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Safety and the law when touring abroad

Whether you travel in summer or winter, check the latest legal requirements.

20 January 2017
Read time: 6m 31s

UPDATED 30th May 2018

Safety issues are equally relevant at home and abroad, but legal requirements vary from country to country. Late caravanning expert John Wickersham gives us some points to consider when touring and towing abroad.

On a recent trip I made a silly mistake. Although my caravan and motorhome are both permanently packed with safety gear for European travel, I was commissioned to test a new motorhome in France. Whilst the test vehicle had many of the obligatory items on board, I was pleased to find a checklist provided by DFDS Seaways at Dover. For instance, a fire extinguisher is strongly recommended. And yes, you guessed it... mine had been left in their wall-mounts at home. How fortunate that caravanning fire extinguishers are one of the many products sold in DFDS’ on-board shops! Now let’s check some more safety matters.

Outfits over 12m

If you’re travelling in Spain and your outfit exceeds 12m, you are required to fit marker boards to the back of your vehicle. You can either have two small boards or one large board but they must be placed at the back of the outfit between 50cm and 150cm off the ground.

Your marker board must:

  • have plain yellow in the centre with a red outline
  • be made out of aluminium
  • be manufactured to ECE70 standard

Bike racks

You can carry your bikes on the roof of your car provided they are attached to an adequate roof-rack and the total height does not exceed 4m.

You can also carry your bikes on the back of your vehicle, provided they do not obscure lights, indicators or number plates. If travelling through Portugal, make sure your bikes are carried at the rear of your caravan or motorhome and not your car.

In Spain and Italy, any overhanging loads must be indicated by a square panel measuring 50cm x 50cm. The square must have reflectorized red and white diagonal stripes. In Spain you can use either aluminium and plastic, however, in Italy the panel must be aluminium.

Extension mirrors

Many people driving large towing vehicles believe that they don’t need extension mirrors. That is seldom correct and legal requirements are clear. In addition, before you drive on the right, a re-adjustment of the mirrors is often required, so carry this out as soon as possible after disembarkation. Well-adjusted extension mirrors are crucial whether driving at home or abroad.

Headlight deflectors

On some vehicles, headlight adjustments to suit right hand driving can only be carried out by a specialist dealer. A few vehicles have a built-in adjustment facility, while others can accept one of the masking products sold at car accessory shops that prevents a UK vehicle from dazzling oncoming vehicles. Many UK drivers fit headlamp masking products when awaiting their ferry at Dover.

Nationality plate

If a UK registered vehicle’s number plate doesn’t include the UK identification letter(s), a UK sticker or plate is obligatory. In addition, it is normally required if you are outside the EU. In some countries, a fine might be imposed if a nationality plate is missing.

Trailer requirements

Many motorhome owners tow a trailer to carry a car or other support vehicle. However, in some countries such as Spain, the police disapprove of towing a support car with an ‘A’ frame. Trailers achieve wider approval but remember to take a spare wheel for your trailer as well. Motorhome owners need to be aware of a country’s towing laws relating to the transport of support vehicles.

Warning triangles

Many new vehicles are now supplied with a warning triangle as standard equipment. However, in Andorra, France, Slovenia and Spain it’s a legal requirement to carry two. After an incident, hazard lights are very helpful but are not deemed to be an alternative provision. Triangle placement is critical, too. In some countries it is now obligatory to carry and display two warning triangles (see table).

Hi-vis vests

Legislation regarding the compliance of reflective jackets with EN471, Class Two guidelines is becoming more rigorous in many EU countries. In roadside incidents, wearing one is mandatory in more and more countries (see table). It should also be kept within a tow car or motorhome so it can be worn as soon as you exit the vehicle. It makes sense to carry reflective jackets for all members in your tow car or motorhome.

Spare light bulbs

In many countries it is a legal requirement to carry spare bulbs for your vehicle’s road lights. It also makes sense to have similar provision for a caravan. However, legal requirements are often being updated and there may be revisions because some vehicles are now equipped with LED lighting instead of bulbs. In some instances, bulb kits are available for particular models.

Daytime headlights

In certain countries it is compulsory to use your headlights at all times (see table).

In nearly all European countries it is illegal to use a car navigation system which actively search for mobile speed cameras or interfere with police equipment. If your navigation system warns of fixed speed cameras, you must turn this function off if travelling through France, Germany or Switzerland.


It is no longer a legal requirement to carry an alcohol breathalyser although we recommend you carry one anyway. Make sure it is NF approved.

First Aid Kit

Caravan and motorhome owners recognise the wisdom of carrying a first aid kit and some vehicle manufacturers supply one as a standard item, too. In some countries, which include Austria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia, it is mandatory to carry a first aid kit. A comprehensive first aid kit is strongly recommended and in some countries it is a legal requirement.

Fire extinguisher

Carrying an approved fire extinguisher is recommended in vehicles and it is a legal requirement in many countries (see table). Many caravans are also equipped with a smoke alarm, and since 1st Sept 2011, National Caravan Council approved caravans have been fitted with a carbon monoxide detector. Fire extinguishers for caravans/motorhomes are often on sale in the shops on channel ferries.

Low emission zones

There are a number of countries that have introduced low emission zones in towns and cities, including; Germany; Italy; Denmark; Czech Republic; France; and Portugal.

Check low emission zones

Tyre pressures

Periodic checks on tyre pressures are important, especially if you engage on major journeys. Tyre check and inflation areas are quite often provided at motorway service areas in mainland Europe but an accurate reading is only possible when your tyres are cold. Take a break for refreshments before checking tyre pressures; readings are misleadingly higher when tyres are hot.


It’s essential that laden caravans and motorhomes are periodically checked on a weighbridge, but never more so than before a long holiday abroad. Thousands of owners never bother and their units are dangerously over-loaded as police roadside checks have revealed. Never exceed the laden limits for your car/caravan or motorhome. A visit to a weighbridge often reveals that an outfit’s illegal.

CountryFirst Aid KitHi-Vis VestWarning TriangleDaytime Headlights
CroatiaYesYesYes (2 if towing)Yes (during winter months)
Czech RepublicYesYesYesYes
SloveniaRecYesYes (2 if towing)Yes
SpainNoYesYes (2 if towing)No