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French Roads and Driving Advice

How to negotiate the French road system

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Cars parked in the front of traditional apartments in Latin Quarter area of Paris.
Pawel Libera/Photolibrary/Getty Images

France has a very good road system, with more kilometers of road than any other country in the European Union. France has a total of 965,916 km (600,192 miles) of local, secondary, main roads and motorways.

Road Numbers:

  • ‘A’ roads (as in A6) are motorways, called autoroutes in France.
  • ‘N’ roads are strategic truck routes, the National network.
  • ‘D’ roads are managed by the local Department. They run from busy local routes and former National routes now downgraded (make sure you have an up-to-date map with the new road numbers), to tiny country lanes.
  • France also displays a European road number. French numbers are in white on a red background; European numbers are white on a green background.
  • The word péage at the bottom of the sign indicates a toll road ahead.
  • You may see direction signs with the word Bis. These are holiday routes along less crowded roads. So if you see Bis Strasbourg, this is an alternative route avoiding main roads. They will probably be slower, but there will be less truck traffic and you may avoid traffic jams.

Motorways

There are tolls on nearly all motorways in France. The only exceptions to this are where the autoroute has been created from an already existing road, and around major towns and cities.

You take a ticket as you enter the motorway from a machine, and pay when you exit the motorway. At some motorway péages, you will have to put in the correct amount of money; there will be no person at the booth. So make sure you have change (though you can pay with a credit card or with a note and get change). The ticket will either tell you how much the toll is between specific exits, and when you insert it into the machine, will give you the total you have to pay.

If you drive regularly in France or are taking a long journey, then consider the offer from the authorities. Sanef France has extended the Liber-t automated French tolls payment service to U.K. motorists which were previously reserved for French resident. Go on to the U.K. Sanet site to enroll. You can then pass through the gates with the sign of a large orange ‘t’ on a black background. If you’re alone and in a right-hand drive car, it does save you from either leaning over, or getting out to pay the toll and holding up what might be a queue of irate drivers in a hurry. It will cost you a little more in upfront fees, but it may be worth it.

Website Information on Motorways

Tips on driving in France

  • Follow destination signs rather than road numbers if you can. As there are so many authorities involved in road management, the road you were on can change from an ‘M’ road to a ‘D’ road without warning, and also change its number.
  • In built-up areas you must give way to traffic coming from the right (priorite a droite.)
  • At roundabouts with the signs Vous n’avez pas la priorite or Cedez le passage, traffic on the roundabout has priority. If there are no signs, traffic entering the roundabout has priority
  • In built-up areas, you must not use a horn unless it is an emergency.

Busy times on French roads

The busiest time of the year is the summer, which in 2013 is from July 13th (when the French schools break up) and September 3rd (when the schools open). Other school holidays when you can expect more traffic on the roads in 2013 are from February 23rd to March 9th and April 27th to May 11th.

Public holidays when the roads are busy include: April 1, May 1, May 8, May 9, May 20, July 14th, August 15, November 1, November 11, December 25, January 1.

If you are involved in a road accident in France

Breakdown or accident: If your car is immobilised on or partly on the road due to a breakdown or an accident, you must set up your red warning triangle at a suitable distance behind the vehicle, so approaching traffic will know there is a hazard.

You will be asked to fill in a constat amiable (amiable declaration) by the driver of a French car involved.

If you can, call your insurance company at once on your mobile phone. They may be able to put you in contact with a local French insurance representative.

If there are any injuries involved, even if it is not your fault, you MUST say with the car until the police arrive.

Emergency telephone numbers:

  • Call 15. 15 is the national emergency number for medical aid if the accident is serious. It takes you to the SAMU service which is an ambulance service (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. 18 is the number for the French fire brigade (les pompiers). Unlike in many other countries, the fire brigade is trained to deal with medical emergencies. They are often the first service to get to road injuries, and in rural areas they will probably get there the fastest. They also provide an ambulance service.
  • Call 112. 112 is the standard European emergency number. But take care as if you are near a border with another country, calling 112 from a mobile country might find you talking to the emergency services in that country, not France.

Insurance

If you’re from a European country, make sure you have the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which has replaced the old E 111 form. But as you will have to pay some medical expenses, make sure you have adequate travel and health.

If you’re not from a European country, you MUST have separate travel and health insurance.

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.

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

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