A Brit in the headlights: What you need to know to make sure your van is prepared for foreign roads this year.
Every year small business owners plan to take their van abroad, whether it’s to work on an overseas contract or to benefit from the extra space during a summer holiday.
However, it’s come to light that only 50% of travellers actually check driving rules and regulations before heading overseas on a driving trip[i], while just over half (51%) don’t realise that they need additional insurance to drive abroad. In a separate study by TomTom, it was revealed that one of the most common motoring mishaps abroad is driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, with 26% admitting that they’ve made this blunder.
This lack of knowledge about driving abroad is leaving Brits vulnerable on foreign roads, especially those that are heading overseas to work. And as millions of UK motorists head to Europe each year, it’s more crucial than ever that van drivers are prepared.
There are a number of things to consider before heading abroad in your van:
1. Don’t make assumptions about van insurance. It’s surprising how many van insurance providers don’t cover for business use abroad. In other words, if you’re working on a foreign contract, you shouldn’t assume the cover you have in the UK will be applicable when your tyres leave British soil. This can also catch out courier drivers who think their hire and reward insurance will be valid alongside European cover, when in reality it often isn’t. It’s always worthwhile taking specialist advice so you know exactly what you are and aren’t covered for.
2. Make sure you’re covered for all your needs. It isn’t only van insurance you need - breakdown cover or cover for any medical treatment should you be involved in an accident are equally important. By talking to a specialist beforehand, you can make sure your insurance meets your individual needs.
3. Don’t forget your paperwork. Remember to take copies of your insurance documents including your Motor Insurance Certificate with you. Some countries also require van drivers to keep ownership documents with them, such as the V5c (this even applies if it’s a company vehicle) or the equivalent from the hire company. Also make sure you have both parts of your driving licence with you at all times. The photo licence is easily kept in a wallet or purse but when driving in a foreign country it’s also important to take the green or pink paper licence. If you do not produce these documents when asked you could incur an instant fine.
4. Find out if you need a Green Card. Before travelling abroad, find out if you need an International Driving Permit (IDP) and a Green Card which provides you with a minimum amount of insurance (typically third-party only). While it is no longer required for countries in the Green Card System, which currently consists of 47 countries, you will need to request a Green Card from your insurer if you are driving anywhere in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belarus, Israel, Iran, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, Russia, Tunisia, Turkey and Ukraine.
Third-party only cover means you wouldn't be covered for damage to your own van in an accident that is your fault, or if your van is stolen or if you get involved in a legal dispute following a collision.
It is important to check with your insurer that your comprehensive insurance will be valid elsewhere in Europe.
Some insurers include this cover, but you need to tell them when and where you are travelling.
5. What to do at the scene of an accident. If you’re involved in a motor accident abroad, stop immediately if it is safe to do so, call the police and take the details of any other party involved. It is also important to take photographs of any damage to your van. These could be crucial in helping to support any claim you may make or any claim that might be made against you from another driver.
6. When to tell your insurer about the accident. In the event of an accident that immobilises your vehicle, you should tell the insurance company about the incident immediately. If your vehicle is drivable it is acceptable to wait until you return to the UK as long as it is within the following two weeks.
However, in the case of an emergency you should contact your insurer’s local representative which you should have been given when you informed them of your intention to go abroad. If for any reason you do not have these details or the representative cannot be contacted, phone your insurers in the UK.
6. Make sure your van is up to scratch. Ensure your van is in roadworthy condition, that it has been serviced and that it’s fully equipped for the journey before you leave. In addition, take a spare set of keys, a first aid kit, spare bulbs, a tool kit, a warning triangle, fire extinguisher, driving licence and any additional emergency or breakdown numbers you may need.
7. Let other drivers know where you are from. When driving your own van, display a GB sticker in the back windscreen, which can be purchased from many online retailers or car maintenance stores. It is still a requirement for some countries outside of the EU and it will make other motorists aware that you are not a local driver and will hopefully encourage them to make allowances.
8. Know the local laws. Take time to make sure you know what the legal requirements are for van drivers and their vehicles in the country or countries you are visiting. For example, when driving in France you must carry a breathalyser with you and some EU countries require you to carry a reflective vest as well as a warning triangle. Meanwhile, if you need glasses for driving then you will need to take a spare pair with you when driving in Spain otherwise you could be fined. It’s also worthwhile finding out what the local speed limits are; the French authorities takes a tough line on speeding offences and has installed hundreds of unmarked speed cameras.
9. Do your research. Research will help to make sure there are no unexpected charges or nasty surprises when driving your van or working abroad. For example, the size of your van can result in you being charged extra to travel on ferries or foreign roads.
If you're heading overseas in your van to work on a contract it's also important to be aware of the working regulations in the country you're heading to.
10. Be a responsible driver. Tiredness after travelling can affect your driving ability so take regular breaks to reduce driving fatigue. This is especially important in Europe where there are often larger driving distances involved so it is easy to underestimate how long a journey might take you. Avoid drinking alcohol if you are responsible for driving, as although alcohol limit levels might be lower in other countries, some have zero tolerance altogether.
For small business owners it is vital that commercial vehicles are adequately protected to avoid risks while abroad that could harm your business, stop you from working or even affect your holiday. Before you head abroad this year, make sure you take all the advice you need so you can stay safe and have peace of mind while driving on foreign roads.