A Guide to Driving in France: Do’s and Don’ts | Talk in French
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A Guide to Driving in France: Do’s and Don’ts

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A Guide to Driving in France Do’s and Don’ts TW

Driving around France is a great way to see the country. Not only can you travel in your own time, but it’ll get you off the beaten track and to the more hidden areas.

There are some things you need to know before driving in France, but if you come prepared there will be nothing to worry about. Here are some do’s and don’ts to keep you safe and on the right side of the law.

Do: Bring the required documents to drive in France

For a smooth driving trip through France, make sure you do have these documents:

  • A full and valid driver’s license

European Union and European Economic Area (EEA) driving licences are valid in France. 

Short-term visitors from the rest of the world, including Australia, Canada and the USA, can drive with their national licences. However, you do require an International Driving Permit (IDP) or a notarised translation of your drivers licence.

In reality, its unlikely that anyone will want to check your IDP, but some car hire companies may require one.

  • Passport or national identification card
  • Proof of vehicle ownership (registration certificate) or proof of car hire
  • Vehicle Insurance (Roadside assistance)/Travel Insurance

Do: Carry these items in your car

By French law each car must be equipped with the following items:

  • Hazard warning triangles – these reflective triangles need to be placed at an appropriate distance behind your car if you breakdown on a highway or an unsafe area.
  • High-vis jackets for all occupants – these must be carried in the car, not in the boot, so they can be put on immediately should you need to get out of the car on a busy road.
  • Spare set of bulbs – while it’s unlikely you will be asked to show your spare set of bulbs, you are required by French law to carry them in your car.
  • Breathalyser kit – it has been mandatory to have two in your car since 2013, but there is currently no penalty for not having them.
  • Emissions quality sticker (Crit’air stickers)

This sticker is mandatory if you intend to drive through central Paris on a weekday or other large French cities (most notably Grenoble, Lille, Lyon, Rennes, Strasbourg, and Toulouse), on days where the air quality is poor, usually during winter.

This sticker rates your vehicles level of emissions, based on a Euro emissions rating system. Vehicles registered overseas are not exempt from this regulation.

Failure to have a sticker can result in a fine or refusal of entry into the area. The crit’air sticker is very affordable and can be ordered from the .

Don't: Break any French driving laws

To be sure you stay on the right side of French law, don’t be tempted to break these laws:

Age

You must be at least 18 years of age to drive in France, regardless if you have a full driver’s license from your country.

Seatbelts

 It is mandatory for all car passengers to wear a seatbelt at all times. Children under ten years of age must travel in the back seats, using an appropriate child seat.

Drunk Driving

France may well be the land of fine wine, but don’t be fooled – drunk driving is a serious offence. Don’t be tempted to drink and drive, even if it’s just down the road, the consequences could be serious.

The French Police regularly carry out random breath tests, particularly during peak travel or holiday times. 

You will be required by law to have a breath test should you be caught committing any driving offence, had an accident or are stopped for random breath testing.

The maximum blood alcohol level is 0.05%, if you are a driver with less than three years driving experience the limit is lower at 0.02%.

Using Mobile Phones

The use of mobile phones while driving is illegal. Even hands-free mobile phone use with a headset or Bluetooth connected earphones is banned. The only type of mobile phone usage that is legal while driving is completely hands and headset free. 

If you are caught using a mobile phone or headset, you risk a fine of 135 euros and an immediate suspension of your license, regardless of your nationality.

Do: Learn and follow French road rules

Do follow the French road rules for a safe and incident-free trip.

  • The French drive on the right side of the road.
  • In France priority (giving way) is given to all vehicles on the right. In France, most main roads are priority roads, they are indicated with a yellow diamond sign. A yellow diamond with a black line through it indicates that priority has ended.
  • At roundabouts, you must give way to traffic already in the roundabout (on the left), unless otherwise indicated. Some large roundabouts, such as the Place de l’étoile on the Champs Elysées in Paris, gives priority to vehicles entering it.
  • Overtaking should be done on the left in the majority of circumstances, however if you are driving on a multi-lane highway and the other lanes are moving slower due to traffic congestion, then you may overtake on the right.

