TODAY: Fuel strike Italy: pumps all over the country potentially closed today, until 22:00 tonight or in some cases 07:00 tomorrow morning. Participation difficult to assess, the advice is to take every opportunity to fill up. Legal to carry up to 10 litres of fuel in a jerry can. In a further complication, for a week from Saturday, 21 June, filling stations will reportedly be cash only.
Also, a roundup of the major changes in Continental road rules this year. Police make arrests after a spate of A22 Brenner truck robberies last year, the ‘Gordian Knot’ of the Slovak motorway network unravels, Finland plots the E75 Lapland Route, driverless trucks take to Holland’s roads soon, foreign truckers face spot fines in the UK, Riga’s Commie bridge gets a makeover, Moscow to spend $83bn tackling congestion and Greece’s free nationwide wifi takes shape.
GIBRALTAR FRONTIER WATCH: after just a 20min delay at lunchtime, drivers waited 1h45 to cross the Spanish frontier in the evening.
DRIVING IN EUROPE: NEED TO KNOW SUMMER 2014
A round up of the big changes – so far – this year in France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain and the Low Countries.
Crossing the Channel
There has been a rush on new ferry routes between the UK and Spain this year. In addition to Brittany Ferries long-standing cruiseferry service Portsmouth/Plymouth – Santander/Bilbao the company recently launched a no-frills ‘economie’ weekend-only route Portsmouth-Santander.
Economie proved so popular it’s sold out until October but there’s still space on LDLines’ new rival Poole-Gijon/Santander service. Fares from £119 one-way 2+car.
Meanwhile, despite its on-going battle with the Competition authorities over its deal with Eurotunnel, Dover-Calais operator MyFerryLink will be in business until at least the end of this year.
The never ending confusion over whether drivers have to carry disposable breathalysers in the car has been cleared up, sort of. You have to carry them but you won’t be fined for not having them.
Last March, prime minister Manuel Valls – back when he was interior minister, responsible for road safety – said, ‘Alcohol is responsible for 31% of road deaths but nobody can believe that you can roll back the figure by fining drivers €11 for non-possession of a breathalyzer. For me, there is no mandatory breathalyzer, much less punishment.’
Meanwhile, France is struggling with a rising number of serious road accidents. Expect more police on the roads, specifically unmarked cars with radar cameras hidden behind the number plates which also now work on main roads. There is also an experiment due to start with 80kmh speed limits on some single lane main roads. The limit on the Paris Peripherique was cut to 80kmh in January.
On a happier note, fuel is cheaper than last year, currently average €1.518/l unleaded 95 and €1.289 for diesel.
From 1 July all car drivers must carry a high-viz vest in the car on pain of a €15 fine (it doesn’t apply to motorhomers or bikers).
Also from 1 July, most cities in western Germany tighten the rules on their low emission ‘Unwelt Zones’. Most of the cities in Nord Rhein Westphalia, central west Germany, including Cologne, Dusseldorf, Essen, Dortmund, etc, etc, will now only allow ‘green badged’ vehicles in the centre, i.e. the least polluting (most new(ish) cars will qualify for the green badge). See here on how to apply for a German Environmental Badge.
The Germans are also planning a vignette for foreign drivers but it isn’t due to start until 2015.
The big, big news is that day time running lights (or side lights) are now compulsory for all vehicles at all times!
Otherwise it’s business as usual in Europe’s favourite transit country. Despite all the kerfuffle last year, including a nationwide referendum, the motorway vignette still costs 40CHF (see here for where to buy, and where to stick it, etc).
A wholesale rejig of motoring rules on 9 May saw speed limits increased to 130kmh on some motorways but reduced to 90kmh on some main roads and as low as 20kmh in some urban areas. The rules on carrying children are much stricter now too. Penalties and fines also increased though we’re still not convinced drivers will have to hand over €500 for being 1kmh over the limit…
Meanwhile, the UK Foreign Office is warning over a recent spate of ‘distraction robberies’ on highways.
Those that haven’t driven in Italy before – or for a while – might be shocked to find out how much the fuel and road tolls now cost.
At the time of writing, unleaded95 sells for €1.794 and diesel for €1.676. Both are the third most expensive in Europe behind Norway and the Netherlands.
Meanwhile, the road toll for the 563km from Milan to Rome is now €40.10. Per kilometre that’s now less than a whisker behind Paris to Lyon (466km, €33.30), both just over 7c/km. Tolls vary in Italy because the roads have different operators though 7c/km is a ballpark general estimate of what you can expect to pay, apart from in the south which is much cheaper, 4-5c/km.
Finally, the day time seasonal restrictions on the SS163 Amalfi coast road for caravans and campervans have been extended to all year round. Between Positano and Vietri sul Mare such vehicles cannot drive the 40km stretch between 06:30-24:00. Cars are not restricted.
The Low Countries
It’s all getting rather expensive in the Netherlands too. The traffic fines are apparently now the highest in Europe – €230 for using a mobile phone behind the wheel, €370 for parking in a disabled spot – while unleaded currently costs €1.845/l (and diesel €1.499).
Fuel is much cheaper in neighbouring Belgium – €1.653 and €1.441 – and cheaper still in Luxembourg (ahead of a rise in VAT later this year), currently €1.360 and €1.204.
On 31 March, Belgium adopted the ‘late merge’ rule, aka The Zipper Method. At lane closures, drivers should only merge with the free lane at the point of the lane closure. There’s a €55 fine for drivers either merging early, or refusing space to cars from the closed lane.
Finally, as you are no doubt aware, the AA and RAC produce excellent, if a little dry, factsheets on driving rules around Europe, produced by the respective national motoring clubs. A good supplement/alternative, and much more readable, are the driving guides provided by TISPOL, the European police federation, written by (English-speaking) local police (see centre, right).
Have we missed anything?! Let us know in the comments below.
roundup: ITALY. Police have arrested six people in connection with thefts from foreign trucks on the A22 Brenner motorway, all from the Bari region in the south. The four thefts all took place between January-March last year near the Austrian border. The trailer tarp was cut and goods transferred to another vehicle. FINLAND. A complete map of attractions along the E75 Lapland Route has been published by the tourist board, including driving tips. A complete website is coming soon. The 500km routes stretches north from Rovaniemi on the Arctic Circle to Utsjoki on the Norwegian border. Finland also has some of the loosest wild camping rules in the world. NETHERLANDS. Self-driving trucks will be on Dutch roads within five years under a government sponsored scheme unveiled today. Trials, probably on the ‘advanced’ A270 motorway between Eindhoven and Helmond, will start ‘as soon as possible’. UK. The spot-fine system is to be extended to include foreign truck drivers breaking drivers’ hour’s rules. A consultation is open until Monday 11 August. LATVIA. The Communist-era A8/E22 Island Bridge – Salu Tilts – across the Daugava into southern Riga is to be finally overhauled. Built in 1976 it has not been repaired since. @DriveEurope drove across it in May – great view of the TV tower and the Riga seafront – but hilariously bumpy. Work to finish in 17 months. RUSSIA. Moscow is to spend a staggering $83bn by 2020 to solve its chronic congestion problems. The money goes on 130km of new subways, 240km of railways plus 400km of re-built roads. Paid parking, introduced last year within the central Garden Ring, will also be significantly expanded. GREECE’s nationwide free wi-fi network is now getting underway though it has been trimmed back to 4,000 hotspots, from 5,000, due to costs. To be completed by the end of the year.