Advice for hiring a truck and driving in Europe
When it comes to truck rental, whether for a short haul trip across to France or for a longer sortie into Central Europe, many of the rules and restrictions that need to be followed are identical to those for driving a car on the continent. However, many countries have unique regulations and driving laws that can catch out an unwary motorist, so it’s important to get a handle on the dos and don’ts of European motoring before you set off. It’s also vital to understand any specific laws and rules that apply to larger commercial vehicles, both at point of hire and out on the roads.
Which vehicle do I need?
When it comes to choosing a vehicle, Nationwide Hire UK has an excellent range of commercial size trucks that cover almost every possible requirement; from the classic Ford Luton type box to 3.5 tonne tippers to mighty 44 tonne haulage trucks with built-in sleeper compartments, the company offers it all. With unlimited mileage offered as standard, both within the UK and for European trips, rental has few restrictions; it’s vital to make sure that you have an adequate level of insurance cover in place, and again they offer European coverage within their package. Drivers can also have their chosen vehicle delivered to any destination on the UK mainland of their choice, and vehicles can also be collected within the UK too, from a different point if required.
Get the right paperwork!
Hiring and driving trucks and vans naturally comes with certain restrictions, many of which cover safety or environmental issues, with country-specific legislation governing the use of such vehicles in many countries, both EU and non-EU. It’s also vital that you have the required UK driving licence should you wish to hire a larger truck; a standard licence almost certainly won’t cover you for a HGV or similar; you’ll need to hold a licence with C and D classifications to drive any vehicle in excess of 3,500 kg (3.5 tonnes).
Driving on the continent requires a certain minimum subset of paper documentation, including a vehicle registration certificate, a valid MOT certificate, valid insurance, a current tax disc and a reduced pollution certificate (RPC); all of these are essential to have if driving a UK-registered truck. There are numerous country-specific rules and regulations which must be adhered to, and the UK government website covers these in more depth than we are able to here.
All drivers, and indeed passengers, of commercial vehicles must also carry a valid passport which must meet certain requirements; it must be valid for the entire time you’re intending to visit the country, and for additional periods in some cases (Turkish regulations, for example, require at least six months time left on your current passport in order to gain entry). Some countries may also require additional entry visas, though this doesn’t apply within the EU.
Do I need other equipment?
It’s also vital to be aware of other equipment that is compulsory for drivers in certain countries, for example many European driving laws specify the carrying of a warning triangle and reflective jacket for use if you break down, while many countries require you to have a suitable first aid kit, a fire extinguisher, and even a snow chain where wintry conditions persist. If you are driving in France you will need to carry a self-test breathalyser kit, though a fine for non-compliance has recently been abolished.
If you’re in any doubt about the required equipment for your country, you can contact the UK embassy in whichever country you’re driving in to get clear guidance. There are some items which you must carry with you by law in certain nations, while others see these as compulsory, or require different equipment.
Here are a few examples of more common driving aids and equipment that you should be aware of.
Warning triangles, which are extremely important for use in a breakdown, are compulsory in many countries including Austria, Belgium, France, Italy and Switzerland, whereas the German, Dutch and Portuguese authorities recommend their inclusion in your vehicle. First aid kits, which would appear to be a commonsense part of any driver’s equipment, are compulsory in Austria and Croatia, but merely recommended in other EU nations. Indeed many countries place no requirement on first aid kits or fire extinguishers, which would appear to be of fairly great import while travelling. Radar detectors are expressly prohibited in almost every EU country, so don’t use them unless you want to run the risk of penalty or arrest.
When it comes to driving regulations, be aware that most EU member states have “on the spot” fines that the local traffic police can enforce; while we’d encourage safe and lawful driving in every situation, be aware that if you do break rules you are liable to be penalised both financially and, potentially, in the courts. Some regulations are easy to overlook; for example, the use of headlights during daytime hours is compulsory for vehicles in Italy, Denmark, Croatia and Switzerland, among others, while France merely recommends this and Ireland, Belgium and Austria give no such advice. As mentioned above, French authorities require you to carry a self-test breathalyser, but other European countries do not enforce this at all.
When it comes to winter driving, vehicles weighing 3,500kg or under must carry snow chains in a number of nations – these include the Alpine nations of Austria, Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland alongside Andorra, Bulgaria and Norway. Winter tyres are also mandatory in quite a few nations including Austria, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Finland and Germany, so if you are hiring a truck to drive across any of those countries, make sure you check which dates are applicable as it can vary widely. For example, the winter season in Austria runs from November 1st to mid April, while the mandatory period for winter tyres spans December to March in Sweden.
Although toll roads are gradually appearing in the UK, they are far more widespread across mainland Europe, with almost every nation having tolls booths on major routes. Some countries operate schemes which do not require you to stop, but which use cameras to pick up any vehicles passing through charge zones; costs will then be passed to the registered owners. If you’ve hired a truck, these will inevitably be then passed on to you.
France has more than 50 toll points on roads and bridges, so it’s important to research your journey route and be aware of how the tools work. Costs can range from a few Euros to 85 to travel through the Mont Blanc Tunnel on the A40 near Chamonix. Germany, by complete contrast, has just two inexpensive toll routes at present, the Herren and Warnow Tunnels. Italy is similar to France, with a high incidence of tolls, many running into dozens of Euros; bridges and tunnels through the mountains naturally attract much higher fees.
Do you need a driving permit?
