By Rick Steves
Driving in Europe isn’t all that different from driving at home, but the first day or two can be an adjustment. Drive defensively, observe, fit in, avoid big-city driving when you can, and wear your seat belt.
Pass as the Europeans do. When you pass other drivers, be bold but careful. On winding, narrow roads, the slower car ahead of you may use turn-signal sign language to indicate when it’s OK to pass. This is used inconsistently — and don’t rely on it blindly. Be sure you understand the lane markings — in France a single, solid, white line in the middle of the road means no passing in either direction; in Germany it’s a double white line.
After a few minutes on the autobahn, you’ll learn that you don’t linger in the passing lane. For passing, use the left-hand lane on the Continent and the right-hand lane in Britain and Ireland. In some countries (such as France, Germany, and the Netherlands), it’s illegal to use the slower lane for passing.
Learn to love roundabouts. In roundabouts, traffic continually flows in a circle around a center island. While you’ll see them sporadically throughout continental Europe (where vehicles move counterclockwise), roundabouts are everywhere in the British Isles (where traffic flows clockwise). These work wonderfully if you follow the golden rule: Traffic in roundabouts always has the right-of-way, while entering vehicles yield. For many, roundabouts are high-pressure circles that require a snap decision about something you don’t completely understand: your exit. To replace the stress with giggles, make it standard operating procedure to take a 360-degree case-out-your-options exploratory circuit. Discuss the exits with your navigator, go around again if necessary, and then confidently wing off to the exit of your choice. (Don’t worry. No other cars will know you’ve been in there enough times to get dizzy.) When approaching an especially complex roundabout, you’ll first pass a diagram showing the layout and the various exits. And in many cases, the pavement is painted with the name of the particular road or town to which the lane leads.
Drive defensively. Be warned that some Europeans, particularly Italians and Greeks, make up their own rules of the road. In Rome, red lights are considered discretionary. On one trip, my cabbie went through three red lights. White-knuckled, I asked, “Scusi, do you see red lights?” He said, “When I come to light, I look. If no cars come, red light stupido, I go through. If policeman sees no cars — no problema. He agree — red light stupido.”