Britons face high costs when driving in Europe

Failing to take out excess waiver insurance (EWI) can cost holidaymakers that hire cars in Europe up to £1,186.

EWI reduces the excess payable for accidents or theft to zero. However, a report by UK Post Office Travel Money Car Rental found that nearly two-thirds, or 63 percent, of holidaymakers who hired a car to drive overseas, paid only the basic rental charge and failed to take out EWI.

The Post Office analysed the excess charges in 19 European holiday destinations and found that they were lowest in Turkey at £400 and Bulgaria at £404. However, the cost could rise to more than double this amount. The excess charges levied in Italy were £842, while in Norway holiday motorists could face costs of £893, and in Portugal £961.

In Switzerland, those that venture out without EWI could pay £1,064 or more if their car is damaged or stolen, and £1,186 in Ireland.

According to the research, nearly 80 percent of holiday motorists also failed to take out insurance cover for tyre, undercarriage and window damage, thus facing hundreds of pounds in excess charges. However, the Post Office also found that paying for the extra cover when hiring a car from airports at holiday destinations could also add hundreds of pounds to rental costs. For example, the cost of including EWI and tyre, undercarriage and window damage insurance adds £152 to a week’s basic car rental package of £124 in Spain’s Costa del Sol, while the charge for an additional driver adds another £41.

The Costa del Sol was just one of six destinations where rental costs doubled when extras were added. The others were the Costa Blanca, Tenerife, Majorca, Larnaca and Dublin. Car hire extras costs are reportedly cheapest in Marmaris, Turkey, at around £35 for EWI and £19 for an additional driver, but were almost four times costlier at Pisa Airport in Italy (£205).

Andrew Brown of Post Office Travel Money said: ‘Car hire costs can go through the roof when extras are added so it is understandable that many motorists go for the cheapest rate offered when booking online. It can also be very difficult to find out the cost of Excess Waiver Insurance before travel and it is only when collecting the car that what seemed a cheap deal becomes a very expensive one.

‘However, the consequence of not paying for the extra insurance could be a much higher bill if you have an accident or if another driver hits your car and leaves without giving his details. There is an easy solution to this because you can buy an insurance policy before leaving home for a fraction of the cost of EWI. The lowest cost we found was around GBP14 for a week’s insurance compared with an average of almost £102 for EWI in Europe,’ he said, adding: ‘In many cases drivers must pay for car hire extras when they collect their rental car, so it makes sense to carry enough foreign currency to cover this – rather than incur charges for paying on plastic.’

Florida tightens driving rules for Britons

Even as thousands of British holidaymakers are heading for half-term holidays in Florida, the administration in Florida has tightened rules to dissuade rash and unsafe driving.

The administration has issued a warning that foreign drivers would need to carry an international driving permit as well as their local driving license to be authorised to drive a vehicle in Florida. The law could lead to jail terms for people who violate the law.

Until this year, drivers only needed a standard British photo card licence with the green counterpart to drive in the US. But Florida’s legislature has changed rules that would require them to also carry the international permit as well as their national licence. Violation of the law would lead to harsh penalties and mandatory court appearances, authorities warned.

A UK Foreign Office spokesperson said, ‘We have raised changes to Florida driving laws with the Florida authorities. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has advised us that they are urgently looking to amend the law for those countries who issue driving licences in English.’

Few British motorists carry the permit, which costs £5.50. It is issued by the AA and RAC by post. They can also be obtained in person at Post Offices.

About one million UK citizens visit Florida annually. Elle Hubbard of the rental broker, Tripwheels, said, ‘We had hoped that perhaps there might be a ‘grace period’ or leniency shown given that many tourists will be already in Florida and unaware of the new rules. However, we were told ‘Law enforcement is there to enforce the laws, we are not selective nor can we disregard the law.’

British Travellers Are Nervous of Driving in Europe

British travellers going to Europe on a fly and drive holiday are not always entirely at ease with driving on the continent, according to a survey conducted by car insurance comparison website, Confused.com.

The survey highlighted the plight of around 66 percent of British travellers who have experienced road accidents while driving in Europe, and around 73 percent of the respondents revealed a fear of foreign roads due to bewildering road signs, unpredictable driving habits, and different driving laws.

The report also says that around one in five road trips from Britain to Europe involves a crash or a bump, while around 66 percent, or two-thirds of British travellers have experienced a mishap while driving in Europe. Around 25 percent of British travellers that drive in foreign countries during summer are not actually aware of their travel insurance status when they are abroad.

