Army Community Service – Information and Referral
Phone (DSN) 314-368-9783
Fax (DSN) 314-368-9733
Obtaining a Driver's License
Prior to traveling to Europe, all drivers should check their stateside driver's license for an expiration date. The license must be current and not due to expire. Many states can process a renewal by mail. Applying for an International Driver's License in the United States is recommended. When applying for an international license in Belgium, the license expires in three years or on the sponsor's DEROS. Additionally, the international Driver’s License is valid outside the country of issue. The SHAPE Driver’s License is only valid in Belgium. This license is the official transcript, recognized by the Belgian Government, of the US State Side License. During a Police control, he Shape license must always be present, accompanied by the US State Side.
Drivers with a motorcycle endorsement on their POV (Privately Owned Vehicle) license MUST take an MSF (Motorcycle Safety Foundation) course prior to coming to Belgium. When this course is completed, the motorcycle operator receives an MSF card which is valid 3 years. A new course MUST be taken to renew the card once it has expired. In Belgium, MSF courses take place at Chièvres Garrison form April to October.
When arriving in Belgium, the motorcyclist must present his MSF card to the Driver Testing Instructor in Brussels and take a written test about the Belgian code. After successfully completing the test, he will be able to obtain a license and register his motorcycle.
Personnel not owning a European driver's license, who have SHAPE transit privileges and have SHAPE plates must apply for a SHAPE driver's license. You must apply for your SHAPE driver's license in person at the SHAPE Registration Office in Bldg. 210 on SHAPE and present your green SHAPE ID as well as your military/national driver's license. The application process includes attending a driver's orientation course, which is followed by a two- part written exam. If you do not pass your written exam, you may retake it twice. If you do not pass it the third time, you need to wait 60 days before you can test again. The SHAPE driver's license is only valid in Belgium. When driving in other European countries, you will need a current international driver's license. It is highly recommended (U.S. civilians and Family members only) to apply for a Belgian national driver's license, which is valid throughout Europe. Call DSN 314-368-9785 or CIV 011-32-2-717-9785 to sign up for a driver's orientation or to get a study guide. In case of absence you can contact the driver testing station at Shape at DSN 314-366-6603, or CIV 011-32-65-326603.
USAG Benelux - Brussels
Military and civilian personnel assigned to USAG Benelux - Brussels usually fall into two administrative categories. Those who have SHAPE privileges and have SHAPE plates are required to get a SHAPE driver's license. They must also attend an orientation class and pass a written test. Driver's orientation classes are held in Brussels and at SHAPE for all military and civilian employees and their family members. Contact the driving instructor at DSN 314-368-9730 or CIV 011-32-2-717-9730 to sign up for a driver's orientation or to get a study guide.
Military Driver's License (All Communities)
Testing for military driver's license is offered at SHAPE, USAG Benelux - Brussels, and USAG Schinnen. You will be required to take the (driver's orientation course, a written exam) GOV Briefing, an online “Accident Avoidance Course”, followed by an eye test, a hearing test, and a road test on a van. Call your local Driver's Testing Office for more information.
An International Driver's License (obtainable from AAA in the United States) is needed when traveling outside Belgium and The Netherlands. If you don’t bring an International Driver’s License with you, you can obtain one from the U.S. Embassy in Brussels. Civilians can also obtain their Belgian Drivers License and International License from the commune where they are registered. However, service members can only get an international driver’s license through their local Driver Testing station.
Dependents (All Communities)
Family members who are 16 and 17 years of age and who hold a valid stateside driver's license, must wait until they are 18 years old to drive a car in Europe. Those who arrive without a driver's license recognized by the Belgian government and who wish to start driving must go to a European driving school prior to taking a written exam and road test (this is a lengthy and costly process). Note: Going back to the United States to obtain a U.S. driver's license does not entitle you to acquire a SHAPE or Belgian driver's license.
Europe has a high cost of living. Prices for auto insurance are especially high. Variables include your age, your car's age, engine size, make, model and weight. Liability insurance is mandatory and ranges from 400 to 1000 euros per year. Shop around when purchasing insurance (there are several options for insurance such as Geico, USAA and local European insurance companies). Check with your current insurer and, if you do not use them, ask them for a letter stating the length of time of service and any claims you have had. This letter could help you reduce the amount of insurance you will have to pay. You must ask your insurance company for a green insurance card.
All vehicles 4 years old and above must go through "Controle technique" before they can be registered. The “Control technique” will determine if your vehicle is conforming to European vehicle standards.
You must also go to the “Controle technique” when you want to privately sell your vehicle regardless of its age.
Motorcycles aren’t required to go through “Controle technique”.
