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Motorway driving in France is normally quite relaxed...
The Millau viaduct
holidays in France.
The following days are public holidays ("jours
fériés") in France, when
all or most shops tend to be shut.
- January 1st, New year's day
- Easter Monday (though not Good Friday
except in Alsace),
- May 1st, Labour Day, Fête du Travail
- May 8th, Armistice Day
- Ascension Thursday
- July 14th, Bastille Day, Fête Nationale
- August 15th, French August bank holiday
- November 1st, Toussaint, All Saints' Day
- November 11th, Armistice, first world war.
- Christmas (though not Boxing Day)
Unlike in the UK, when a public holiday falls during a weekend, there
is no extra compensating holiday on the following Monday.
Note that on public holidays, hypermarkets will generally be shut, so
unless you have a chip and pin credit card that works in French
automatic petrol pumps, you'll need to fill up on the motorway or in
normal filling stations.
Photo above: Joe Schlabotnik
► NEW driving rules & laws in France:
CAMERAS IN FRANCE 2013 .
Things have changed.....
2013 : France introduces new invisible mobile speed cameras. 20 of
these are now operating on board unmarked police cars, mostly on the
main north-south motorways. Since recording speed from a moving vehicle
is not quite a perfect art, there is a slight tolerance; but
vehicles clocked at over 140 Km/h in a 130 stretch of motorway are
liable to get pulled over. A hundred of the new cars should be in
operation by 2014. Also see Speed cameras
► ► French Breathalyzer law (French farce ?)
After announcing in January
application of the controversial new breathalyzer law had been
postponed sine die
i.e. indefinitely; in March
French interior minister Manuel Valls signed the new obligation into
law. So carrying a brethalyzer with you in the car is now obligatory in France.
by law - at least in
BUT this is a wonderful law that you are free to observe or not
observe, as there is no penalty for drivers caught without a
brethalyzer in their car.
certified breathalyzers are now available in many
garages throughout France, at a cost of about 1 €uro each. So
Contrary to information posted on some sites, the
new law (Decree no 2012-284) does not
oblige drivers to self-test after having a drink. But those who plan to
self-test to be on the safe side should have at least two breathalyzers
in the car, if not more.
To conclude - breathalyzer or not -
don't drink and drive. And remember that the tolerated blood alcohol level
in France 0.5 mg. per ml - just over half the limit tolerated in the UK
(0.8 mg per ml).
AT THE WHEEL BEWARE....
Beware of the "cheap ferries" scam
Some internet sites that announce "cheap" ferry prices are actually
than the Ferry companies themselves. When taking a car to France, avoid
dodgy websites by booking
directly with ferry
mobile phone while on the road in France are liable to an on-the-spot
fine of 130 Euros
– and 3 penalty points if they have a French
GANTRIES SPANNING MAIN ROADS
recent months, hundreds of strange gantries have been erected over
French roads. Contrary to popular belief, they are not average speed
cameras, but HGV eco-tax
cameras. All HGVs, including foreign ones, will be liable to this new carbon
tax, also being introduced in other European countries. From
HGVs over 3.5 tonnes entering France must be equipped with an "Ecomouv"
electronic box. Further information on getting
boxes can be
. The start date for the Ecotax system was first scheduled for July
2013, then 1st Jan. 2014: now it has been postponed again to placate
protesting Breton lorry-drivers.
These have been banned in France since late 2011.
Drivers using radar detectors (speed camera detectors) are liable for a
fine of 1500 Euros and 6 points off their license. This applies to
specific radar warning devices, such as the Coyote
, which must
have their software updated to remain legal.
With regard to TomToms
and other GPS
systems, which have speed camera locations programmed in to their
software, the situation is confusing. These are not officially "radar
detectors", but manufacturers are obliged to make new software
available, and most have done so.
Tomtoms and other GPS systems are technically in breach of the law
if they still have radars listed in their Points of Interest software;
and even if it is not clear how roadside police can stop and check for
offending software, rather than hardware, drivers are warned to err on
the side of precaution and download the latest map software for France.
This is advisable anyway, since older software is not up to
with regard to new routes, new speed restrictions, and other changes.
For both existing radar warning devices and GPS devices,
radar information is being replaced with warnings to announce "danger
zones", many of which will be areas with speed cameras.
Car hire in France.
