Ben’s Tips and Tricks for Driving in Europe

Ben has decided it may be helpful to some of you if he provided detailed instructions on driving in Europe.  I am acting very interested in these tips and pretending I’m not at all bored as I’m still trying to convince him to make a 2 hour detour to Switzerland to pick up more chocolate.

Tips and Tricks for Driving in Europe – By Ben Davis (made slightly more interesting by Bianca switching some of his words around to make it more entertaining.)

  1. Paris – Ben suggests picking up a hire car at the end of your Paris trip if you intend to drive around France as Paris is a heavily congested city with bat-shit crazy drivers who have no regard or knowledge of road rules.  Ideally pick the car up on a Sunday when the city is less congested.  He also suggests that if you are not used to driving on the right, you come up with a system with your spouse/partner where the terms left/right are not used.  My brain has flipped itself being on the opposite side of the world and I keep telling him to go right, when really it’s left.  We have now implemented a system where I will say “Turn Ben” or “Turn Bianca”.  
  2. Tip 2 refers to continental Europe (well the countries we witnessed anyway), bar Northern Switzerland who have perfect road manners.  In Australia if you are waiting to pull out of a driveway or carpark and need to make a right hand turn you wait patiently until there is a safe gap on both the left and the right before you turn.  If you were to pull out and hold up oncoming traffic till you had a break in the other side you would be met with swear words, middle fingers, name calling and possibly could be bashed.  In Europe it is the norm just to pull out in front of oncoming traffic and then make them wait till there is a gap the other way.  Sometimes they don’t even wait for a big enough gap on your side leaving you to slam on your breaks to avoid hitting them and then patiently waiting for them to screech out in front of someone on the other side of the road (who will also likely have to jam their breaks on).  
  3. Tip 3 also refers to all continental Europe (bar Northern Switzerland) again.  In the urban areas be prepared for anything.  Cars will seemingly at random pull out in front of you, stop for no discernible reason, make u-turns – not at traffic lights but just in the middle of a busy road, tailgate, cut in front of you and do all sorts of unexpected things.   Urban roads are not maintained very well in Italy either.
  4. Italy – Italians appear to have no interest in adhering to the speed limits, despite there being warning signs everywhere about speed cameras.  We have been doing the speed limit, which is 130km per hour on the motorway, and cars will whizz past us with Ben claiming that they are going at least 180km per hour.  This also applies to little towns and villages where all roads seem to only be wide enough for one car and are shared with pedestrians.  I shudder to think of the pedestrian fatalities in these towns or head on collisions as there is never enough space for both cars to pass.    
  5. Italy – line markings on the road appear to be just a guide and whether or not you stay in your own lane or drive in between lanes (or even on the opposite sides the road) is at your discretion.  Despite this method of road anarchy, it seems to work okay for the Italians as we have not witnessed an accident or road rage at all… so far!!  On the surface the way they drive appears to us to be chaotic and reckless but there is a system in place and it seems to work well for the Italians who are very patient and courteous drivers.  Rather than driving like you are in Australia, it is better to accept and adopt the local ways of driving.  Ben has mostly done this.  The one area where he falls short of being a proper Italian driver is stopping at zebra crossings for people to cross the road (these people always look genuinely surprised and this one simple driving technique must give him away as a foreign driver).  So far as I could tell, zebra crossings are ignored and seemingly invisible to all drivers with the exception of Ben.  I do not understand their purpose at all.  
  6. Motorways – the motorway network across Europe is extensive and absolutely brilliant.  Speed limits are between 120 and 130km/per hour depending on the country.  You really need to to concentrate as you can approach a truck in the right hand lane of the motorway doing 50km/hr while you are doing 130km, and then need to switch immediately to the left lane where you may have cars whizzing along at up to speeds in excess of 180km an hour.  Sticking to the right hand lane unless overtaking is the rule you need to follow.  Same as Australia but in reverse.  This rule is taken very seriously in Europe and failure to move over to the right immediately will result in a very polite flashing of the lights or short horn beep to remind you of this rule.
