In the UK, flashing blue lights in your rear-view mirror mean there's a one-in-three chance you're about to face a patronising lecture. And attracting the attention of the local constabulary on the Continent can be the prelude to an equally tedious experience: an introduction to the myriad ways to break the law on Europe's roads. Vehicles entering Bulgaria, for example, are required to have their wheels disinfected to minimise the spread of livestock diseases. In Germany, it is illegal to run out of petrol on the Au- tobahn, as it is to make derogatory signs at fellow drivers, a rule unlikely to deter England football fans this summer. The special tax discs required for travel on Swiss motorways are available at border crossings, while in Greece it is illegal to carry petrol inside a car's cabin. In Spain, spare headlight bulbs and reflective safety vests are also compulsory, while another law requires children under 12 to travel in special seats when sitting in the front.
Research carried out by the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) on behalf of Saga Breakdown Assistance suggests that almost half of Britons risk a brush with the law when driving in Europe. "There are currently around six million Britons driving on the Continent each year," said Angela Clifton of Saga, "and a significant number are unaware of even the most basic legal requirements." In its survey of 2,000 adults, the BMRB found that 44 per cent had not displayed the compulsory "GB" sticker when driving in France, and another 40 per cent failed to carry a warning triangle.
"These are mandatory requirements in many European countries," said Nigel Charlesworth of the breakdown service Green Flag, "and getting away with some of the more minor infringements will depend on the discretion of individual police officers.
"One thing that always surprises British motorists is the fact they can be fined on the spot," said Mr Charlesworth. In France, for example, speeding could have a detrimental effect on those euros earmarked for recreational purposes. …