Driving to France can often be the cheapest method of hopping over (well, under) The Channel to enjoy a holiday. Our continental neighbours have plenty of great scenery, stunning countryside and culture-filled cities to explore, but what do you need to do and know before you drive in France?
From driving kits to all the legal dos and don’ts, our guide has all the answers.
Driving in France checklist
Before hitting the French roads, there are a few things you need to make sure you have to hand:
● Driving license
● Insurance documents
● Valid passport
● Proof of ownership (V5C certificate)
● Headlight converters
● High vis jackets
● Warning triangle
● Spare bulbs
● GB sticker
If you’re missing some parts of the list, don’t panic. Our specialist France driving kit contains all the stuff you’ll need. Except for those personal documents and licenses, you’ll need to sort those out.
It’s worth mentioning that the legal requirements for driving in France could change in the near future. Depending on the outcome of Britain leaving the EU, driving in France after Brexit may require additional documentation. We’ll update this blog with more information if that happens.
Changes to driving rules in France
Given that it’s a major trade route and has some of the busiest roads in Europe, you’ll find that France’s roads are heavily regulated. Some recent changes in the law include:
● Any use of a Bluetooth headset or headphones while driving is illegal; only motorcyclists wearing a helmet with an integrated headset are exempt from the new law, that lucky lot.
● Motorcyclists must now carry reflective safety jackets.
● Paris has introduced a low emission zone with a view to improving the city’s air quality. It’s worth checking if you’ll drive through this zone on your journey, and if you’ll have to
pay any emission charges. We’ll touch more on these zones later.
● If you’ve been driving for less than three years then you must have a blood alcohol limit lower than 0.2 grams per litre. Drivers with more than three years experience on the road must have a blood alcohol level lower than 0.5 grams.
● Drivers must carry a breathalyser by law. The breathalyser must be unused, in-date (devices usually only last around 12 months) and show the ‘NF’ French certification mark.
Speed limits in France
Following a rise in incidents across French roads, speed limits were lowered in July 2018. Though the changes were fairly small, it’s thought that they could save up to 400 lives a year.
The current speed limits in France are:
|Road type||Dry weather||Wet weather||Low visibility|
|1. Built-up areas||50 kph||50 kph||50 kph|
|2. Outside of built-up areas||80 kph||70 kph||50 kph|
|3. Dual carriageways and inner city motorways||110 kph||100 kph||50 kph|
|4. Motorways||130 kph||110 kph||50 kph|
|5. Other roads||90 kph||80 kph||50 kph|
There are some very strict penalties in place for anyone caught speeding in France. Any foreign-registered cars caught be placed onto a national register, and on the spot fines can also be enforced.
If you can’t pay the fee upfront, French police have the authority to seize your vehicle until you’ve paid up. Speeders caught travelling more than 25 kph above the limit may lose their license on the spot, while drivers recorded travelling 50 kph or more over the speed limit will also have their vehicle confiscated.
In short, it’s really not worth speeding. Ever. Just make sure you’re clued up on all the different speed limits and toll roads in France, and none of these fines or confiscations will ever be a problem.
Satellite navigation and speed camera alerts
Though allowed here in the UK, carrying and using a device that incorporates a speed camera detector is forbidden in France. This law covers sat navs and any other similar GPS-based devices.
So, if you’re travelling in France you’ll need to either disable any speed camera alerts on your satellite navigation before setting off, or perform a software update to remove any data on French speed cameras.
It’s worth doing, as failure to remove any speed camera-detecting technology can result in a fine of up to €1,500, or even a vehicle confiscation.
Low emission zones
As we touched upon earlier, low emission zones have been introduced across Paris. But, these aren’t unique to just the capital. Full time and emergency emission zones have also been launched in Lyon, Lille and Grenoble, with many more towns and cities expected to introduce these zones in the future.
Here’s what you need to know:
- All vehicle types are affected by low emission zones.
- Vehicles travelling in a restricted area must display a Crit’Air sticker and air quality certificate.
- Six variations of the Crit’Air sticker are available depending on your vehicle’s emissions.
- Failure to purchase and display the sticker will result in a fine between €68 and €135.
- ‘Emergency zones’ can come into action when pollution monitoring systems hit a particularly high level.
You’re able to purchase your Crit’Air sticker from the official government website for a small fee of €4.40, which includes postage and packaging.
Codes of conduct
Lastly, you should also be aware of certain road rules – or should we say ‘etiquette’ – before driving in France.
Traffic lights and French road signs
Clueing up on French road signs before you take to the wheel will help you feel more at ease while out on the open road. There are plenty of free tests you can take online to familiarise yourself with the sometimes confusing French signage.
French traffic lights use a three-colour signalling system like our lights in the UK, however, it’s worth noting that:
- Flashing amber lights can mean: caution, slow down, or proceed but give way to the right.
- No amber light is displayed after a red light.
- A flashing red light indicates no entry, though it can also signal a level crossing or emergency service vehicle exit point.
- If a yellow arrow is shown alongside a red light, this means drivers are able to turn in the direction shown by the arrow, but they must give priority to any vehicles and pedestrians already travelling in that direction.
Using your horn and lights
You should only use your vehicle’s horn in an emergency to give a warning to other drivers. Ideally, you should signal a warning to other motorists by using your lights.
It’s worth noting that unlike the UK, a quick flash of lights from a car does not mean that you’re able to proceed. The other driver is actually signalling that they are moving forward and you should leave enough room. Definitely one to remember.
Priority on the road
Unless signposted otherwise, you should always give way to the right at all intersections. If you’re sat at a roundabout, you must give way to any traffic already driving on the roundabout.
As you’d expect, emergency vehicles have priority over other vehicles on the road.
Overtaking in France
When driving in France, you should normally overtake on the left. However, on a road with multiple lanes, you’re able to overtake on the right if the other lanes of traffic are moving slower due to congestion.
When travelling uphill, any vehicles that are ascending have right of way over those driving downhill.
And there you have it. Everything you need to know about driving in France. The end.
Oh, actually, scrap that fin. One last thing. If you want one of those kits with everything you need to drive in France, but can’t be bothered to scroll back up, just click here.