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A network of well-maintained highways and other roads covers the Netherlands, making car travel convenient, although traffic is exceptionally heavy around the bigger cities, especially on the roads in the Randstad, and those approaching the North Sea beaches on summer weekends. There are no tolls on roads or highways. Major European highways leading into Amsterdam from the borders are E19 from western Belgium; E25 from eastern Belgium; and E22, E30, and E35 from Germany. Follow the signs for Centrum to reach the center of the city. At rush hour, traffic is dense but not so dense as to become stationary.
Avis (Koningin Astridlaan 97. 050/39–44–00. www.avis.be.)
Canadian Automobile Association (800/992-8143. www.caa.ca.)
In the U.S.
American Automobile Association (800/564-6222. www.aaa.com.)
The major car-rental firms have convenient booths at Schiphol and all the region's airports, but the airports charge rental companies a fee that is passed on to customers, so you'll get a better deal at downtown locations. Consider also whether you want to get off a transatlantic flight and into an unfamiliar car in an unfamiliar city. You must be at least 21 years old to rent cars from most agencies. Some agencies require renters to be 25. You can drive in the Netherlands and Belgium with a valid U.S. driver's license.
Most major American rental-car companies have offices or affiliates in the Netherlands, but the rates are generally better if you make an advance reservation from abroad rather than from within Holland. Rates vary from company to company; daily rates start at approximately €35 for a one-day rental, €70 for a three-day rental, and €160 for a week. This may not include collision insurance or airport fee. Tax is included and weekly rates often include unlimited mileage. Most cars in Europe are stick-shift. An automatic transmission will cost a little extra. Rental cars are European brands and range from economy, such as a Ford Ka, to luxury, such as a Mercedes. They will always be in good condition. It is also possible to rent minivans.
Autoverhuur (car rental) in Holland is best for exploring the center, north, or east of the country, but is to be avoided in the heavily urbanized northwest, known as the Randstad, where the public transport infrastructure is excellent. Signage on country roads is usually pretty good, but be prepared to patiently trail behind cyclists blithely riding two abreast (which is illegal), even when the road is not wide enough for you to pass.
Many of the gas stations in the Netherlands (especially those on the high-traffic motorways) are open 24 hours. Those that aren't open 24 hours generally open early in the morning, around 6 or 7, and close late at night, around 10 or 11. Unleaded regular costs about €1.70 per liter, and major credit cards are widely accepted. If you pay with cash and need a receipt, ask for a bon.
Parking space is at a premium in Amsterdam as in most towns, especially in the Centrum (historic town center), which has narrow, one-way streets and large areas given over to pedestrians. Most neighborhoods are metered from 9 am to 7 pm, so it is a good idea (if not the only option) to leave your car only in designated parking areas. Parkeren (parking lots) are indicated by a white P in a blue square. Illegally parked cars in Amsterdam get clamped by the Dienst Parkeerbeheer (Parking Authority) and, after 24 hours, if you haven't paid for the clamp to be removed, towed. You'll be towed immediately in some areas of the city. If you get clamped, a sticker on the windshield indicates where you should go to pay the fine (which can be more than €100).
Holland has an excellent road network, but there is a great deal of traffic using it every day, as you might expect from a country with a high population density. In cities, you will usually be driving on narrow one-way streets and sharing the road with other cars, buses, trams, and bicyclists, so remain alert at all times. When driving on smaller roads in cities, you must yield to traffic coming from the right. Traffic lights are located before intersections, rather than after intersections as in the United States. Traffic circles are very popular and come in all sizes. Driving outside of cities is very easy; roads are very smooth and clearly marked with signs. Traffic during peak hours (7-9 am and 4-7 pm) is constantly plagued with files (traffic jams), especially in the western part of the country. If you are going to drive here, you must be assertive. Drivers are very aggressive; they tailgate and change lanes at very high speeds. All road signs use the international driving symbols. Electronic message boards are used on some freeways to warn of traffic jams and to slow traffic down to 90, 70, or 50 kph.
If you haven't joined a motoring organization, the ANWB (Royal Dutch Touring Club) offers 24-hour road assistance in the Netherlands. If you aren't a member, you can call the ANWB after breaking down, but you must pay a €150 on-the-spot membership charge. Emergency crews may not accept credit cards or checks when they pick you up. If your automobile association is affiliated with the Alliance International du Tourisme (AIT), and you have proof of membership, you are entitled to free help. To call for assistance push the help button on any yellow ANWB phone located every kilometer (½ mile) on highways, and a dispatch operator immediately figures out where you are. Alternatively, ring their 24-hour emergency line or their information number for details about their road rescue service.
Contacts in Amsterdam
ANWB (Royal Dutch Touring Club) (088/269-2888 emergency number; 088/269-2222 office number. www.anwb.nl.)
Rules of the Road
Driving is on the right in the Netherlands, and regulations are largely as in the United States. Speed limits are 120 kph (75 mph) on superhighways and 50 kph (30 mph) on urban roads. Some cities also have 30 kph (20 mph) zones around schools. In the Netherlands the limit on standard rural highways is 80 kph (50 mph), or 100 kph (62 mph) if the traffic in each direction is separated by a central barrier. For safe driving, go with the flow, stay in the slow lane unless you want to pass, and make way for faster cars wanting to pass you. In cities and towns, approach crossings with care; local drivers may exercise the principle of priority for traffic from the right with some abandon. Although the majority of cyclists observe the stoplights and general road signs, many expect you, even as a driver, to give way. The latest ruling states that unless otherwise marked, all traffic coming from the right has priority, even bicycles. The driver and front-seat passenger are required to wear seat belts, and other passengers are required to wear available seat belts.
Using a handheld mobile phone is illegal while driving, but you are allowed to drive while using a headset or earpiece. Turning right on a red light is not permitted. Fines for driving after drinking are heavy, including the suspension of license and the additional possibility of six months' imprisonment.
Fog can be a danger on highways in late fall and winter. In such cases, it is obligatory to use your fog lights.
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