Gareth Kloet, the head of car insurance at Confused.com, said, ‘As the holiday season approaches, we’re going to see more Brits heading to the continent. While driving is often the most convenient means of travel, it’s important for motorists to take the time to understand the foreign laws. Accidents can easily happen in an unfamiliar environment, so reading up and making sure you’re completely covered for the country you’re driving in is just as important as getting the right currency.’

Driving on the right-hand side of the road is the most common fear for British drivers in Europe, as reported by 39 percent of respondents, while one in five, or 19 percent of UK drivers have driven on the wrong side of the road at least once when in a foreign country.

Chaos predicted for bank holiday as baggage handlers plan strike

The Easter holidays have begun, and whilst drivers have to contend with uncertainty at the pumps, those flying from Stansted Airport face strike action.

The Essex airport is facing the prospect of strikes by baggage handlers on Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Easter Monday.

Industrial action is predicted for the bank holiday week after 150 union members, employed by Swissport, passed a vote in favour.

The GMB (Britain’s ‘general’ union) union has said that changes to shifts will result in wage cuts of up to £1,000.

GMB official Gary Pearce said: ‘GMB members have voted overwhelmingly for strike action and for action short of a strike.

‘Up to now the company has been intent on imposing these changes without agreement and this is completely unacceptable, as this vote shows.

‘GMB has offered several alternative shift patterns and working arrangements but the company refuses to listen so far.’

He added: ‘Unless there is urgent talks and a settlement, this vote for action this will result in disruption over the Easter bank holiday weekend.’

A Swissport spokesman said last night: ‘At this time we can confirm the airport will be open as normal. Passengers should travel to the airport as normal and we expect no disruption to our services.’

On the roads, works have been stopped for the Easter holiday on some routes but many motorway restrictions will stay in place.

The suspensions will last from 6am on Thursday April 5 until midnight on Easter Monday April 9.

Vehicles travelling in France must carry breathalysers

Effective later this spring, all motorists in France will be required to have the disposable breathalyser kit in their car for use for a self-check that they are not driving over the limit after drinking alcohol.

Violators of the new regulation without kits in their vehicles will face fines.

France is the first country in the world to enforce the extreme measure.

It’s part of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to tackle the country’s terrible drunk-driving record. Every year 4,000 people lose their lives on French roads and a third of these are alcohol related, according to the government’s Sécurité Routière department.

France has already shrunk the legal blood-alcohol content limit to 0.05 – the same as that of British Columbia and Ontario. But the legal limit remains high compared with other European countries, such as Sweden and Norway, where the limit is 0.02.

The rationale behind the breathalysers law is likely to be to educate French drivers on just how little alchohol it takes to pass the legal limit. It is not possible to just count drinks, there are many factors such as body weight, food intake and the person’s ability to digest alcohol that can change the amount of alcohol a person can consume before being over ‘the limit’.

However critics have said there is nothing in the French law requires drivers to actually use the device.

Coach tour of the M25 is a hit

For many drivers spending four hours sat on London’s M25 can be a frustrating experience. However there are tourists willing to spend £15 on a tour of the road.

Visitors are escorted around the ‘highlights’ of the London Orbital in this unusual coach tour. Surprisingly the tour has been so popular that extra dates have been added to meet the ‘huge’ demand. According to the Brighton and Hove Bus and Coach Company tickets had sold out for the trip along the 117 mile ring road within just two months.

The trip takes visitors to Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Five, Epping Forest, Essex’s Lakeside Shopping Centre and the Dartford River Crossing Bridge.  The driver’s route will depend on the result of a coin toss, resulting in whether the driver travels clockwise or anti-clockwise. During the tour passengers are treated to a commentary on ‘interesting facts about the motorway’s evolution’.

Passengers are encouraged to take part in the coach’s competition where travellers have to guess the distanced travelled by the coach. The winner is then treated to a bottle of champagne. Roger French, the company’s spokesman described the motorway as ‘fascinating’ and ‘ironic’. The M25 first opened in October 1986 – costing an estimated £909 million – and has been mocked as ‘Britain’s biggest car park’ due to its congestion and on-going roadwork’s.

The company’s website said: “The M25 has been named the least entertaining and most boring road in Britain over the years.

“Let us try to prove these judgements wrong with a ‘flight of fancy’ around the London Orbital”. The bus company revealed that, one of the popular attractions for tourists is the chance to see Cobham’s newest services being built in Surrey. The services are set to include a McDonald’s, KFC and a Shell garage. The lot is set to be completed by the end of the summer.

Simon Ashcroft, a spokesman for the coach firm said that the first tour – which is set to take place in March – has sold out, and new dates have been added in April and May due to ‘huge public demand’.

