Brits unprepared for Europe's roads

Article date: 3 July 2009

  • Misguided motorists also presume fuel is cheaper in Europe

One in three motorists surveyed by RAC* are gearing up to drive in Europe this year, but research from the motoring organisation reveals that many don’t have a clue what it will cost to drive abroad or what to do when it all goes wrong.

35% of motorists surveyed have no idea what to do if they are involved in an accident and only a third know the correct number for the emergency services in Europe.

The research also revealed that nearly one in 10 motorists have been involved in an accident whilst driving in Europe and 12% have broken down.

A common misconception is that fuel is cheaper in Europe. Almost half of motorists (48%) mistakenly believe that petrol is cheaper on the continent but in four of the five most popular European driving destinations - France, Germany, Italy and Belgium - unleaded petrol is up to 23 cents more expensive per litre. This could potentially affect motorists’ fuel budgets by up to €58 (approx £50) based an average family car doing a 2,000 mile round trip.

Diesel is however cheaper per litre in all five destinations, particularly Spain where it costs approximately 25% less than in the UK, saving motorists up to €60 (approx £51) on the average trip.

David Hawes, RAC patrol manager, says: “There are benefits to driving abroad, ranging from lower diesel prices to more freedom to visit places outside of tourist centres, but as our research shows, foreign roads can be a dangerous place, so it’s always best to be prepared. It’s also crucial to swot up on European driving laws before you go to avoid any pitfalls.”

RAC’s road trip guide to Europe’s five most popular driving destinations is a good starting point:


Maximum motorway speed limit

Fuel prices
(€ per litre)**
# = cheaper
~ = pricier

Compulsory materials

Lesser known driving laws***


70 mph

€1.16 unleaded €1.22 diesel 




130 km/h (110 km/h when wet)
(80 mph/

€1.25 unleaded ~

€1 diesel #

Headlamp converters

A warning triangle

Reflective jacket

To drive in France you must be 18 years old.

Speeding can result in costly, on the spot fines and confiscation of your vehicle and licence.

Speed camera detectors are illegal in France whether in use or not.



none unless shown but 130 km/h


€1.29 unleaded ~

diesel #

A warning triangle

Headlamp converters

First aid kit

To drive in Germany you must be 18 years old.

It is a legal requirement to report all road incidents to the police, however minor.


130 km/h

€1.29 unleaded ~

diesel #


A warning triangle

Headlamp converters

Reflective jacket

You must use dipped headlights during the day while travelling on motorways and major roads outside cities. 

Horns are widely used in Italy to warn other motorists of your approach, but are banned in built-up areas.


120 km/h
(75 mph)

€1.02 unleaded #

diesel #

A warning triangle

Headlamp converters

Reflective jacket

Spare bulbs plus tools to fit them

Spare pair of glasses

It is a legal requirement for motorists travelling in Spain to carry two red warning triangles to be placed, in the event of an accident or breakdown, in front of and behind the vehicle.

No children under the age of twelve should be in the front seat.

If you wear prescription glasses, it is compulsory to carry a second pair in the car with you. 


120 km/h
(75 mph)

€1.39 unleaded ~

diesel #

A warning triangle

Headlamp converters

A fire extinguisher

Drivers must give priority to vehicles joining a road from the right, except on motorways, roundabouts or on roads sign-posted with an orange diamond on a white background.

Trams have priority over other traffic.


UK equivalent fuel price per litre as of 24 June - €1.16 unleaded €1.22 diesel

**source 24 June 2009

*** source

European Driving Styles*
A fifth of UK drivers polled fear dangerous road manoeuvres when driving in Italy and over a quarter claim to have experienced the highest levels of road rage there. The research also identified Italy as the undertaking capital of Europe with 14% of respondents saying they see "much more undertaking" than at home.   

Spanish motorists are most likely to scare Brits with their overtaking, just ahead of Italy, and more excessive beeping and tooting on the country’s roads, according to the research. Nearly a third of respondents who had driven in Spain in the past, noticed increased use of the car horn there.

Germany is where motorists report the fewest incidences of driving too close (only 7% in comparison to 17% in Italy), the fewest dangerous manoeuvres and the highest levels of courtesy.

RAC research showed that motorists looking for a more sedate drive should also head to Belgium where over a quarter of respondents see much less flouting of road rules such as undertaking.

Despite negative connotations of driving styles, there is a lot of love for European roads. 51% of those surveyed would like to see the superior road quality seen in Europe echoed here. Likewise, 35% identified that there are fewer cars on European roads and 44% would like to see similarly reduced traffic in the UK. A third of motorists would also like to see better picnic and rest areas in line with those on the continent.

For more advice on driving abroad visit or call 0800 015 6000 for details on European Breakdown Cover.


For further information, please contact:
Deborah Hitchcock
Hill and Knowlton
Telephone: 0207 413 3241

Lucy Haughey
RAC Press Office
Telephone: 01603 688891 
Mobile: 07800 690149

Vicki Burn
RAC Press Office
Telephone: 01603 684224
Mobile: 07800 692909

* Research carried out from 17-21 June 2009 by One Poll on behalf by RAC on a representative sample of 4,000 UK adults who have driven abroad in the past.  The survey was conducted using the five most popular destinations for Britons driving abroad based on RAC’s European Breakdown data.

Notes to editors:

About RAC
With around seven million members, RAC is one of the UK's most progressive motoring organisations, providing services for both private and business motorists.  Whether it's roadside assistance, insurance, vehicle inspections and checks, legal services or up-to-the-minute traffic and travel information - RAC is able to meet motorists’ needs.

RAC is committed to providing the very highest levels of service to its members and has been ranked first for customer service by J D Power and Associates’ UK Roadside Assistance Study for the last three years.

Aviva bought RAC in May 2005. The acquisition brings together RAC's powerful brand and customer base with the expertise and leading position in motor insurance of Aviva UK Insurance (formerly Norwich Union Insurance). Aviva is the UK's largest insurer with a market share of around 15%. 

RAC is part of Aviva, the world’s fifth largest insurance group which operates in 28 countries. 

RAC’s news releases and a selection of images are available from the internet press centre at

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