It is a simple fact that the United States is a car dependent society. For many Americans traveling in Europe, it is often refreshing to know that their trip could potentially take them all over the EU without ever having to step foot into an automobile. Of course, there are plenty of valid reasons to rent a car while traveling in Europe, however there are precautions that should be taken both at the counter and on the road.
At the Counter
Most of the major rental agencies operate offices throughout Europe and the process of renting is pretty much the same as it is stateside. There is the driver’s license confirmation, the credit card verification, insurance coverage policy election, and all the standard contractual stuff. With European rentals, it is important to document the vehicle condition prior to leaving the rental agency, as any hairline scratch or ding not disclosed at the point of rental will be charged to your rental. The easiest way is to just snap a few photos with your smart phone of the wheels, doors, bumpers and quarter panels.
On the Road Again
When you’ve finally acquired the rental car and get out on the open road, there is another danger lurking for foreign drivers. The speed camera is not unique to European roads. However, what is unique is the way in which they are implemented. In the US, traffic enforcement cameras are utilized mostly for stop lights and intersections. When they are applied for speed, it is typically well marked and visible and are in places where you really shouldn’t be speeding anyway. In Europe, speed cameras are everywhere and anywhere. They can be found on the freeway as well as local streets. Though locals may know where to find them, they are never clearly marked. In fact, they are mostly hidden and on purpose. The most dangerous aspect of the speed camera in Europe is the sensitivity. I have witnessed first hand a German speed camera trigger on a vehicle going a mere 4 km/h over the speed limit.
The worst part of being caught by a speed camera in Europe is that often, the driver doesn’t know until they are back home in the US. At this point, one of a few possibilities exists. The driver is sometimes given the option to simply pay the fine, which can be a painful process in itself, or in some cases, fines are paid by the rental company and charged automatically to the offending driver’s credit card. The latter option is a practice that is not utilized by most of the major rental agencies, however it is something that should be watched for. In either case, getting a speeding ticket overseas can be a very expensive and annoying problem to rectify.
Speeding cameras can be very difficult to spot if not impossible. The European Commission states that they are placed in areas of high accident occurrence, but it also seems to align with sudden speed limit changes. There are some apps available that highlight the location of known speed cameras, but the exact location is often changed from one season to another. The best way to avoid being trapped by a speed camera is to just stay under the speed limit. This can be a challenge, as speed limits often fluctuate along a given motorway depending on the preferences of the local municipality. Utilizing a GPS app or device with built-in speed limit recognition will help with this task. Also, using the cruise control can be very helpful as well. In the absence of technological aids, just be sure to keep an eye on surrounding traffic. When the BMWs are whizzing by in the left lane, there are probably no cameras around, but when you see brake lights where there is no traffic, you’d better slow down as well.
By: Vincent Stokes