  7. Tolls work out to be about €10 per 100km approximately and there are many that you will drive through.  Some toll booths will have attendants in them (just like Australia did back in the 90’s!!) or will issue you with a ticket that you then have to pay when you exit the motorway (which can be up to €50).  Some of the automatic tolls will not take international credit cards so it is advisable to have cash on hand.  We put all our Euros coins in the middle section of the car to drop the coins into the tolls when you only have to pay a few Euros.  Most of the time you will be unaware how much the toll will be until you pull up to the gate.  
  8. In Switzerland it is the law to have your headlights on at all times on the motorway.  Whilst this is not the law in other countries it is advisable as some of the tunnels you go through in Italy do not have lights so driving into them with sunnies on can immediately plunge you in to darkness and disorientation.   
  9. The service centres on the motorways charge 20% more than fuel stations in the suburbs.  On the motorway you can expect to pay up to €2 a litre (approx $3.20AU per litre) where as fuel stations off the motor way roughly charge about €1.60 (approx $2.50AU). However, it appeared to us that many, if not most of the service stations that are not on a motorway are unattended and do not have a little shop where you can get a pie and coke.  You need to pay first with a credit card (and international ones are only accepted at about 20% of them) or cash then the machine will put the pre-authorised amount of fuel into your car 
  10. There are many tunnels across Europe and Ben suggests leaving windows up and air conditioner on recirculation mode so your car doesn’t fill up with fumes.  The one exception is when someone in the car lets off fumes that are worse than those outside the car.  
  11. European countries seem to be void of the endless safety and risk assessment procedures that Australians put in to almost everything they do.  Road workers will be working on the side of the road or motorway and crossing the road or motorway with not a single warning sign or person holding a lollypop stick telling you to slow down.  They do wear hi vis vests but do not have police cars ensuring people slow down or big flashing lights directing you to another lane.  In fact, sometimes roads are just closed and you have no idea how to go around them as there is no ‘Detour this way’ signs.  
  12. In Switzerland and France it is illegal to drive in thongs or bare feet.  It is also the law in the European countries that you must have a high vis vest in your car accessible to the driver seat. This is incase you breakdown and need to get out of your car on the side of a motorway.  
  13. Ben said to make sure you study (insert eye-roll) local road rules and signs as some are a contradiction to what we are accustomed to in Australia.  For example in Australia at a cross intersection where there are no signs you always give way to the right.  In France you are driving on the other side of the road but at a cross intersection you still give way to the right.   
  14. Overall driving in Europe has been a good experience (for Ben – I haven’t driven).  He has said that it’s nice to be in countries where people don’t get road rage even when you’ve made a mistake.  We’ve had to reverse out of heaps of toll queues and no one yelled at us.  We’ve also spent much longer than is expected at toll booths trying to work out what Euro’s we need as they still all look much the same to me and I’ll spend minutes riffling through fistfuls of coins trying to figure out which one is which.  We’ve also done many silly things like driving places we shouldn’t have driven or gone the wrong way and drivers seem to patiently just remind you rather than shout out their window “learn the bloody road rules you f-ing wanka” in that cringeworthy Australian intonation.  

That’s all for now folks!! Ben had run out of tips.  And incase you are wondering, he didn’t take a 2 hour detour through Switzerland for me to pick up stocks of Choc Ovo’s and another Swiss chocolate that has been recommended to me by my brother in law.  I even vacuumed sealed most of our clothes so I have 1.5 empty bags to fill!!  I’m not giving up yet….  to be continued.

Thanks for reading!!

B xx 

P.S. Ben asked me to add that he did not feel like drivers in Europe were trying to race each other, like in Australia.

P.P.S He also said that I may have rolled my eyes at him studying the road rules but we would have been up shits creek without a paddle had he not done so.

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