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Title

THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO DRIVING IN EUROPE

Author

Julian Parish

Price

£9.99 (UK) / $19.99 (USA)

Specification

Paperback
210mm x 148 mm
144 pages

ISBN

978-1845847-88-3

UPC

6-36847-04788-7

BIC classification

WTH

Publisher

Veloce Publishing Ltd

Veloce House

Parkway Farm Business Park

Middle Farm Way

Pundbury

Dorchester

DT1 3AR

England

Tel : +44 (0)1305 260068

Fax : +44 (0)1305 250479

Email : sales@veloce.co.uk

eBook
Available on your device

Back in the late fifties and early sixties, my parents were more adventurous than most and we frequently ventured across the Channel in his Citroën DS for our family holidays and visited places like Yugoslavia and Spain and Czechoslovakia.  Back in those days, a number of rituals took place prior to such adventures – the fitting of yellow bulbs and altering the dip of the headlights, mounting a GB sticker and of course, purchasing RAC Continental breakdown cover.  The RAC used to issue a useful guide to driving abroad and they included a windscreen sticker that showed those funny European road signs and provided a mph : km/h convertor.  We also used to purchase an itinerary from them, which I would carefully plot onto the road maps.  Also included was a booklet explaining the rules of the road in Europe.   I would read these rules and advise my Father whenever he broke them or seemed unaware of them.

Fast forward to the Internet Age and the rituals have changed.  Yellow headlights are no longer required (indeed they are illegal in France if fitted to a vehicle built after 1993); nor is a GB sticker if your number plates are the current Eurostyle ones with the country identifier; Google Maps enables one to plot one’s own itinerary which can then be transferred to one’s satnav; online booking agencies make booking accommodation easy; the majority of road signs that one will encounter abroad will be familiar; speedos nowadays are either calibrated in both miles and kilometres per hour or can be switched from one to another; and there are numerous websites that explain the rules of the road.

Of course you don’t bother printing this information; some people don’t even bother with buying a map – after all, you have a satnav and mobile ‘phone or tablet.  So there you are driving abroad and you encounter a totally unfamiliar road sign and the road that the satnav wants you to take is closed and then your satnav stops working.  And your mobile ‘phone battery is flat.  And the tablet is buried in the bottom of a bag in the boot.

Or maybe you assume that driving abroad is much the same as driving here – with the exception of having to drive on the wrong side of the road and then you are stopped by the police who ask to inspect your satnav and then fine you for having GPS speed camera (POI) alerts activated and for having no hi-vis jackets in the car.  And you pay the police officer but get no receipt and several weeks later receive a demand for the fine because there is no record of the payment which should have been made at a bank. 


I consider myself to be a seasoned traveller, having frequently driven in France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and other countries so I approached this book in a somewhat blasé manner. I started out by looking at the sections covering countries with which I am familiar.  The book provides comprehensive coverage for 50 European countries and includes speed limits, local rules, motorway tolls, road signs, winter driving, drink/driving rules, mountain passes and port maps.

I turned to the United Kingdom section since this is where I do the majority of my driving and was amused by the suggestion that British motorists have “…a reputation for being courteous”.  Leaving that aside, I was surprised that there was no mention of the atrocious state of some of our roads especially since this is covered in relation to other countries.  I was also surprised that our notoriously poor lane discipline, the prevalence of tailgating and the use of average speed cameras are not mentioned.  The UK section is primarily intended for use by people from outside the country, many of whom seem to fear driving on the left.

So, a slightly inauspicious start which was compounded by the fact that I had to turn to the Index rather than the Contents to find the United Kingdom pages.  The Contents is split into Western Europe, Southern Europe, Northern Europe and Central & Eastern Europe rather than just listing the countries in alphabetical order.

I then looked up France (in the Index) and thought this was much better than the United Kingdom section with no obvious omissions and lots of useful, practical tips.  The same holds true for Belgium (where poor driving standards and the ruinous state of the roads get a mention); the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Italy, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.

Three things occurred to me – the first being the failure to mention road signs that use words rather than graphics - such as those advising of a Diversion (if you do not speak German, Umleitung is as meaningless as déviation is if you do not speak French or Omleiding is if you do not speak Dutch).

Then there are the illustrations which seem to me to be often irrelevant to the accompanying text and too small to be of much use – an example of the latter being a picture of a road in Mons where the picture is too dark and too small to be able to confirm that it is indeed surfaced with cobblestones.  Examples of the former include pictures of a Dutch ambulance, traffic police in Madrid and some lovely scenic views of mountain passes.  I must admit that I would rather that the space used for these images be used for additional, country-specific road signs – especially where they use words rather than graphics.

I would also like to see the addition of some ‘soft information’ like the danger caused by Sans Permis vehicles in France; the predilection for using sidelights as opposed to dipped headlights in towns in France and Belgium and the tendency of some elderly French drivers to assume that priorité à droite still applies despite signs to the contrary.

I then decided to read the Introduction followed by the chapter on Driving In A Foreign Country.  There is a lot of common sense advice to be found here with useful checklists, how to prepare your car, documents and equipment, insurance and breakdown cover, route planning, driving safely, weather conditions that may not be experienced at home, towing a caravan, travelling with pets and taking a classic car overseas. And if the worst should happen it provides advice on how to deal with a breakdown or accident.   The book also contains more than 25 port maps in the UK and on the Continent and information regarding mountain passes & tunnels.

Just as one really needs a paper map to supplement the satnav, this book acts as a single point of reference for driving in Europe and is a useful supplement to information that is available (provided one has a connection and quite possibly provided one has a knowledge of the language involved) on the Internet.

To sum up, I think this is a useful and on the whole well-laid-out book but it could be better.  Let’s hope that when it is reprinted, consideration is given to improving it and making it an absolute essential for the glovebox for anyone travelling abroad.  I think it lends itself to being published electronically so that if one’s ‘phone battery is not flat or the tablet not buried in the boot, one can access essential information.  Providing an electronic version would also allow for easy updating, larger pictures and more space for worded signs and anecdotal advice about driving styles and habits.

The author

A lifelong motoring enthusiast, Julian Parish has lived in both the UK and France, and has driven more than half a million miles throughout Europe and North America. After a career in book and software publishing, he now spends much of his time writing and translating motoring books and articles, many of them devoted to the pleasures of driving on the Continent. He has been a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists in the UK for nearly thirty years, is a member of AFPA, the association of French motoring journalists, and speaks French and German fluently.


© 2016 Julian Marsh