Cars can be hired throughout France, at airports, in city centres, at
mainline railway stations and other locations. The big names in car
hire all have their operations in France, but there are also a number
of cheaper suppliers. Visit our car-rentals page and get your quotes
from a range of companies. Click for car-hire in France
is generally accepted that today's France has an excellent road and
motorway network; compared to the UK, France has the same population
spread over twice as much surface area, which tends to mean less
congestion on the roads, easier driving than in the UK, but longer
distances to cover.
documents, things you must have before driving in France:
Up to 12%
quote code Flex512
Click to visit "Before driving to France - a
in the car, seatbelts. Children
under 10 years old are not allowed to travel in the front seat of a
car, unless there are no back seats. Children under 10 years of age
must travel in the back, using an appropriate child seat or booster
seat. Babies are allowed to travel in the front passenger seat, but
only when placed in an approved rear-facing baby seat and the airbag is
Seatbelts must be worn at all times when driving in
France, by both adults and children, and both in the back and front
seats. Rear passengers can only travel without seatbelts in the back of
older cars in which they are not fitted (Article R412-1 of the French
problems. When driving in France, in spite of the cost,
it is generally worthwhile taking motorways (autoroutes)
unless you have time to go at a more leisurely pace. However, there are
some useful tips to help you cut down on the cost of your trip across
(gasolene) (fr. essence):
don't fill up on the autoroute! Wait until a major intersection near a
town or city, and come off the autoroute. You will almost certainly
find a hypermarket / superstore within a kilometer or so of the exit,
offering cut price fuel. The saving can be us much as 15 centimes per
intends to do lots of driving in France could find it in their interest
to have a diesel car, particularly a modern fuel-efficient model. Diesel fuel in
France (often called gasoil,
used to be about a third cheaper than unleaded, but that is no longer
the case; today - 2013 - diesel retails for about 20 centimes a litre
less than unleaded, but it also goes further. Very few service stations
now stock the old leaded petrol, known as "super". See petrol prices in France below for
free autoroutes or dual-carriageways where they exist. See below for
Signs indicating a motorway
route (whether on the motorway or pointing to it) are indicated with
white lettering on a blue background, as in the picture below left.
Signs indicating a non-motorway main route (route nationale or other)
are indicated with white lettering on a green background, as in
French motorways, known as autoroutes, are designated with numbers
preceded by the letter A (for Autoroute). Thus, when driving to the
south of France from Calais, you can
either take the A16 autoroute towards Amiens and Paris, or (normally an
easier solution) the A26
motorway via Rheims. Most
French autoroutes are toll motorways, and entrances to
them are marked as such with the word "Péage" (pronounced pay-arje).
The normal procedure is to pick up a ticket from a booth as you enter
the autoroute (just press the button); tolls are paid either when you
leave the autoroute, or else when the toll section comes to an end. In
a few places, there are fixed toll points on the autoroute, notably in
urban areas or toll bridges.
on French toll gates:
Red cross: closed - Green
arrow: open, all methods of payment
rectangle or credit card pictogram : debit or
credit cards only
Télépéage – slow
no stopping - only for vehicles fitted with toll charging
sensors. Frankly, for occasional French motorway users, subscribing to
the Liber-T system is a waste of money - unless you think that 20
€ a year is worth paying in order to save perhaps a total of
minutes at the tolls, or are only travelling at very busy periods. On
normal days, you can be through a credit-card payment booth in a minute
The "Liber-T" charging sensor is available in the UK,
the French motorway operators' company, charges higher rates for users
applying via its English language website than for applications from
its French website - which can only be used by people having a bank
account in France.
Motorway tolls in France - Tolls valid as of Jan 1st. 2013
The cost of motorway travel for a car without caravan or trailer is
about 1 €uro for 10 miles. For example, in January 2013,
on the 1060 km trip from Calais to Marseille, via Reims, almost all of
it on toll motorways, cost 82.40 €uros, about £67.
Tolls may go up slightly before the summer.
Here are the toll
costs for a selection of other common journeys that use toll motorways
over long distances:
selection of motorway tolls : January 2013 (for cars)
+ caravan or
normal size motorhome ; add about 50%).
Truck / HGV toll rates (class 4) : approximately three
times the rate for cars.