Article by Charlotte Greenhalgh

Buck the Summer Holiday Trend and Plan a Long-Haul Fly-Drive in 2012

With January blues now in full swing, over a million Brits* will book their next break in the sun this month and, according to independent car hire price comparison website carhiremarket.com, it looks like most will be jetting off to Spain and Portugal come Springtime. Based on last year’s booking trends, Ibiza, Palma de Majorca and Faro were the top destinations for a sunny break, but car hire bookings for locations further afield look to be on the increase, suggesting Brits are becoming a bit more adventurous.

Around £500 million will be spent this month* on holidays, but instead of following last year’s trend, why not think about heading further afield? A fly-drive vacation promises independence, freedom and the ability to explore an abundance of landscape and scenery. Carhiremarket.com has put together its top five destinations for a fly drive holiday outside Europe in 2012:

1.) North America – What better way to explore the states of the USA or Canada than with your own hire car? The sheer size of the states and provinces lend themselves to being explored with the ease and flexibility of your own vehicle, and with wide, well-signposted roads, the superb scenery and sites can easily be enjoyed.

2.) Australia – In such a vast country like Australia, a fly-drive holiday is the ultimate way to be in full control on your holiday and ensure you experience the very best that a huge, dramatic and varied landscape has to offer. If some of the drives do seem just that bit too far, why not arrange some inbound flights in-between so the wonders of the Blue Mountains, Ayres Rock, Sydney and The Great Barrier Reef can all make an appearance on your itinerary. You can even drive on the left hand side!

3.) New Zealand – Known for some of the best and diverse scenery the world has to offer, a fly-drive holiday in New Zealand is a fantastic way to embrace the stunning views and explore the uncongested open roads. Rugged mountain ranges, fresh flowing rivers and deep blue oceans can be etched in your holiday memories and in just a two week holiday you should be able to see many of the beautiful main attractions on both the North and South Island.

4.) South Africa – If you fancy a holiday filled with beaches, huge open spaces, mountains and of course, game parks, a fly-drive holiday to South Africa might be just the get away to book this January. Visit some of South Africa’s highlights including Victoria Falls, Swaziland, Kruger Park Cape Town and Garden Route at your own pace. Add to this the fantastic weather and extensive road network and you have an out-of-the-ordinary fly drive destination perfect for the avid traveler.

5.) Malaysia – If you are looking for a more culturally-diverse break, then the architectural history, heritage and lifestyle of Malaysia could be just what you are after. The energetic capital city of Kuala Lumpur and the stunning east coast are definitely worth a visit; and with modern highways, English road signs and driving on the left you’ll soon be familiar with your surroundings. There are good links to key destinations and by making your own way round you are much more likely to stumble upon sites that most tourists never see.

For more information on travelling abroad and great value car rental, car hire comparison or for more information on car hire destinations or airport car hire, visit www.carhiremarket.com.

Motorists warned to be cautious of rain showers after hot weather

With showers sweeping the country after the recent hot weather, drivers are being warned to be extra cautious on the roads.

Although driving in the rain can be hazardous, Swinton is warning that driving after the first downpour of showers following hot or dry weather is particularly bad as it can bring oil and lubricant to the surface of the road. This slick can interfere with a motorists ability to drive and can markedly increase the risk of skidding or spinning.

Swinton, the UK’s leading high street retailer of car insurance, advises that motorists take extra caution on the road directly after a substantial downpour, especially if it hasn’t rained in a considerable amount of time. Motorists should drive at a safe and steady speed. Travelling at high speeds or breaking suddenly will increase drivers’ risk of skidding.

Swinton is also advising motorists to make sure they have the safe and legal tread depth standard on their tyres, which is no less 1.6mm. Tyre pressure is equally as important as brakes and steering will be adversely affected by under-inflated or over-inflated tyres. Keeping the tyre pressure and tread depth standards will ensure optimum performance in wet weather conditions.

It is also important that motorists check the fluid levels in their vehicles as low brake fluid may result in brake failure. The stopping distance for a vehicle increases in the rain by four times more than a dry surface so brake failure is even more likely to result in a crash. Drivers should make sure they recognise the low fluid warning lights on their vehicle.

Steve Chelton, Insurer development manager at Swinton, said: “When motorists drive along the roads when it’s dry, they may leave residue and drip oil on the roads that will accumulate until it rains. The first downpour of rain often brings this oil and residue to the surface and can seriously reduce tyre traction.”

“Drivers should ensure they have the correct tyre tread and travel at a safe and steady speed. Skids and spins are a common cause of car accidents and damage, which could result in higher car insurance premiums.”