Essentials for commercial van drivers going to Europe

If you're planning a trip to Europe in a commercial van, you need to come prepared.  There are a number of differences to be aware of when compared to driving in the UK, and you could face heavy penalties if you don’t follow the rules.

In particular, you need to make sure you have:

  • the right paperwork
  • the right emergency equipment
  • and a van that complies with European emissions standards

Lights and equipment

Different European countries have their own rules for drivers, and these include the equipment you need to have with you in your vehicle at all times.

For example, most countries require that you display GB stickers on your van, and – perhaps more crucially – that you've made the appropriate adjustments to your headlamp beams.

Since you'll probably be driving on the right-hand side of the road in a van that's designed for the left-hand side, there's a high chance that your headlamps will be dangerously distracting to vehicles approaching from the other direction.  So, for both your own safety and theirs, it's important that you make the modifications to compensate.

Beyond that, there are a number of pieces of equipment that you need to have in your van when driving through certain countries, such as:

  • warning triangles
  • high-visibility jackets
  • a first-aid kit
  • and sometimes even an approved breathalyser – definitely required in France.

Each country has its own specific requirements, so you should check with an official source before making your trip.  The website  is a good starting point. You may also want to buy a universal travel pack, which includes many of the items you need for a European journey.


Don't forget your documentation

You'll also need to have certain bits of paperwork in your van and easily accessible – if you don’t produce them on request you could be fined or even have your van confiscated.  At a minimum, make sure you bring:

  • passports for you and any passengers
  • a full, valid driving licence for each driver – from January 2015 you should only need the photo card
  • an International Driver’s Licence if you’re driving outside the EU/EEA and Switzerland
  • your insurance documents
  • and the original copy of your V5c registration certificate

And don't forget the European emissions standards

From September 2015, the new Euro6 legislation will become mandatory.  While the target is only for an average CO2 emission across a vehicle manufacturer's entire range – meaning you can still drive a vehicle that emits CO2 over the limit – you're likely to face substantial road tax charges if your van doesn’t comply. 

And, with further reduction targets set for the years ahead, you should probably give Euro6 some serious consideration before investing in any new vans.  While Euro6-standard engines may well come at a higher price, they're likely to also be the most advanced in terms of fuel consumption – which could offset the cost of investing early.

Certain European towns and cities have introduced low-emission zones for their road users. This means you might already face penalties if your van doesn’t meet their standards.  So if you’re planning a trip to Europe and you have a choice of which van to take, you might be better off selecting the greenest one you can.

Driving a van through Europe comes with its own special rules.  But if you’re aware of the local laws, and prepare well in advance, you should be able to avoid any fines.

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