(- Rouen). 7.70 €
- Paris, via A 16: 20.20 €
Calais-Marseilles, via Reims: 82.40 €uros
Calais-Bordeaux, via Rouen & Chartres
Calais-Bordeaux, via Rouen & Le Mans
Calais-Toulouse, via Paris 54.30 €
Calais-Toulouse via Rouen, Dreux: 35.50 €
- Perpignan via Rouen, Chartres
& A 71: 51,80
via Reims, Dijon & A39:
via Reims, Dijon, A39:
Le Havre :
Havre - Montpellier via Chartres & A 71: 42.00 €
Le Havre - Bordeaux, via Alençon: 64.90 €
Le Havre - Bordeaux, via Paris: 72.20 €
- Toulouse via Bordeaux: 45.40 €
- Nice via Beaune 73.50 €
Paris - Bordeaux via A10:
Paris - Bordeaux via A10 to Poitiers then N10 via Angoulême:
/ Brussels - Marseilles, via Valenciennes and Reims: 74.00
- le Perthus (Spanish border): 67.40 €
im Breisgau / Mulhouse - Perpignan: 67.40 €
Freiburg / Mulhouse - Montpellier, via Lyon: 52.50 €
The average cost per kilometre depends on what
proportion of the journey involves free motorways or other roads.
Drivers wanting to avoid French motorway tolls should remember that it
is not necessarily the best solution to avoid all tolls, particularly
in fairly populated areas. using other roads, with their
lights, speed restrictions and roundabouts will mean longer journey
times and more stress. ... even if you have a satnav to help you
check out this low-tolls
route to Southwest France and the Spanish border.
: Ways to save on motorway tolls when driving to
Though it is usually easiest and in the end worth it to take direct
motorways and pay the tolls, there is one journey where you can make an
appreciable saving for just a few extra kilometres.
If driving from Paris to
and southwest France, do not follow the A 10 motorway
all the way. Leave the A10 at Orleans, following A71 > A20
At Limoges, follow N141 > Angoulême. At
Angoulême, follow the
for Bordeaux. All but about 60 km. of this alternative route to
Bordeaux is on autoroutes or dual carriageway, but after Vierzon, it's
all free. Saving
about 36 €uros less in tolls, for a distance of about 15 miles
extra.... and cheaper off-motorway petrol if you need it.
, check this low-tolls or no-tolls
to Southwest France and the Spanish border.
Click here for a zoomable detailed
road map of France
For more information on French motorway tolls, follow this link to the French
motorway network website
in English: this site provides a
form to fill in, to calculate the cost of a motorway trip through
For a detailed route, use the route-finder
map and distance calculator
page on About-France.com.
motorways and routes avoiding tolls
There are a few free
motorways in France, and some long-distance dual
carriageways that are up to motorway standard. It is even
possible to drive right
avoiding all tolls - though this is not
necessarily the best nor the
most economical solution. The two links below show our
routes to the South of France avoiding most tolls - and alternatives
avoiding all tolls.
Among free motorways
note in particular
- two thirds of the section on the A16 - A28 route
between Calais and Rouen
- the A 84 from Caen to Rennes
- 275 km of the A20 from Vierzon to just
south of Brive la Gaillarde
(the longest stretch of free motorway in France, and the main
- the A75 motorway between Clermont Ferrand
and Beziers -
an alternate route for people driving to Languedoc and the
Spanish border. Note however the Millau
viaduct has a toll (Toll
prices). Mountain motorway not recommended for caravans or in
- the motorway between Dunkerque and Lille.
urban and peri-urban autoroutes in France are also free; and even when
they are not, it makes more sense to pay the toll and avoid miles of
traffic lights and congestion.
For other dual carriageways, check on a detailed map of France.
These in France are still popularly known as "routes nationales".
However, in the framework of "regionalisation", responsibility for most
roads has been devolved to local authorities, and the concept of
"routes nationales" has largely disappeared. The only "N" roads that
now survive are ones that - in the absence of an "autoroute", form part
of the strategic national road network, such as the N21 from Limoges to Tarbes, or
the N13 from Cherbourg
as far as Caen.
numbering in France
roads, such as A71, are motorways, or Autoroutes
roads are strategic trunk routes - the National
roads are roads whose upkeep is paid for by the local Department,
or county. They can be anything from busy local routes or former
National routes now downgraded, to the quietest of country backroads.
driving in France, it is always best to follow destinations rather
road numbers. Following the regionalisation of responsibility for many
roads, the result - if you want to travel by following road numbers -
is a classic state of confusion; Drivers following the N13 south from
Cherbourg lose it at Caen, as it becomes the D 613 thereafter! From
Evreux to Mantes the "N 13" signs reappear, but after that it's the D
113....For another example, anyone wanting to avoid the toll motorway
and drive along the old "route nationale" to the southwest corner of
France, from Chartres
Biarritz, will follow three disconnected sections of main road known as
"N 10"; but in areas where the old N10 is now close to a parallel
motorway, the road is now signed as "D 910" or the "D 1010". Some old
"N" roads now blithely change their number each time they pass from one
department to another !!