A common area of uncertainty is whether you need a driving permit while motoring on the continent. If you’re driving within an EU or EEA member state, then your UK driving license is valid, and this will continue for the foreseeable future, regardless of the “Brexit” referendum. If you are travelling to a state outside the EU or EEA, such as Russia or Turkey, then you can check with a motoring organisation such as the RAC or AA as to whether a permit is required. If you do require an International Driving Permit, this costs £5.50 and is valid for 12 months – you can purchase this online or from the Post Office as long as you hold a valid licence and are 18 or older. Note that even when an International Driving Permit is required, you must still carry your UK licence.
Be aware of rules on emissions, weight limits and road access
Vehicle weight is also an important consideration, though this is unlikely to affect you if you’re hiring a vehicle from Nationwide, as none of their trucks exceed the maximum allowable gross train weight of 44 tonnes. Perhaps even more important a consideration is emissions levels and standards. Many cities and towns throughout Europe have been designated as a Low Emission Zone (LEZ), which have specific regulations governing emissions of fine particles, and pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide and ozones; any vehicles that do not fall within the permitted emission levels will be denied entry or subject to a fee, so again make sure that the vehicle you rent meets acceptable emissions criteria for any locations you’re visiting on your journey.
As previously mentioned, one of the documents you must usually carry is a Reduced Pollution Certificate (RPC), which will confirm that your vehicle passes the relevant criteria. Air pollution is attributed as the primary cause of over 300,000 deaths each year across Europe, and the Low Emission Zones have specifically been set up to combat this threat. If you’re planning to enter any major European capital including Rome, Paris, Budapest and indeed London, be aware that the LEZ regulations are strictly enforced.
In Paris, for example, all vehicles that are driven in the city centre between 8am and 8pm Monday to Friday will need a so-called “pollution sticker”; this comes into force in mid January 2017 and applications for this document for UK travellers will be available in early January.
It’s also important to understand that some countries operate restrictions on when larger goods vehicles can use public roads, and these rules vary hugely between countries. Again, make sure that you have contacted the British Embassy or checked the UK Government website to gain the latest information; pollution charges and tolls won’t usually apply to smaller vehicles or vans, but it’s worth checking if you’re in any doubt whatsoever.
Be aware of any local issues and disruptions
Recent terror attacks on continental Europe mean that many nations have tightened border controls and heightened security at many popular destinations, including cities, airports, borders and busy transport hubs. It’s important to be aware of any restrictions or likely delays that could affect you.
The twin terror attacks in Germany in 2016 has resulted in tighter immigration and border controls, especially at its road and rail borders with Austria and Denmark, and ferries to and from the Scandinavian countries. If you’re planning to travel through these regions, allow extra journey time and be prepared for spot checks, security questions and a heightened police and security presence in hotspots. More than two million British people enjoy hassle-free trips to and through Germany each year, so as long as you’re prepared, have the right documents and comply with instructions from local authorities, your trip should be relatively untroubled.
The horrific terror attacks in Paris have led to heightened security and inevitable delays in and around major routes through the French capital, and surrounding regions. One way to avoid trouble, and to be alerted should an incident occur, is to download a free smartphone app, “SAIP”, which will provide real-time updates and coverage of any problems or disasters, both man-made and natural.
Other nations have reported bottlenecks around borders and checkpoints; for example, the Bulgaria-Greece border is notoriously slow to cross at various points while the heightened German security can result in spot-checks at any point on the nation’s roads, so make sure you have your passport and supporting documents available easily at all times.
A final concern if passing through the Channel Tunnel or on a ferry back to the UK from the continent is the ongoing migrant issue. Calais is a particular hotspot where illegal immigrants often try to board trucks undetected, so be vigilant, lock your doors, and don’t leave your vehicle unattended. You may also experience obstacles on the roads and routes, and attacks on trucks aren’t unheard of, so pay attention and try and avoid any trouble spots if possible.
Check your medical cover
Travelling abroad carries additional issues around healthcare. However, acquiring the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) entitles the bearer to the same state healthcare as residents and nationals of more than 30 countries that are covered by this scheme. The EHIC card covers the EEA countries and Switzerland, and is an absolute must for anyone travelling in Europe. Note that this doesn’t necessarily entitle you to free healthcare, there still may be local charges for certain things, but this can potentially be refunded in some circumstances, either before you leave mainland Europe or on your return to the UK. You can’t use the EHIC to gain access or treatment from private hospitals and doctors. Also note that the EHIC isn’t valid in every European country; Andorra, for example, doesn’t recognise this, so if you’re travelling to or through that country, we would advise you to obtain your own comprehensive medical cover for peace of mind. The EHIC card does not replace standard travel or medical cover, it is really a backup for any medical emergencies, so make sure you’re still covered for any other potential eventualities.
What do I do in an emergency?
Of course this depends on the exact nature of your problem. If you have a breakdown or accident, contact the number provided when you hired the vehicle; your rental paperwork will include full details here. However, if you have a non-motoring emergency, we would suggest the British consul or Embassy would be an ideal first port of call; they have special powers to help UK nationals, and even if they can’t directly help should be able to provide clear advice on your next steps. Some medical emergencies can be dealt with via the EHIC card, but others will require potentially expensive treatment, and we would again encourage you to take out medical cover if you’re intending to travel away from the UK for any period of time.
If this all seems daunting …
Remember that tens of millions of British nationals visit Europe each year, a large percentage taking to the roads in hire cars, or using vehicles brought from the UK. For the vast majority, following the guidelines above – and using a little common sense – will ensure a trouble-free trip. The key message is to make sure you carry the correct paperwork, and make sure you know the local road rules, speed limits and important regulations. If you do run into difficulty, contact your hire company or the British consul. Safe motoring!