Skip to content

The Unwritten Rules of Driving in Continental Europe

If you’ve ever driving in continental Europe, you probably already know the formal rules of the road and the equivalent Highway Code for the country of your destination. You’ve probably familiarised yourself with what you need to carry with you, but what about the unwritten rules, the driving etiquette, and what drivers expect from each other? Breaking them may not mean a fine, but it could mean a hairy situation. Here are some unwritten rules of the road and driving social etiquette to which you should pay attention while driving in continental Europe.

Indicators Sometimes Means “Pass Me”europe driving indicator

In the UK, using your indicators is a signal that the driver is about to move – either turning off at the next exit or about to move into another lane to pass a slower moving vehicle. In continental Europe, you will sometimes find that a driver ahead of you indicates but doesn’t move and where there is no other traffic around. If this happens to you, especially on a bend or other stretch of road where you can’t quite see what is going on ahead, the driver is indicating that it’s safe for you to pass. It’s an instruction or a signal that the road is clear, not a signal of intent.

In Some Cases, Red Lights Are Advisory

On approach to a junction, did you see a car go through a red light? Even if the Police were around, the car is unlikely to be stopped for doing this. This is because on rural roads in countries such as Spain, Italy, Greece and other Mediterranean areas, red lights are not the strict instruction they are in the UK. Drivers are not necessarily permitted to drive through red lights, but it is not seen as an offence if they do so when there is no other traffic around. Drivers are only required to stop when there is traffic coming from other directions.

Drive Defensively

Other drivers know these roads, the laws, unwritten rules and everything else much better than you do. Therefore, always yield to other drivers and never let your ego get the better of you. You may be breaking some unwritten rule, or their behaviour may be dangerous and unwarranted in any country. No matter the situation, always drive defensively and assume you are the one in the wrong. Avoid bad-tempered drivers, bad drivers and erratic manoeuvres and you won’t go far wrong. There is no sense in being pushy. It may lead to something that will ruin your holiday.

Pay Attention to Roundabouts

Other countries have not quidriving fiat europete taken to roundabouts in the way that the UK has. We have strict rules on procedure – which lane to join, who has priority and who yields and what to do once you’re on the roundabout. In continental Europe, the formal rules apply differently between each country. What happens in practice may be different. Drivers joining roundabouts will pull out and then stop to yield to traffic already on the roundabout. You may get an angry sound of a horn from traffic behind you for refusing to do so. In some cases, traffic on the roundabout may stop to give way to new traffic joining. This will not be so much of an issue in rural locations, but you’ll need your wits about your driving in towns.

Final Note: Pay Attention While Driving

Any social action is often complex – a minefield of social faux pas for the uninitiated. Driving on the continent can be an incredible and rewarding experience, but it can also be stressful. Pay attention to other road users and how they act at certain junctions. If everybody is doing it, the chances are you are safe to do it too. Ultimately, stick with the philosophy “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” and you will be fine.