braking systems.

In fact, the European Parliament estimates that new compulsory safety technologies could help save more than 25,000 lives and avoid at least 140,000 serious injuries by 2038, based on statistics that show human error accounts for about 95% of all road traffic accidents.

In 2017, the EU countries with the best road safety records were Sweden, UK and the Netherlands, while the weakest countries were Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia.

Most driving laws, rules and regulations make perfect sense and as law-abiding citizens we are more than happy to comply. However, some are just mind boggling and have no place on the road safety map.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, the seemingly unnecessary to the just plain bizarre, here is our round up of the 20 strangest driving laws in Europe. 

They may come in useful for your next European road trip – or at least give you a heads up in a pub quiz!

  1. In Italy, dogs must wear a seat belt.  
  2. If you wear glasses or contact lenses and you’re driving in Spain, Portugal or Switzerland, remember to take your spares, as drivers are required to carry an additional pair.
  3. When driving in France, all motor vehicle and motorcycle drivers are required to carry a self-test alcohol breathalyser – the only country in the world to require this.
  4. Front seat passengers in Macedonia are not allowed to be visibly under the influence of alcohol.
  5. Cyprus operates a zero tolerance to eating and drinking at the wheel, including non-alcoholic drinks.
  6. Smoking when driving is illegal in Greece.
  7. Hitchhiking is forbidden in many European countries including Russia, Switzerland and Lichtenstein.
  8. In the Netherlands, on some roundabouts you have right of way when you’re on it and on others you have right of way when coming onto it. Confusing!
  9. Scandinavian and some Baltic countries require headlights to always be on whilst driving – even when in bright daylight.
  10. In Slovenia, reverse lights are not enough – when reversing you must also put your hazard lights on.
  11. In some Spanish cities, cars must be parked on different sides of the road according to the day of the week. Or you can only park on the side of the road where houses have uneven numbers on uneven days of the month and on the even numbered side on even days.
  12. In Switzerland, don’t leave your car keys inside the car with the door unlocked or you could face a fine.
  13. It is illegal to drive a dirty car in Bulgaria, Belarus and Russia.
  14. In Switzerland, you are not allowed to wash your car on Sundays. 
  15. Turkish drivers must always carry a fire extinguisher.
  16. In the UK, don’t honk your horn in developed areas between the hours of 11.30pm and 7am.
  17. According to German law, a vehicle is regarded as a private space so there isn’t any rule when it comes wearing clothes while driving – it is just illegal to purposely show private parts!
  18. In Denmark, it is mandatory to inspect the vehicle engine before taking off. The driver must also check underneath their vehicle as a precautionary measure in case a child or animal is underneath. 
  19. Estonian drivers must carry two wooden blocks in the event that a vehicle breaks down on a slope.

Last but not least, the award for the most crazy, outdated law goes to the UK – where legislation decreed (until 1976 when it was finally removed from the law books) that all Hackney taxis must carry a bale of hay and bag of oats in their vehicle.  

We are assuming that this harks back to times when cabbies drove horse-drawn carriages!


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