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Obscure European Road Laws You May Not Know You’re Breaking

By Chris Ciolli

Mar 11, 2019

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In Portugal, you could be fined for carrying a can of gas in your car.

Photo by Pierre-Olivier/Shutterstock.com

In Portugal, you could be fined for carrying a can of gas in your car.

It’s important to note speed limits and follow headlight rules on any road trip, but in the European Union, there are a few other rules to keep in mind.

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When planning a grand European road trip, there are plenty of practical driving tips and car rental insurance possibilities to keep in mind. But once you’ve gotten your international driving permit and read up on which side of the road to drive on, you’ll need to dig a little deeper into the rules of the road.

Many countries have obscure, quirky, and archaic rules on the books as well. Some are purely practical, a few are hard to monitor and hard to enforce, and others are simply out of date, but they’re all worth knowing on the off-chance you get pulled over. Below are obscure European road laws you might be breaking.

You cannot have a dirty car

Russia, Bulgaria, Belarus

In Russia, Bulgaria, and Belarus, you shouldn’t be able to write “wash me” in the dust of a rear window. Here, driving a dirty car is a fineable offense, especially if it’s so filthy the license plate number is obscured.

It's forbidden to slam your car door

Switzerland

It is illegal to slam your car doors in Switzerland, and you’re also prohibited from washing your car with a power washer on Sundays in that country.

What to Pack for a Road Trip

You must use wooden blocks when parked on a hill

Estonia

In practical Estonia, you have to carry wooden blocks in your vehicle to wedge around the tires and keep the car from rolling if you break down on a hill.

You must wear shoes and shirt to drive

Spain

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Keep it closed-toes in Spain, where you can’t wear flip-flops, heels, or open-toed shoes or go barefoot when driving. Driving without a shirt is inadvisable as well—the law simply states that you must drive in “appropriate attire,” which means the attending police officer decides. You’re also required to have a spare pair of glasses or contact lenses on hand if you use corrective lenses (this is true in Portugal, too).

Rear-monted bike racks aren't allowed

Portugal

No rear-mounted bike racks in Portugal, please. Drivers are not permitted to attach two-wheeled vehicles (such as bikes) to the rear of the car, so opt for a roof rack instead. It is also illegal to carry a gas can inside the vehicle.

Spare headlight bulbs required

Croatia

In Croatia, drivers must have a spare set of headlight bulbs on hand.

No snacks allowed

Cyprus

No snacking or thirst-quenching behind the wheel in Cyprus, where drivers aren’t allowed to raise a hand from the steering wheel unnecessarily.

How to Get an International Driver’s Permit

Smoking and driving is prohibited

Greece

Pull over, then light up in Greece, where smoking while driving is prohibited. Generally, the country’s no-smoking laws are rarely enforced, but if you’re traveling with kids, you should still take note: The government recently stated that anyone smoking or using e-cigarettes in a car with children could incur a fine of 1,500 Euros (about US$1,695).

Hazard lights required while backing up

Slovenia

Be careful of how you reverse in Slovenia, where drivers are required to use hazard lights when backing up.

No stopping on the Autobahn or rude gestures

Germany

It’s against the law in Germany to stop for any non-emergency reason on the Autobahn and that includes running out of gas. Furthermore, certain discourteous behaviors—such as rude gestures—are fineable offenses.

Passengers riding in the front must be sober

Macedonia

Banish anyone under the influence to the backseat when driving in Macedonia, where passengers riding shotgun must also be sober.

>>Next: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Driving in Europe

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