This is all very confusing for foreign
visitors driving in France, but not so much for the French,
since with the exception of motorways, they follow a
rather than a road number. Destinations via main trunk routes are
indicated by the names of towns in white letters on a bright green
background, as shown above.
Note that France also displays European
route numbers where appropriate; these are marked with a white number
on a green background, and are in addition to the French road number.
For example the A
6 motorway from Paris to Lyon is also marked as E15
- E15 being a European route running
from Inverness to Algeciras.
In the motorway sign on the right, the A43 autoroute is also indicated
as being the E70; the main towns it leads towards are indicated in
normal lettering; other destinations, such as airports, are indicated
in italics. The word "Péage" at the bottom indicates that
this is a
Futé" and the backroads of France
Photo: In bygone
great "alignements de platanes" - or avenues of plane trees - were
planted to give shade to travellers on French roads, specially in the
south of France. Though the plane-lined road remains one of the iconic
images of France today, few remain, except for short sections on
country roads, such as
here in Languedoc.
Sometimes you may see direction signs starting with the word Bis,
in italics. These are the equivalent of the British "HR" (holiday
route) itineraries, using less crowded main roads. Thus a sign saying
"bis Lyon" is an alternative route avoiding the main roads, and
generally with less lorry traffic. Bis, in French, means second (as in
the prefix bi-).
The "Bison futé" (in English the cunning bison) is
the motorist who does not follow the crowd, but seeks out less crowded
easier roads, the "routes bis", thus the "bis-on". If you see a bison
futé sign, it will be directing you either
routes themselves or to an information point. On summer Saturdays,
being a cunning bison is often well worth it, unless you love driving
in heavy traffic or sitting in traffic jams.
on the backroads of France requires a good map - or a Satnav that
allows you to wander off the beaten track; but in many places, it can
still make driving a pleasure, rather than a chore
This is a good idea on most days. When driving from Calais to the south
of France, use the A
26 motorway via Reims, Troyes and Dijon.
If driving to south western and central France, avoid Paris going via
Rouen, Evreux, Chartres and Orleans. There is no motorway between
Evreux and Orleans, but the road over this section is currently being
upgraded to dual carriageway, and over half of it is now complete. Avoiding
Paris- click for details and route map
Avoiding peak periods
If you can avoid travelling on Saturdays between July 10th and August
30th, this is very advisable. On these days, many French autoroutes -
and in particular all the main arteries to the south - are liable to
reach saturation. The worst bottlenecks are in the Rhone valley south
of Lyons, along the south coast, and around Bordeaux.
In January and February, Alpine motorways can get hyper-snarled up with
Check out the busy
holiday weeks for 2013
However, outside these periods, Saturday and Sunday are the best days
for driving in France, on motorways and arterial roads. Indeed, on
these days, HGV's - lorries or trucks - are banned, meaning that unless
you get stuck behind caravans or camper vans, combine harvesters or
other various slowdowns, driving is relatively hassle-free.
restrictions in France
► Petrol (Gas) stations in France
Almost all petrol stations in France accept Visa and Mastercard;
however take care with 24h automatic pumps in supermarket forecourts.
Many of these do not accept credit cards without integrated chip and
PIN number. Most UK cards now have integrated chip and pin, so the
times when UK cards did not work in French petrol stations are now
history for most travellers. However, if you think you may need to fill
up in an emergency while driving in France, check your card out at a
supermarket self-service pump well before you run out. If it doesn't
work, nip round and join the queue for the pay-at-the counter pumps.
Make sure that you don't have to fill up in an emergency using an
untested card at an unmanned filling station at night or on Sundays.
Compared to the UK, there is not a big difference, except for diesel
which is much cheaper (about 15%) in France. In mid May 2013
fuel prices in France were :
In non-supermarket and motorway filling stations, petrol prices can be
anything from 5 to 20 cts. a litre more expensive, depending on the
Euros per litre
Euro per litre
Euros per litre.
E10 graded fuels (containing 10% of ethanol bio-fuel) are
a couple of centimes cheaper, where they are available. These
compatible with most modern cars; if in doubt check with your supplier.
(There are 3.79 litres to 1 US gallon; but generally speaking cars in
Europe are smaller and consume less fuel than cars in
limits and other rules
Here are the normal speed limits for driving in France:
there is not necessarily a specific speed-restriction sign at the
entrance to a built-up area, particularly at the entrance to small
villages. The |
name-board | at the entrance to a village or town ( dark
blue letters on an off-white background) automatically
indicates a built-up area with a speed limit of 50 km/h, unless
otherwise indicated. Police speed cameras are often set up in villages
where traffic too often forgets to slow down.
