If you are planning to hire a car whilst abroad in Europe, you need to remember more than just which side of the road to drive on. There are also a plethora of charges for using certain roads or entering certain areas – including in the UK.
Tolls, low-emission zones, congestion charges and other such systems are springing up all over Europe (including the UK & Ireland) with ever-increasing frequency.
Firstly, many European countries operate some kind of charging system on their motorways. France‘s superb tolled Autoroutes (the best motorways in Europe, in my experience) are the best known, but Switzerland and Austria require you to buy a permit to use their motorways and Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy also have some tolled motorway routes.
There are other countries with motorway charging in place, too, so check before you go – one of the best resources is the AA’s website – click here for its guide to European tolls.
Low-Emission & Congestion Charging Zones
The other popular trend in recent years has been the introduciton of congestion charging and low emission zones, with the twin goals of reducing congestion and improving air quality.
These zones are naturally in urban areas, usually around big cities. However, you may be surprised just how many countries have them.
Apart from the UK’s dearly beloved London Congestion Charge, here are just a few other countries that have similar (but different) schemes in operation:
- Netherlands (Holland)
I am not even going to attempt to provide a comprehensive guide to these zones here, as the scope of the schemes is constantly changing. However, there is an excellent, publicly-funded site that I would recommend you check before you are due to drive abroad, especially if your route will take you near any cities:
As always, ignorance is no excuse and you can expect to be penalised if you break any of the rules – just as you would be in London.
If you’re renting a car abroad, then check with the rental agency office for the latest local information. You will probably be required to make any congestion charge payments yourself but may find that your first day is included – especially if you hire a car within a low emission zone.
For example, with Avis, you first day’s congestion charge is included if you rent a car within the London Congestion Charge zone. Subsequent days are your responsibility, however.
If it all sounds a bit intimidating, don’t be put off. A small amount of preparation goes a long way and most of these systems are not too difficult to navigate, even if you don’t speak the language. Just remember – be prepared and don’t be afraid to ask. With modern number plate recognition cameras as good as they are, sticking your head in the sand and hoping to get away with it isn’t a wise approach.