Below is our quick look summary and driving checklist for the key driving and road regulations and legal requirements for driving in France, Spain, Italy and more. If you are travelling to specific countries then we recommend that you check out their road rules in more detail. The Sixt Driving Tips pages take an in depth look at the driving regulations for each country in Europe (and beyond!), plus gives some helpful recommendations and additional tips for your journey. For more information on renting with Sixt and driving in Europe, take a look at our Europe Car Hire page.
Right and left hand drive countries
- The most obvious difference between the UK & Ireland and driving in the rest of Europe is that continental Europe drives on the right side of the road. A good one not to forget!
- The UK has one of the lowest motorway speed limits at 112 km/hr (70 mph) whilst most European motorways are restricted to 130 km/hr (80mph). Take care when driving in France where the speed limit drops down to 110 km/hr (68mph) in wet conditions. A handful of countries have a speed limit of 120 km/hr (75 mph), notably Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Belgium. The Nordic and some Soviet bloc countries tend to have lower speed limits ranging between 100 – 120 km/hr (62 – 75 mph). And, of course, Germany’s autobahns are derestricted (although a speed limit of 130 km/hr is recommended).
- For those countries that have dual carriageways, speed limits are usually 20 km/hr (12 mph) less than the motorway speed limit with the exceptions being Spain, Belgium, Slovakia and the Czech Republic which are similar to the UK where the dual carriageway speed is the same as the motorway.
- The speed limit for urban areas is mostly similar to the UK at 50 km/hr (30 mph). The most notable exception is for driving in Portugal where the speed limit is 30 km/hr (19 mph).
- Every country in Europe requires the front and back passengers to wear seat belts.
All Sixt hire cars have fully functioning safety belts for all seats.
Emergency and other equipment
- Aside from the UK & Ireland, nearly all European countries require the vehicle to be equipped with an emergency triangle to be used in accidents and break downs (and take note, Spain, Cyprus, Estonia and Bosnia even want 2!). Even if the country does not require an emergency triangle by law, it is still recommended to carry one.
- Again, the majority European countries require a reflective jacket or vest for either just the driver or every passenger in the car. The notable exceptions are for driving in France, Germany, Holland and some Nordic and Eastern European countries. Where it is not a legal requirement it is still recommended.
- A car first aid kit and fire extinguisher is required by law in most Nordic, Eastern European, Baltic and Soviet countries. A vehicle first aid kit and fire extinguisher is not legally required when driving in France, Spain, Italy, Germany and other Central European countries however it is still recommended.
- For driving in France, the Czech Republic and some Yugosphere countries vehicles are required to carry spare light bulbs.
- The infamous self-test car breathalyser is required for driving in France only, although the penalty for not having a car breathalyser in France is currently on hold indefinitely.
If you are hiring a car with Sixt then we do provide the key equipment required for driving in the country that you are in. However, don’t forget that as the driver it is your responsibility to ensure that you are aware of the driving regulations and that you fully comply with them. We advise that you are especially careful if you plan to cross borders.
- All European countries prohibit the use of handheld mobile phones when driving although the vast majority do allow mobile use with a mobile phone hands free kit, including France, Spain, Italy and Germany.
Some Sixt hire cars have built-in hands free kits for your mobile phone, ask when placing your booking.
- The permitted legal alcohol limit for driving for the vast majority of Europe is less than the UK & Ireland, so do watch out! Whilst we are set at 0.08%, or 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, most of Europe is set at 0.05% and this drops down to less and even zero tolerance in some Eastern European, Soviet and Scandinavian countries. Portugal is the only country where the legal alcohol limit is set at the same limit as the UK & Ireland.
Baby seat / child seat minimum age (front seat)
- This is another area of regulation to watch out for as some European countries have an absolute minimum age for a child seat in the front, unlike the UK which is based on height as well as age. The child seat laws can be quite complex based on age, and sometimes combined with height and weight, plus if the child seat can be in the front or back and which direction they are allowed to face. If you are driving with children we recommend that you thoroughly research the specific country regulations. When driving in France, children under the age of 10 must be seated in a child seat.
If you are hiring a car with Sixt and driving with children who require a baby seat, child seat or booster seat, we have a number of child seat options for you to choose from and personalise. Also take a look at our Baby Seat Safety page for more information.
- The UK & Ireland are relatively unusual in allowing 17 year olds to drive – the legal driving age in the majority of European countries is 18. Only in Hungary and Iceland can you also drive at 17.
For young car hirers, Sixt is offering a student discount for under 25s looking to hire a car – check out our Student Offers page. Please note that our minimum age policy depends on the vehicle, and this starts at 21.
Insurance, vehicle and identification documents
- Most European countries require you to have your insurance, vehicle and sometimes personal identification documents with you in the vehicle whilst you are driving. So don’t forget to keep them with you!
Sixt offers a number of different car hire insurance policies, for more details see our Insurance page.