- The normal speed limit on French
motorways is 130 km/hr (just over 80 mph). - or 110 km/hr in rain.
- The normal speed limit on dual
carriageways (divided highways) is 110 km/hr
- The normal speed limit on main roads is
90 km/hr (outside built-up areas)
- The normal speed limit in built-up areas
is 50 km/hr – unless otherwise indicated.
the limit? Generally,
there is a small tolerance for drivers who exceed the speed limit - but
be advised that it is best to observe speed limits which are there for
a reason. Until recently, speed cameras tended to be stationary and
visible; nowadays, the gendarmerie
are using more and more mobile radars, in unmarked cars. Be warned !
Otherwise you may face an on-the-spot fine or - if your are caught
driving more than 50 km/hr over the limit - an instant ban and an
impounding of your vehicle.
are now well over two thousand stationary speed cameras on France's
roads and motorways.
Unfortunately, the official
French radar speed camera map was removed
from the Internet in May 2011, following a government decision to stop warning drivers
of upcoming speed cameras. A lot of the warnings haven't really gone
- just changed : but others have really gone, and have not
replaced, so take care !
warnings - 2013.
Many of the big old signs that used to warn drivers of an
camera have been removed. But a lot of them have now been replaced by automatic speed detectors
which flash up
the speed of each approaching car on a luminous panel.
It's best to understand what these are
about: if you see a
luminous panel flashing up, say 101 then 99, then 97 as you approach it
while decelerating, that is your
The photo, right, is flashing a red 75, because the car approaching is
exceeding the 70 Km/h speed limit in the location. So keep down or drop
below the speed limit, as there is quite
likely to be
though not always -
a speed camera coming up. Some speed detectors just flash up your speed
in white lights, others in green or red lights depending on whether you
are within or above the speed limit. Some show a smiley below the speed
- grumpy if you're above the limit, smiling if you're within the limit.
Latest news (2013) : Most fixed speed cameras now have
of some sort or another. This goes for static cameras and for the new
average speed cameras. But obviously, it does not go for mobile cameras
carried round and set up by gendarmes. The only warning you may get of
these is when approaching cars flash their headlights at you:
New radars are being set up all the time, so
any unofficial maps that may be available on the Internet are unlikely
to be complete, and in any case cannot include the mobile radar cars or
the movable stationary speed cameras, of which there are currently
about 1000. So the best rule - not to say the most sensible one - is
"Do not drive over the speed limit".
speed cameras : The first average speed cameras,
known in French as radars tronçon, have now been introduced
on French roads and motorways. These cameras,
already used in several other countries, calculate the average speed of
a vehicle driving between two points.
Contrary to a sometimes-heard myth, toll tickets are not knowingly used
to compute a car's average speed between two points.
it is an offence to hold and use a mobile phone while driving in
France. Hands-free use of mobile phones is not illegal. Though many
drivers ignore this rule, traffic police are clamping down on drivers
holding phones to their ears while driving, and drivers are liable to
an on-the-spot fine.
age: The minimum age for driving a car in France is 18;
thus no-one under the age of 18 can drive a car in France, even if he or she holds a valid
licence in another country.
Wining and driving
Wine is available with meals in French motorway service areas - a fact
that surprises a lot of visitors. But don't forget that the drink drive
limit in France is lower than it is in the UK. The best advice is the
same everywhere; don't drink and drive.
Motorway hotels or something else? France is very well equipped in
hotels and other types of accommodation. Many of the chains , such
stars) , Mercure
(3 stars), Ibis
(2 stars) , Ibis budget
(2 stars), and Formule 1
(1 star), have outlets clustered near
motorway exits, notably
near the exits from toll motorways and around towns and cities. The
hotel links below list only the French motorway hotels that are really
easy to find.
and breakdown information
taking their car abroad are strongly advised to have some form of breakdown
cover that will ensure repatriation of the vehicle in the
event of problem or immobilisation.
► What to do in the event of a road accident in France
If you are involved in any accident involving two or more vehicles
while driving in France, you will be asked to fill in a "constat
amiable" (an amiable declaration) by the driver of a French car
involved. This is standard practice.
If possible, call your
insurance company at once on your mobile phone. They may put you in
touch with a local French representative.
If you are involved in an accident involving any sort of injury - even if it is not your
fault - you MUST
remain until the police have come.
Click this link for further information about doctors, hospitals and using the
French health service.
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, to alert approaching traffic to the
hazard. All cars driving in France must carry a red warning triangle,
available from any motoring store, and also a yellow fluorescent
See the French shopping guide page
for useful information if you are planning to stop to shop on your way
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