Motoring: Light at the end of the Channel Tunnel

A successful motoring holiday in Europe involves more than driving on the right side of the road. James Ruppert tells you all you need to know
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Indy Lifestyle Online
MORE THAN 8 million of us will kiss the kerb this year when we drive abroad. Not with me? Well, if you are sitting in a right-hand- drive car on the right-hand side of the road, the kerb will be within kissing distance, sort of. If it isn't then you might be about to have a head-on collision.

That's the theory of driving on the "wrong" side of the road anyway, but it is just one of the many things you will need to worry about before you leave. Here is the pre-ferry, or pre-Channel Tunnel, check-list:

A full driving licence. If you don't have the latest pink version it is advisable also to have an International Driving Permit (IDP) especially in some countries (Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino and Spain) where you are required to have one as well as the licence. Motoring organisations such as the RAC can supply them for pounds 4.

A Green Card. Ask your insurer for one, as it ensures that your cover abroad matches your cover in the UK. It provides additional proof that you have the minimum legal third-party cover.

Passport. "You would be amazed at how many people forget them," says Gail Brookes, at P&O Stena Line. "So many people believe that Europe is one entity that they turn up at the port without it. It is often the more `educated' who get caught out. Actually, being allowed into France or Holland may not be a problem, but getting back to the UK certainly is." Oh yes, and make sure it is in good condition, because in Slovakia they won't accept a tatty one.

Vehicle registration documents. The V5 is required by law, but if you have a hire, lease, or company car you will need a letter of authority from the owner. You will also need a Vehicle on Hire Certificate obtainable from motoring organisations.

European breakdown cover. "Last year we attended 9,500 breakdowns in Europe, attending vehicles as far afield as northern Norway and as remote as Corsica, with 2,300 of the breakdowns taking place in August alone," says Helen Wilson, a spokeswoman for Green Flag.

Green Flag's European motoring assistance package includes everything from cover if the vehicle is immobilised up to seven days before departure, to the provision of a chauffeur to drive a car back to the UK if the driver is too ill to do so. One-day cover is pounds 9.50, two-week cover costs pounds 47.50 and cover for a year is pounds 70.

Personal insurance. Never mind protecting the car in case of a breakdown, what about you and your loved ones? Travel insurance is a must and it would also be a good idea to get an E111 form from the Post Office. This gives you exemption from basic medical charges in most European countries.

A visa. If you are planning on a particularly ambitious trip to Bulgaria, the CIS, Romania or Slovakia you will need a visa from the appropriate embassy.

Pack essential items in the boot. Without going into too much detail, or stating the obvious (such as taking up-to-date maps for the areas you are visiting) it is a good idea to pack the following.

A warning triangle is recommended throughout Europe and is compulsory in many countries such as Germany and Italy. A first-aid kit is only compulsory in certain eastern-European states, but is essential for peace of mind. Spare bulbs and fuses are another good idea, as is ensuring that your headlamps, when on dipped beam, do not dazzle oncoming drivers - use a simple converter: sticky tape.

The RAC sell a European motoring kit for pounds 36. It also recommends you carry some spare parts. "Broken clutch and accelerator cables are common reasons for breaking down. Taking them along could save you time because you won't have to wait for the breakdown assistance to find the parts."

Research your destination. For instance, a motorway tax disc must be displayed on all vehicles using certain motorways in Austria and on all Swiss motorways. Tolls can be charged to enter certain cities like Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim.

When it comes to safety, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office issues advice on countries not thought safe for visitors. France, where 6.5 million of us go motoring each year, currently has a warning about motorcycling thieves in the Cannes area who steal from stationary vehicles. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office also reports how enthusiastically gendarmes enforce on-the-spot fines of up to pounds 500 as well as the zeal with which they confiscate cars if the fine cannot be paid.

A GB sticker - almost forgot. While not a strict legal requirement in all European countries, it still makes sense to have one on cars, caravans and trailers and they are usually free from the ferry company or your motoring organisation.

Finally, don't forget your driving skills. According to the Institute of Advanced Motorists it is a good idea to attach a small bright label on the centre of the steering wheel stating: "THINK RIGHT ... LOOK LEFT!"

Also, most accidents occur when you are parked on the left-hand side of the road. When you move off you tend to want to drive on the left. And keep well back when planning to overtake. You will need extra distance to pull out and check that the road ahead is clear. Remember, roundabouts work anti-clockwise so give priority to traffic coming from your left.

So remember all that, kiss the kerb and you might just have a trouble- free holiday.

RAC (0800 550055); Green Flag (0345 670345); Institute of Advanced Motorists (0181-994 4403); Foreign and Commonwealth Office (0171-238 4503)

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