On a recent trip to Belgium I was struck by the differences between driving in Belgium and driving in the United States. I found increased speed limits, strange traffic signs and baffling right of way situations everywhere I looked. It’s a good thing I was riding with an experienced Belgian driver.
Here are a few tips and tricks to help you prepare for driving in Belgium. I hope that these will help you have a smooth ride on your next trip!
- First things first, drive on the right-hand side of the road and pass only on the left.
- To drive in Belgium you must be at least 18 years old. Additionally you must have a valid Belgian, EU or international driver’s license.
- Because Belgium has two primary languages - French and Flemish - be sure you know both the French and Dutch names of your destination to prevent confusion when you are driving north to south or vice-versa (for instance, driving south from Bruges in the Flemish-speaking Flanders region you may be heading toward Bergen, but arriving in Mons - the French name for the small town in the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium). It’s worth it to purchase a quick reference book so you can have a list of Dutch and French translations for common words and phrases you’ll use while driving.
- Some general speed limit guidelines: Unless otherwise posted (more on that later) you can assume a strict speed limit of 120kph or 74mph on Motorways (four-lane roads); 90kph or 56mph on national roads (main roads) and 50kph or 31mph in built-up areas (within towns). Visitors to Belgium are expected to pay any fines on-the-spot, so watch your speed!
- Don’t be caught without your seat belt! In Belgium, seat belts are required both in front seat and back. If you are traveling with children under 12, they must sit in the back seat.
- One unusual Belgian driving regulation is “priority from the right” which requires that drivers must stop for traffic joining from the right. (This is completely opposite from the American custom of yielding right of way to traffic on the left.) Only in specific circumstances does this “priority from the right” not apply: yellow or orange diamond signs or on motorways and roundabouts.
- Both pedestrians and trams have the right of way in Belgium. Always stop for pedestrians!
- Some traffic signs you will encounter with frequency include “wait for counter traffic” which is a downward facing black arrow and an upward facing red arrow, indicating which car should yield to another when a road has become one single lane; the “no overtaking” or no passing sign, which is a black car and red car side-by-side; “no parking” which is a red line over a blue background and the “stop” sign with a red circle and black horizontal line.
- Cell phone use is only permitted with hands-free systems.
- In an emergency, dial 112 anywhere in the EU to reach emergency services.
Driving in Belgium is a treat - picturesque countryside homes, ambling green fields and large, somehow romantic wind turbines pepper the landscape.
Don’t be timid; follow the tips and tricks above for a smooth ride and enjoy driving in Belgium!