Do your holiday plans include some time at the wheel this summer? Then don’t spoil the experience with an unexpected fine. No two countries’ driving laws are ever the same, and whilst you’re unlikely to fall foul of some – most American road trips don’t, for example, involve shooting game from a moving vehicle in Tennessee – others are much easier to break.
Below, we’ve picked out seven of the most surprising laws to watch out for. But wherever you’re heading, it’s worth doing some research before you pick up your hire car. The AA’s handy guide to the documents and equipment you’ll need, as well as its country-by-country guides, are great places to start.
1. Take off your flip-flops: Spain
Spain’s diverse and magnificent landscapes make for a thrilling driving destination. But what you wear matters. If you need glasses for driving, Spanish law says you must always carry a spare pair in the car with you. Pay attention to your footwear, too. It’s not actually illegal to drive barefoot or in backless, open-toed or high-heeled shoes. But if the police think your shoes (or lack of them) are affecting your ability to drive safely, you’re likely to be fined.
2. Don’t run out of fuel on the Autobahn: Germany
Germany’s 7,500 miles of Autobahn make up one of the finest motorway systems in the world, and – as anyone with a fast car will tell you – there’s no speed limit in many areas. However, stopping on the Autobahn unnecessarily is outlawed: and running out of fuel is no excuse. There are rest stops (Raststätten) every 40-60km, usually equipped with bathrooms, restaurants and petrol stations. But keep an eye on your fuel gauge, just in case.
3. Don’t drive through historic towns: Italy
Italy’s perilously-winding mountain roads and narrow medieval streets can either be a lot of fun or completely hair-raising, depending on your perspective. But if you’re planning to head into a historic city centre, such as Rome, Florence, Milan and or Pisa, you should leave the car behind entirely. Many of them now have Limited Traffic Zones (Zona Traffico Limitato or ZTL), which means you could face a hefty fine if you get caught on camera driving through them. What’s more, permits are only ever issued to locals.
4. Watch out for low-emission zones: France
Recently, Paris, Lyon, Lille and Grenoble have become low-emissions zones, so you must display a Vignette sticker on your windscreen to drive in the restricted areas of these cities, or risk a fine. Demand for the stickers is currently high, so apply well in advance of your trip by visiting the Air Quality Certificate Service website. The Vignette, plus postage, costs €4.21 (around £3.70).
5. Keep your top on: Thailand
Roads in Thai cities can seem like a whirl of chaos, packed with scooters, tuk tuks, taxis and trucks. Outside the built-up areas, though, there are some beautiful routes to be driven, particularly in the north of the country, so you may consider taking your International Driving Permit and hitting the open road. Just don’t strip off if you do. Yes, Thailand can be hot and humid: but it’s illegal for both men and women to travel topless in a bike, car or tuk tuk.
6. Disable your speed camera warnings: various, including Switzerland
In the UK, chances are your sat-nav gives pre-programmed alerts to let you know when a fixed speed camera is coming up ahead. If you’re taking it with you to use on holiday, beware – several countries take a stricter approach and it’s illegal in several countries including France and Switzerland. The good news is that most sat-navs allow you to disable this function, so you won’t have to wrestle with old-school paper maps instead.
7. Watch out for the under-takers: USA
Surely the ultimate destination for a fly-drive holiday, the USA is hard to beat for staggering scenery, affordable accommodation and famous roads such as Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s also well-known for weird state-specific driving laws, although many of those you’ll find online are in fact urban myths (it is for example, not illegal to drive a black car on a Sunday in Colorado). However, there is one rule of the road that throws most Brits on their first drive through America: it’s A-OK to “undertake” on the highway. So take extra care when you’re switching lanes.