Do: Follow speed limits

Frances enforces speed limits nationwide. You need to follow them, unless a different limit is indicated.

  • Highways (motorways): 130km/h in normal conditions

110km/h in rain
50km/h if poor visibility

  • Dual carriageway (inner city highway): 110km/h in normal conditions

100km/h in rain
50km/h if poor visibility

  • Main roads (outside of built up areas): 80km/h in normal conditions

80km/h in rain
50km/h if poor visibility

  • Residential/built-up areas: 50km/h

Pay close attention to the speed limits indicated around schools.

TalkInFrench.com-speed-sign

Via Pixabay

Exceeding the speed limit in France is against the law. If caught, you risk being pulled over by police and given a large fine. Speed cameras are widespread and their positions are not always indicated. 

If you break the speed limit by 40km/h or more, expect to have your license confiscated on the spot and your vehicle impounded. You are very likely to receive a large fine and may face further penalties, such as being held in custody by the police.

Do: Check parking signs in France

Local parking areas and restrictions are usually indicated by signs. Before leaving your car to enjoy your outing, make sure to check that you’re allowed to park there.  Failure to do so may run you the risk of finding no car on your return, as it’s been towed by local authorities.

Don’t park on a single yellow line. This line indicates that parking and stopping are forbidden. Parking on one of these lines will likely result in a parking fine or your car potentially being towed away.

If the yellow line is broken, you may stop to unload, but you cannot park there.

"What if my car breaks down in France?"

Having your car break down is always unfortunate. If you’re on a highway (autoroute), you’ll need to use the orange emergency phones found on the roadside every two kilometres and dial 112.

Don’t call your roadside assistance company yet! A local company will tow your car to a recovery zone, where you can then contact your company.

If you breakdown on another road you can phone your own roadside assistance or insurance company.

Don’t forget to put on your high-vis jackets and set out your orange warning triangles at an appropriate distance (usually 30 metres) from your car. This is essential to keep you safe and to warn other drivers of your position. If you are on a busy road make sure all passengers leave the vehicle and wait behind safety barriers until help arrives.

Quick tip!

It’s a good idea to take out driving insurance, including breakdown cover (roadside assistance) before your trip, so that any problems can be handled easily and efficiently.

Do's and Don'ts: Accidents in France

Accidents can be unavoidable, but do take appropriate action to avoid them wherever possible.

Do's to avoid accidents in bad weather

Make sure to turn your headlights on whenever you are driving in rainy or foggy conditions. If weather conditions are particularly bad use your fog-lights. This is not required by law, but it is common sense.

Make sure to leave a larger than usual safe distance between you and the vehicle in front.

Reduce your speed. Please refer to the previously discussed Speed Limit section.

"What do I do if I have a road accident in France?"

  • If you are involved in an accident involving two or more vehicles, you will likely be asked to fill in a constat amiable (amiable declaration) by the other driver involved.
  • Call your insurance company, they may assist you with their local representative.
  • If your vehicle is very badly damaged or unable to be moved, phone a roadside assistance company. Again, your insurance company may be able to assist you with this.
  • If there is any sort of injury to anyone involved in the accident, even if you are not at fault, you must wait until the police have arrived. This is required by law.

Conclusion

While a driving trip through France may sound like a lot of work, it is a wonderful way to see the country, so don’t be put off. It always pays to be prepared when driving through another country and having a good understanding of the laws and road rules can help you avoid a number of problems or inconveniences.

What about you? Have you ever driven through France? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments!

About the Author Melanie Pollock

Melanie is Australian. She loves to travel and is a language enthusiast. She has a long-standing love affair with the French language and culture.