Are you spending part of your holiday behind the wheel? A little knowledge may spare you some unpleasant surprises.
If your idea of driving in Europe is racing down a quiet autobahn or autoroute at 100mph, perhaps you should think again.
It is true that some roads on the Continent have no fixed speed limit, and also that any penalties imposed might not have any impact on your UK driving licence in terms of points or future car insurance-premium rises.
But don’t kid yourself that breaking the laws of the road in countries such as France, Germany and Spain can be pretty much consequence-free.
No points… but no car either
At the moment, any transgressions you make while on the road outside of Britain will almost certainly not be translated back into penalty points on your UK licence: there is at present no Europe-wide scheme of endorsements.
But that does not mean the risks of speeding or otherwise failing to observe local motoring laws are minimal.
If you’re stopped by police, they will generally have the power to impose on-the-spot fines – even if this means escorting you to the nearest cash machine. Arguing that you weren’t aware of the speed limit or that you have a ferry to catch are unlikely to get you off the hook, and you face paying hundreds of euros depending on the severity of your offence.
Worse still you could lose your car: police in France, for example, now have the right to impound your vehicle if you are travelling more than 50kph (roughly 30mph) above the limit. Exceed the permitted rate by 40kph (25mph) and your licence could be confiscated.
In Germany, your car can be taken if you are unwilling or unable to pay any instant fines.
What are the limits?
Broadly speaking, speed limits on the Continent are similar to those in the UK.
In built-up areas, a limit of 50kph applies in France, Germany and among other countries; on motorways, the maximum is normally 130kph (around 80mph).
On much of Germany’s autobahn, 130kph is a guideline rather than a strict limit, so in theory you can travel more quickly. Some sections do enforce lower limits however, and these are marked with red signs.
Getting away with it?
Although overseas police forces may be keener to impose on-the-spot fines on foreign drivers, that does not mean you can’t be issued with a speeding or parking ticket after you have returned to the UK.
The DVLA has reciprocal agreements with fellow motoring agencies around Europe, which means that you can be identified and contacted by any police force which has a record of your registration plate, for example from a speed camera.
If you do receive such a fine in the post, you will be entitled to challenge it in the same way you would a UK charge, but clearly this is likely to be a more complicated process.
Legally speaking, however, a fine such as this can not be enforced in Britain in the same way as a UK-issued fine: foreign authorities can not ask the British judiciary to help them get their money.
Motoring lawyer Jeanette Miller, senior partner of Geoffrey Miller Solicitors, says: “The long and the short of it is that, a foreign speeding ticket alone is probably not recognised in the UK at the moment.”
AA spokesman Ian Crowder says that earlier this year, an EU agreement was reached to allow motoring offences committed in other member states to be chased up by the driver’s own country.
But the UK, along with Denmark and Ireland, has opted out of this legislation, which is likely to come into effect in the rest of the EU later this year.
Crowder says: “If you don't pay up, however, you might be stopped at the border if you attempt to re-enter the country at a later date.”
For unpaid parking fines and tolls, cases may be passed to a British firm called Euro Parking Collection, which uses the civil courts to recover payment, in a similar way to a debt collector.
Implications for your motor insurance
Should you tell your insurer about any foreign speeding fines when your car insurance policy comes up for renewal?
Crowder says the answer may technically be yes, but that doing so could prove difficult. “A motoring offence that takes place outside the UK can't easily be declared on your insurance renewal,” he explains. “Indeed, it would not be possible to do so if you are applying online, as most applications will request the offence code, because this is what is used to calculate any adjustment to premium.
“Similarly, you won't have earned any points and the fine won't be in sterling.”
It is worth checking the small print on your policy to see what your insurer’s view is on disclosing speeding fines: if in doubt, give the company a call to explain what has happened, although as Crowder suggests, its computer systems may simply be unable to process the information.