Driving in Belgium: the unofficial rules of the road

Let’s get straight to the point: you don’t drive on the Belgian highways for fun. You drive on them out of lack of decent alternatives. It’s a necessary evil. It’s stressful. It’s time consuming. It’s dangerous… for your mental health. But we’ll help you make the best of it with this unofficial road code.

Before you decide to drive in or through Belgium, keep in mind that nowhere in Europe you’ll waste more time in traffic than right here… So whatever time Google Maps says you’ll arrive, add an extra 15 to 30 minutes just in case, especially when your destination requires you to take the Brussels Ring (Dutch: Grote ring rond Brussel, French: Ring de Bruxelles) or the Highway R1, surrounding Antwerp, or any other highway surrounding a big city. What else?

1. Middle-lane hogging is not allowed (but we do it anyway)

In Belgium, you should always occupy the right-most lane on the highway. Theoretically you could get fined for middle-lane hogging (55 euro), but in reality it hardly ever happens. The road police say they have ‘better things to do’ and besides ‘they’re understaffed to tackle the issue’, because basically everyone does it. It’s one of our most annoying habits on the highway… After n° 6. 35c761619bf176c25c91849e99de476a

2. Overtaking on the right is not allowed (but we do it anyway)

Overtaking on the left is part of the road code in Belgium. It’s a very clear rule, but it can get confusing… especially if there are a lot of middle-lane hoggers on the highway who first overtake you, then stay on the middle lane and start slowing down… What do you do? Do you (a) overtake on the right to avoid having to hit the brakes or do you (b) slow down yourself and overtake on the left? The answer is b! But, it wouldn’t be Belgium if a bunch of us broke the rules anyway. So watch out for those right-overtakers. If you’re a right-overtaker yourself, you could get fined when caught in the act. But that rarely happens since the road police say they have ‘better things to do’ and besides ‘they’re understaffed to tackle the issue’. Sounds familiar? There is an exception to the rule though: close to an entry lane, it’s common courtesy to swerve left (provided there are no middle-lane hoggers getting in the way), so that the vehicle entering the highway has the room to do so. Common courtesy unfortunately isn’t one of our strengths on the road so be extra cautious here, especially since the exit and entry lanes on the Belgian highways are some of the shortest in Europe.

3. Truck drivers are not allowed to overtake when it’s raining (but they do it anyway)

I’m not a truck driver, you say? So what’s the big deal, you ask? You’ll find out once in Belgium… There are A LOT of trucks on our highways, especially foreign trucks passing through. Whether you’re driving at night, in the very early morning or during rush hour, the trucks are always there, blocking your view. And then there’s the rain, which is as common as the trucks on our highway. In Belgium, overtaking while it’s raining is a major offense for truck drivers, but no one ever gets fined because the road police say they have ‘better things to do’ and besides ‘they’re understaffed to tackle the issue’ – again.

4. The speed limit is 120 km/h (but we drive faster anyway)

The speed limit on Belgian motorways is 120 km/h. There are plenty of mobile and fixed speed cameras all over the country to catch speeding motorists, plus high speed is the number one cause of death on our roads, so you would think we all obey the speed limits. But we don’t.  There will be moments when you’re driving 120 km/h and you’ll start questioning your dashboard speed indicator, because practically every car seems to be overtaking you. It probably has something to do with the rumor that a lot of the camera’s don’t actually work and with the margin of error in radar measurements: depending on the region, there’s a downward correction of 6km/h to even 11km/h, which means that if you were driving 130km/h, you might just get away with it. For now, because times are definitely changing, as evidenced by the increasing amount of speed section controls that show no mercy for excessive speeders. Be especially aware of the speed limits close to road works, day and night, even if it feels like an absurdly low speed. Our police love to catch you there. Let us put it this way: sometimes after a speed camera comes … another speed camera.

5. We’re supposed to use the zipper method (but we don’t)

In fact, we loathe it. The merge method (we call it ‘ritsen’ aka zipping in Dutch) became required by law in March 2014 in some occasions, for example during road works on the highway where the number of lanes is being reduced. I’m not sure why we hate it, perhaps we’re just doing it wrong. People in the merging lane are supposed to stay right next to the vehicle in the other lane, waiting for their turn to merge in. That’s how a zipper works, right? One car in the left lane followed by one car in the right lane and so on. In reality though, drivers tend to merge in way to soon, leaving one lane empty for hundreds of meters to come. And that’s where the irritation kicks in because at one point, drivers coming from behind will start to fill up the empty lane again: they speed up and try to pass as many vehicles as they can before eventually merging in. And that’s why the too-soon-zippers dislike the too-fast-zippers, even though they’re both in the wrong: one party for doing it too soon, the other party for taking advantage. Whoever is not using the merging method could get fined 55 euro, but in reality – I’m guessing you already know what comes next – is doesn’t really happen.  

"After you. No, after you"
“After you. No, after you” — © www.tomcartoon.be

6. We’re not supposed to tailgate, but we do it anyway. (A LOT.)

What’s the car length rule in order to drive safe? Divide your speed in half and that’s the distance in meters you should keep. So if you’re driving 120 km/h, you should keep a distance of 60 meters. And now, the ACTUAL distance Belgians keep on the highway: none. Tailgating must be the most annoying habit we have on the road.  It’s one of the reasons why the zipper method doesn’t work effectively: we just do not like to make room. Even if you’re driving fast, there will always be that driver behind you who’s driving too close. Our advice? Better focus on all of those middle-lane hogging, speeding and overtaking drivers in front of you instead…

'See what I mean? - Look how close that woman driver is driving in front of me!'


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Freelance journalist & copywriter, vegetarian, photography lover, passionate reader, globe-trotter, aspiring everything.