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Driving in France

Tips on Roads, Tolls, Laws, Speed Limits and More

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Before you Travel

Documents you must have if you are taking your own car.
  • Full driving licence (not a provisional one). If you have a photocard driving licence, take the paper part as well. The minimum age for driving in France is 18 years.
  • Proof of ownership of the vehicle; for UK visitor’s the car’s registration certificate.
  • Proof of insurance.
  • Passport or Identity Card.

What you must carry in your car:

  • Warning triangle.
  • Reflective jackets. You should carry a reflective jacket in the car (not in the trunk) within the passenger compartment of the vehicle, and you must wear it if you get out of the vehicle in an emergency situation.
  • If traveling from the UK, you must have a GB sticker on the car. But if your car has number plates that include the GB euro-symbol you don’t have to display the GB sticker.
  • Breathalysers. The law that everybody should have one unused breathalyzer in their car and motorbike was introduced in March 2012. Anybody without one was subject to an on-the-spot fine of 11 euros. However problems over production meant that this was postponed until November 2012 and it has been once again postponed to March 2013. However, to be safe, make sure you have two in the car (in case you have to use one to check your alcohol level before driving, or one is damaged). You can buy them on the ferry, but the cheapest ones, costing 1 euro, are on sale at most supermarkets. Single-use breathalysers have a one-year life.
  • Snow chains. You must use these if you are using snow-covered roads and there is a relevant sign. Maximum speed limit is 50km/h (31mph). However for most conditions, winter snow tyres are sufficient.

Other requirements

Headlights
You must adjust the beam pattern so it fits with driving on the right. The principle is that the dipped beam doesn't dazzle oncoming drivers. You may have to carry a set of headlamp beam converters with you and fit them before you get to France. Some lights can be adapted without them.

Speed limits
Speed limits vary according to the place where you're driving, the vehicle and the weather. Standard limits are: built-up areas 50km/h (31 mph); outside built-up areas 90 km/h (62mph); dual carriages and motorways in wet weather 110km/h (68 mph). Minimum speed on motorways 80 km/hr (49 mph); maximum speed limit 130 km/h (80mph). EU driving licence holders exceeding the speed limit by more than 40km/h may have their licenses confiscated on the spot.

Tip
On smaller roads you might suddenly see oncoming vehicles flashing their lights at you. This means you are approaching a speed trap, and the police are out with their speed detectors. Make sure you’re within the speed limit and when you’ve passed the speed trap, do the same to oncoming drivers. It’s a great form of community self-help! These speed traps are far less common now but you will come across the gendarmes in rural areas where there are no speed cameras.

Speed Cameras
There are many speed cameras installed on France roads. At the moment, many of them are still signposted beside the road. However, the French government is installing 400 new radar devices which will NOT be signed. They are also taking down many of the signs that indicate radar.
Sat navs In 2012 the French government made it illegal to have devices capable of detecting speed cameras such as satnav or gps systems in your car. So if you have one, you need to disable camera alerts. Contact the manufacturer of the device to learn how to do it.
You must NOT use radar detectors, or even have them in your car. Penalties are severe: a fine of up to 1,500 euros and the device and/or vehicle might be confiscated.

Seat belts

Wearing seat belts if fitted on front/rear seats is compulsory.

Children
Children under the age of 10 must travel in an approved child seat or restraint.
Children under 10 years old are forbidden to travel on the front seats of vehicles unless there is no rear seat, or the rear seat is already occupied by children under 10, or there are no seat belts.

Lights

You must use dipped headlights in poor daytime visibility. Motorcycles must used dipped headlights during the day.

Drinking and driving

The fines for drink-driving are very severe and the levels low: if the level of alcholol in the bloodstream is 0.05 per cent or more (0.02% for bus/coach drivers), you may be fined, imprisoned, have your driving licence confiscated and even your vehicle taken away.

Renting a car

There are car rental companies all over France, in major and small cities and at airports. All the big names have a presence in France.
If you're planning a longer stay, then consider the very good-value Renault Eurodrive Buy-Back Car Leasing Scheme.

Emergency Numbers

  • Call 15, the national emergency number for medical aid if it is a serious incident. You will be put in touch with the SAMU service, with an ambulance (Service d'Aide Médical d'Urgence, Medical Emergency Aid Service). Make sure you know exactly where you are and the circumstance of the incident.
  • Call 18, the fire brigade (les pompiers) who are trained to deal with medical emergencies. They are often the first service called to road injuries, and in rural areas they will probably get there the fastest. They also provide an ambulance service.
  • Call 112: this is the standard European emergency number. Though be warned, if you are near a border with another country, such as Alsace or the eastern Mediterranean, a 112 call from a mobile phone may get directed to the emergency services in the neighbouring country.

For more on driving in France, check the AA Driving in France webpage.

More Information

If you're based in the U.S.A., check the major national motoring organisation (which has local chapters), the AAA.
If you're based in the U.K., check the three major motoring organisations for more information.

Traveling with Pets
In the UK, contact the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) if you are planning to travel with a pet.

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