5 Ways Driving in Europe is Different from Driving in the U.S.

 In International, Travel

The pandemic may have dramatically hindered tourism for 2020, but it’s not likely that international travel will be suspended indefinitely. As more and more countries get a handle on COVID-19 infections and more and more businesses rally around the implementation and maintenance of additional safety precautions, there’s little doubt that people will again start venturing further afield. Border and travel restrictions will ease and boredom will conquer any lingering fear, as people take to the roads and skies in search of new adventures, work and friends. To make the most of any future escapes, then, we should begin our planning now, establishing potential itineraries and researching the culture of different locales (especially those abroad) so that when the time comes to board that car or train or bus or plane, we know what to expect and how to navigate the lay of new lands. Of particular importance is learning how to physically maneuver the roads of the places we visit; while driving might be intuitive in our day-to-day lives, getting behind the wheel in another country can throw even the best driver for a loop. Check out five ways that driving in Europe is different from driving in the U.S.:

Cars are Smaller in Europe

SUVs and vans might be the norm in America, but in Europe the majority of cars are compact. Just sitting behind the wheel in Europe will likely be a strange experience with little room for passengers or luggage, but that’s only part of it. Because European cars are smaller, the roads and parking spaces in Europe are narrower than those with which we Americans might be familiar. Indeed, smaller cars allow for better visibility and a tighter turning radius, meaning the roads in Europe can be curvier than U.S. roads, which have evolved to accommodate heavier, clunkier cars that more easily move in straight lines.

Manual Transmissions are the Norm, Not the Exception

While roughly 97% of the cars sold in the U.S. have automatic transmissions, nearly 80% of those sold in some European and Asian nations have manual ones. Thus, finding an automatic car to rent can be difficult in many European countries, as well as more expensive; if you aren’t used to driving with a stick shift and clutch, you might need to brush up on your manual driving skills before heading abroad in order to find a readily available and affordable rental option.

Traffic Rules and Signs are Often Very Different

In the U.S., it is not uncommon to turn right at a red light when possible, to honk your horn or to turn your lights on only at night. In Europe, however, it is illegal to turn right at a red light (unless specifically permitted by a sign). Many European countries also prohibit horn use without cause and demand that headlights always be on, even in the daytime. Depending on the country, you might also be required to carry a roadside emergency kit for dealing with wrecks, wildlife encounters or other mechanical issues. It’s also important to note that traffic lights in Europe are most often placed to the side of an intersection, making them hard to see if you pull up too far at a stop, and many of the other traffic signs are hardly intuitive, with confusing graphics and colors used with minimal distinction. Therefore, many travelers might find it necessary to be ever more vigilant about looking for evidence of roadway barriers and other hints regarding traffic patterns and design.

Roundabouts are Common

To keep traffic moving safely and smoothly, Europe makes widespread use of the roundabout. Whereas, American roads rely mostly on traffic lights and turn lanes to direct traffic, Europe prefers routing traffic through a circular junction, with opportunities to exit along its perimeter. This enables traffic to effectively change course without every car having to stop fully and wait for a chance to turn. Experiencing one for the first time can be a confusing and nerve-racking event, so it is advised to “google” the process so you understand when and how to enter and exit roundabout traffic flow.

Speed Limits are Higher

Even though European speed limits are higher than their American counterparts, they are still enforced, oftentimes by cameras that surreptitiously monitor a car’s speed and snap photos and issue tickets by mail to drivers when those limits are breached. In fact, some of the world’s most expensive traffic fines are issued by European countries (especially the Scandanavian ones). And if you’re unlucky enough to be caught in the act of breaking a traffic law by an actual policeman, some countries (like Italy) may demand that you pay your fines right then and there. So, while you might get a thrill driving 75 mph or more down the Autobahn, if you exceed the posted limits, you’ll likely pay a very high price!


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