Mandatory safety items
Red warning triangle European approved/ first aid kit/ Belgian approved fire extinguisher/ 1 or 2 reflective vests/ You must get a red rear fog light installed on the rear left of the vehicle (e.g. under the bumper).
Driving in Europe
As you will soon discover, traffic is quite congested in European cities and may seem more hectic than in the United States. International road signs are used and all distances are given in kilometers. Driving laws differ from the United States; personnel in Belgium and the Netherlands should be aware of hazardous driving conditions. In addition, you must be 18 years old to drive in Europe and you must possess a valid U.S. driver's license. Note: It is against the law to use a cell phone while driving a vehicle, unless you are using a hands-free operating system. Always wear your seatbelt. Remember too the number of seatbelts equals the number of passengers.
One of the major differences in rules is the priority to the right. Driver's entering the road from the right have the right of way. Most intersections do not have stop signs and depend on the priority of right rule for right of way. This is a major cause for accidents in Europe. Right turn on red is forbidden, unless there is a green filter arrow pointing to the right allowing for such maneuver. Driving in Europe can be aggressive. You will most likely experience tailgating, dangerous passing and speeding. If you find yourself being tailgated, stay calm and do not speed. Be alert at all times and take note of traffic patterns on the roads you frequently drive.
School Bus Safety
It is important to discuss with your children that the European bus system does not employ the same school bus safety laws as in the United States. Traffic does not stop for children getting on/off a school bus. Safety monitors do not accompany children while getting on/off a school bus. There are no safety monitors who walk the children across the street. The system in Europe does not use the same yellow school bus model that is used in the United States. School buses are the same type as those used for public transportation in the local towns and villages. School buses in Belgium are marked with a yellow sign with the "children crossing" symbol. The sign is located on the front and on the rear of the bus.
When children embark/disembark the school bus, the warning lights are turned on. Traffic is required to slow down and possibly stop, however that isn't always the case. It is advised that you thoroughly discuss safety rules with your children, paying particular attention to crossing roads.
In addition to driving at faster speeds, U.S. personnel must also adapt to hazardous road conditions such as fog and black ice. Black ice, presents a very real and common driving hazard during the winter months. It has a shiny wet appearance and is often found under bridges and in shaded areas. Fog is usually at its highest density in the early mornings, reducing visibility by mere inches. For those residing in Belgium, vehicles imported from the United States must have a rear fog light installed. Fog lights are available at AAFES and most local gas garages.
Accidents and Emergencies
When an accident occurs, especially if injuries are involved, police may insist that drivers undergo a Breathalyzer test. Refusal of such a test may result in driver's license suspension or even arrest. Belgian and Dutch law requires all parties involved in an accident to remain at the scene as long as needed by police. Proof of identity may be requested. Note that in Belgium everyone must carry their ID card at all times. The Good Samaritan Law applies in Europe. It is against the law not to stop at the scene of an accident and render aid. Note: U.S. Military Police have no jurisdiction on the Belgian or Dutch economy. However, they may assist if needed.
Belgian auto routes have a speed limit of 120 kilometers (about 74 miles per hour).On the auto route the left lanes are for overtaking only. Right lane overtaking is illegal. Two-lane highways have a speed limit of 90 km, city driving is 50 km, and near schools 30 km. All posted speed limits should be followed.
Belgian police use cameras as a method of catching speeders, both on city streets and on the auto routes. The camera will take a photo of the license plate. Using a horn, flashing lights or making rude hand gestures are forbidden in Belgium.
Check the terms of your car's warranty. It may require the dealer to perform needed repairs free of charge. Don't tell the mechanic what you think needs to be fixed unless it's obvious. Instead, describe the problem and its symptoms. Let the mechanic figure out what's wrong. For major repairs, consider getting a second opinion, even if you have to tow the car to another shop.
Before you leave the car, get a written estimate that clearly describes what you want done. Ask the shop to contact you before making repairs not covered in the estimate. If the shop does additional work without your approval, you don't have to pay for it. Keep copies off all work orders and receipts, and get all warranties in writing.
At some parking lots, you must pay at the time you park. Automatic machines dispense a ticket for the length of time you wish to park. You need to place the ticket in your windshield before leaving the lot and return before the time is up. The posted signs also indicates how long you're allowed to park in this lot.
In some parking lots you may be required to display a parking disk in your windshield. The signs for those lots will state zone bleu "disque de stationnement" (parking disk). Sometimes a maximum parking time will be indicated. When you park in an area which requires a parking disc, set the clock to the time you arrive and place it on your dashboard. Return to your car within 2 hours. You can purchase a blue parking disk at AAFES exchange, the ADAC, auto parts stores, or gas stations. Keep it in your car at all times.
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