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Driving rules in France

Legal requirements for driving in France

Driving in France - 2018 

Route maps
  • South from Calais
    best routes to the south of France
  • Real time map  showing traffic congestion and hazards on French roads. Zoom in.
  • French motorways map
  • Route maps showing hotels
  • S & SW: routes via Rouen - E5, E9, E11
  • Southwest : A10 Paris-Bordeaux - E5
  • Southeast :  A26  via Reims - E17, E15
  • East - West :  E19 - E44 from Belgium
  • Routes avoiding tolls:
    Options using minimal tolls,
  • ►  to SW France and N Spain
  •   to the Alps and the Mediterranean
  • Driving in Spain
  • ►  Accidents Recent driving laws Speed limits in France Main driving laws
  • Before driving in France - a checklist
  • Priority to the right ► Speed camera warning devices Motorway service areas in France

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    Routes through FranceBy car through France - the main routes for driving to the south or west of France: click map for enlargement and details. - over 200 pages of up-to-date general, cultural, travel and tourist information about France, written by people who know. All content on this site is  written exclusively for this website .
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    Motorway driving in France is normally quite relaxed...

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  • The Millau viaduct

  • Public 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.

    Other "driving in" pages....

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    Photo above: Joe Schlabotnik
    Licence CC. - a thematic guide to France

    Who can drive in France ?

    To drive in France, you must be in possession of a valid driving license, and - unless you have a French provisional license for accompanied driving - you must be at least 18 years of age.  

    UK and EU citizens

       European Union and EEA driving licences are valid in France, so if you are from the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland or another EU country, your national license is sufficient.  What the situation will be for UK drivers after Brexit (if it happens) is not yet clear.

    US, Australia and rest of world

        Short-term visitors (up to 90 days) from non-EU countries, including the USA, Australia and Canada, may drive in France with their national licence, but in theory they must also have an International Driving Permit (IDP) or "notarized" (officially certified) translation of their drivers license before coming (Source: French government website). In practice, no-one may actually ever want to see your IDP or translation, but.... The IDP is obligatory in some other European countries, and car hire companies may require one.

        For other requirements, see Driving checklist for France

    ► ►  Driving rules & laws in France:  

    New driving rules 2018

    The national speed-limit on ordinary roads (i.e. excluding divided highways and motorways) will go down from 90 km/hr to 80 km/hr,  as from July 1st.   Also, use of a mobile phone while driving may from now on lead to immediate suspension of the driver's licence. Be warned !

    1. ► ►
        PHONING AT THE WHEEL   BEWARE....   HANDS FREE mobile-phone use is banned in France. The new rule applies to all hands-free phones using a headset, bluetooth or wired. Drivers caught using a mobile phone while on the road in France are liable to an on-the-spot fine of 135 Euros  – and 3 penalty points if they have a French driving licence. And from 2018 on immediate suspension of their licence (regardless of nationality). Statistics show that phoning at the wheel increases the risk of accident by a factor of three. The only type of mobile phone now legal to use in France while driving is one that is entirely hands-free and headphone free.

    There are now in France over 150 unmarked police vehicles equipped with onboard speed cameras. Most of these  - but not all nor always - patrol on motorways, or other trunk routes, but they are now operating throughout France, on minor roads too. 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 a ticket and may be pulled over for an on-the-spot fine.

        Most of the cameras are on board unmarked Renault Mégane, Citroën Berlingo or Peugeot 208 police cars, so they are not easy to detect - apart from the fact that the cars tend to be very clean, specially the windows. However, drivers are unlikely to notice one until it's too late, if they notice them at all. Thanks to new technology, these new speed camera cars can even flash vehicles going in the opposite direction .
        NEW  Police have recently acquired a lot of mobile speed camera units, which can be parked at the roadside in any suitable place, and with no warning. Some roads may show signs saying something like "Speed cameras for the next 50 km"... which is liable to mean that they use a mobile camera on that particular stretch. The mobile cameras are small white trailers seemingly abandoned at the roadside.
      Beware also of average speed cameras, which record your speed between two points, often several kilometres apart. These are increasingly showing up on normal main roads, and they are not always indicated in advance. When they are indicated, it is just with the normal speed camera warning sign.  So be warned! Observe speed limits, and you won't have any problems !
       Also see Speed cameras below

    3. ► ►  French Breathalyzer law  

    Carrying a brethalyzer with you in the car is a legal requirement in France... - at least in theory. 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.  
        Single-use certified breathalyzers are now available in many supermarkets, chemists and garages throughout France, at a cost of about 1 €uro each. So the cost is minimal. 
       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 is 0.5 mg. per ml - just over half the limit tolerated in the UK (0.8 mg per ml).

