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Driving through Europe – what to watch out for

driving in EuropeDespite being in the EU, Europe’s countries all have different laws and requirements for when you drive on their roads. When you do a long trip as I have just done it can be quite easy to slip up, so it pays to find out what you need in which countries. Before I went I did do a check on the EU’s website for road safety to make sure I had all the necessary equipment in my car e.g. warning triangle, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, fluorescent vests.

All countries are different and to my knowledge none of these things are a requirement in the UK which makes travelling abroad a bit of a pain. Luckily I’ve spent the last few years in Portugal so I had almost everything apart from the fire extinguisher. The EU site also had information about which countries needed headlights on all the time etc. (weirdly Romania does in parts – I say weirdly because it is 30 degrees over there at the moment and the sun is shining bright in the sky).

One thing it didn’t mention are the payments needed for driving in Austria, Hungary and Romania. Now in the western part of the EU (including the UK) when you have to pay to use a motorway or a bridge, you either take a ticket at the start and then pay when you leave (e.g. motorways) or just pay a fixed fee (e.g. Dartford crossing in London), you don’t have a choice because there are pay stations you must drive through.

However, in a move that I am sure is just a way to get money out of tourists, in Austria there are no stations where you have to stop your car in order to pay to get on the motorway (or when you get off). No, instead you are supposed to understand the very few references to a ticket (vignetter) you need to travel on their motorways, a ticket which you have to buy from a shop. As a motorist and having driven through western Europe quite a few times I find this ridiculous. Even more so when you consider they fined us 120 Euros just before the Hungarian border for not having it. If this isn’t a move to tax tourists I don’t know what is. In Hungary it was the same but at least we knew about it and the signs were in English as well as Hungarian and German. A ticket for 4 days was 8 Euros.

In Romania, the old signs of communism were pretty evident at the border. Again it was a bit confusing, all the more so because my other half (a Romanian) didn’t know anything about the ticket needed. We bought one anyway (10 Euros for 1 month – bargain!) but we still (along with everyone else) were stopped at the border crossing by the Romanian police. I don’t think these countries actually understand what the EU is! I don’t know if any of them are in Schengen either but if they are then I don’t know what to say. The Romanian policeman seemed a bit confused by us but when he saw my British passport he let us in with no issues, I think my passport was more important to him then my boyfriend’s!

The really confusing thing about the vignette for Romanian roads is that in the other countries the ticket is for using the motorways, in Romania there are about 2/3 which are around Bucharest, the rest of the country has dreadful ‘A’ roads (one of which was just mud when we drove on it in March). It isn’t obvious which roads need the ticket or not, you have to look out for the small sign that tells you. To have to pay to use these roads is a bit of a joke but we have the ticket now for a month so at least we’re covered.

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