While not difficult to comprehend, despite the fact that British Law lies behind the legal foundations of many nations, driving overseas might render you liable to being fined, having your car impounded, or even imprisonment, writes Iain Robertson.
As you might be aware, especially in light of the torrential downpours that have afflicted our country over the past couple of months, to splash a pedestrian is illegal and, if spotted, you could find yourself being summonsed to court. Do the same on Japanese streets and you will be fined £40 (in Yen, of course!). However, an oft-misquoted legal issue surrounds the need to relieve oneself at the British roadside. It is illegal to urinate in public. Yet, as long as you are touching your car and peeing against the nearside rear wheel, you will be okay.
Naturally, a lot of us take our cars on holiday with us. They provide a necessary freedom that public transport cannot fulfil. However, do be careful in Spain, where driving in flip-flops, open-front shoes, backless footwear, high heels, or even barefoot, might see you enduring a fine of over £150 (in Euros), which might explain why Spanish Police always peer but nor leer inside your car, when they stop you. The fashion police are also active in Thailand, which might be awkward in your own car, when a rental alternative is more likely. Whether cruising the coastline, or trying to shrug-off city centre humidity, it is illegal to drive shirtless and, if caught, you will receive a ticket and a small fine.
Should you happen to be exploring the sights in Russia, be aware that a dirty car will render you liable to receiving an on-the-spot fine of around £25 (in roubles), which is kind of ironic, considering the shockingly grubby state of many of Russia’s roads. Mind you, in Denver, Colorado, USA, it is actually illegal to drive a black car on a Sunday and you might receive a ticket for your transgression, should the officer know enough about Denver State law.
A great many of us travel by car to Germany, especially the owners of high performance machines, who head for the unrestricted speeds of the autobahn network. However, the number of unlimited roads has reduced significantly in recent years and a blanket 130kph (80mph) limit covers all of Germany’s motorways. Yet, you can still find them, where the 130kph sign has a diagonal slash across it but you might have to travel some distance to do so. Be aware that, if you run out of fuel on any autobahn, it is illegal to stop, even if the tank is dry, and you will receive a ticket and a small on-the-spot fine…as well as the cost incurred of being recovered.
Although the French government is no longer enforcing the issue for British motorists, it is still recommended that you carry a personal breathalyser in your car, should you be suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol. Ironically, in Costa Rica, it is perfectly okay to drink alcohol at the wheel of your vehicle, as long as you stop before you get drunk. What happens afterwards is anyone’s guess but you can reckon on a term of imprisonment, at least until the effects of the alcohol have worn off.
Scandinavian countries are renowned for their sometimes Draconian efforts to keep their streets legal. The law even extends into taxis, where your ears can only be assaulted by whichever CD, or iPod, choice of the driver’s music is licensed. No licence? No music! You might be aware of the ‘lights-on’ law across Scandinavian countries, which is understandable on some of their many, long and flat roads. In Sweden, car headlights must be switched on all the time, otherwise you will be stopped and fined at the roadside. Although a fine is not applied, if you do not wish to receive a stern ticking off from a Danish policeman, you must check beneath your car before every trip to ensure that no sleeping children are lying there. In Finland, should you collide with a large mammal (a moose, a reindeer, or a bear) you must notify the local authorities, or, as with a speeding offence, you will receive a fine that is earnings-related. In South Africa, you can be fined up to £450 for not allowing cows, bulls, calves, horses, or ostriches to cross the road ahead of your car.
Drivers in Spain, who wear spectacles, must, by law, carry a spare pair in the car, or receive a small fine for not doing so. In Cyprus, you are not allowed to drive a car unless both hands are on the steering wheel at all times…which might be difficult, when changing gear, sipping a drinks can, or while gesticulating at another motorist. Your licence will receive four points and you will obtain a small fine.
In Ontario, Canada, it is recommended that you clean your teeth before venturing downtown for the evening, as a taxi driver is entitled to refuse you entry to his cab, if you suffer from bad breath. In Alabama, USA, it is illegal to drive a car while blindfolded, although I remain uncertain how frequently that might occur. In Italy, driving through an historic zone, of which there are many, is illegal without the appropriate local permit, so, if you fancy a quick blip up the Appian Way, a couple of circuits of Pisa’s leaning tower, or to skim past the Coliseum, you might receive a ticket and an up to £80 fine (in Euros).
Another Gallic anomaly exists for sat-nav users and you ought to disable the speed camera recognition element, when driving through France. Break this law and your car can be impounded and your Driver’s Licence confiscated. If you think that is breach of your civil liberties, be aware that in Austria, if a policeman suspects visually, i.e. without being recorded electronically, that you have exceeded the 30kph speed restrictions applied in many of its beautiful cities, you will receive a ticket and a fine.
However, the law can stop you ultimately from driving in many places, not least in Clinton, Oklahoma, USA, where it is illegal to molest your car (whatever that means!), which will result in a criminal charge and arrest. In Manila, Philippines, dependent on the last four numbers of your car’s licence-plate, you are only allowed to drive on certain days of the week and you will receive a small fine if you disobey the law. However, pity the poor women of Saudi Arabia, who are allowed legally to own cars, even though they are not allowed to drive them! On the more serious front, there are some pertinent differences between the laws that apply to motorists in the UK and those in countries that you visit. It does pay to check that you know what they are, to avoid unwanted attention.