    ► ► Don't fall for the "cheap ferries" scam

    Some internet sites that announce "cheap" ferry prices are actually charging more than the Ferry companies themselves. When taking a car to France, avoid dodgy websites by booking directly with ferry companies

    4. ► ►    STRANGE GANTRIES SPANNING MAIN ROADS  In 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, were supposed to be liable to this new carbon tax, also being introduced in other European countries. The start date for the Ecotax system was first scheduled for July 2013, then 1st Jan. 2014: then it was postponed again to placate protesting Breton lorry-drivers. A new revised and slimmed down version of the system was  scheduled for January 2015, but in the end the whole project was scrapped. Final score: truck-drivers' lobby: 1 French government: nil.

    BEWARE....   SPEED CAMERA WARNING DEVICES  These have been banned in France since 2011. Drivers using radar detectors (speed camera detectors) are liable for a fine of 1500 Euros and 6 points off their licence. 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 date with regard to new routes, new speed restrictions, and other changes.
       For both existing radar warning devices and GPS devices, current 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


    ► Travel documents, things you must have with you in the car when driving in France

     Click to visit  Before driving to France - a checklist.

    ► Children 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 turned off.
    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 Highway code).

    ► Speed limits and other rules

    Here are the normal speed limits for driving in France:
    • 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). this falls to 80 km/hr on July 1st 2018.
    • The normal speed limit in built-up areas is 50 km/hr – unless otherwise indicated.
    Note: 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.

    Over 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.

    Under the limit?  The minimum driving age in France is 18. Younger drivers under the age of 18 cannot drive a car in France even if they have a full driving licence from another country.  In France, younger drivers can drive as learners if accompanied by a fully licensed driver, and only after they have passed the theoretical part of the French driving test.

    Speed cameras 

    There 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 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 been replaced, so take care !

    Speed warning► Speed camera warnings .  Some of the big old signs that used to warn drivers of an upcoming speed camera have been removed. But most of those that have gone 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 speed. 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 down to 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 (2014) : Most fixed speed cameras now have warnings 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 exceed the speed limit".

    Average speed cameras - "radars tronçon" : The first average speed cameras, known in French as radars tronçon, were introduced on French roads and motorways in 2012. These cameras, already used in several other countries, calculate the average speed of a vehicle driving between two points. Their use is being developed, and there is no specific warning saying "Average speed cameras in use" nor even the equivalent in French. You just need to be aware that posts at the side of a road carrying a couple of cameras or more are liable to be average speed cameras.
    Contrary to a sometimes-heard myth, toll tickets are not knowingly used to compute a car's average speed between two points.
    Mobile phones: 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.
    Minimum 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.

    "Priorité à droite" - Priority to the right.

    This is a historic French driving rule which remains valid to this day at any intersection where priority is not indicated.

    Once upon a time, this was the general rule in France; at any intersection, traffic had to give way to cars coming in from the right.  Today this is still true only on very minor rural roads, and at junctions in towns, suburbs and villages, between roads of similar status, when there are no signs indicating which road has priority.
       All main roads - N roads and D roads - are generally priority roads, marked with a yellow diamond sign. Priority ends when there is a yellow diamond with a black strike-through. While on a priority road, you have priority over all traffic coming in from a side road, unless your priority ends.
       Priority may end at the entrance to an urban road system, or at a roundabout. It must be signaled.
         When not on a priority road, for instance on a small rural road, you must give way to traffic coming in from the right, unless the road on the right has a stop or give-way sign.
         Roundabouts: in 99.9% of cases, priority is indicated. Traffic already on a roundabout has priority over traffic entering it.... so no priority to the right here.  EXCEPT at some big urban roundabouts such as the place de l'Etoile on the Champs Elysées in Paris, where it is priority to traffic entering, or trying to enter, the roundabout system.

    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.

    Road accident and breakdown information

    Drivers 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.

    1. Avoiding accidents

    Driving in Bad weather conditions

    Heavy rain on the motorwayHeavy July rainstorm on a French motorway 
    While the tourist brochures always show happy motorists using dry roads in sunny conditions, France is not Saudi Arabia, and it can rain, even in mid-summer. Indeed, summer rainstorms, when they come, can be very heavy, and call for particular care when driving. On motorways, the 130 km/h speed limit automatically drops to 110 km/h when it is raining. In very heavy rain, when vehicles are sending up a lot of road spray, it is advisable to drop down to considerably less than that, even on the open motorway.
       Turn on your headlights whenever driving in rainy conditions, specially on motorways and main roads. In very heavy rain conditions, when there is lots of road spray, use fog-lights and in particular rear fog-lights, if you have them. This is not a legal obligation, it is just plain common sense. Leave a greater distance than usual between you and the vehicle in front.
        In the most torrential downpour conditions, put on your emergency warning lights,  pull onto the hard shoulder, or completely off the carriageway, and stop until it is safe to proceed.
        Fog is uncommon in summer, but can be encountered in mountain areas. Put on headlights, and fog lights if you have them, Reduce your speed, and proceed with caution.

    2.  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. this is a legal requirement.
    Click this link for further information about doctors, hospitals and using the French health service.

    Hazard warning triangle

    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 by law carry a red warning triangle, available from any motoring store, and also a yellow fluorescent jacket.

    Stop to shop...
    See the French shopping guide page for useful information if you are planning to stop to shop on your way back home...

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