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- the connoisseur's guide to France
driving in 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
France, so if you are from the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland or
another EU country, your national license is sufficient. What
situation will be for UK drivers after Brexit (if it happens) is not
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)
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:
national speed-limit on ordinary roads (i.e. excluding divided highways
and motorways) went down from 90 km/hr to 80 km/hr in
2018. Also, use of a mobile phone while
driving may from now on lead to immediate suspension of the driver's
licence. Be warned !
AT THE WHEEL BEWARE....
mobile-phone use is banned in France. The new rule
applies to all hands-free phones using a headset, bluetooth or
wired. Drivers caught
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
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.
CAMERAS IN FRANCE
are now in France over 150 unmarked police vehicles equipped with
onboard speed cameras. Most of these - but not all
- 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
Most of the cameras are on board
Mégane, Citroën Berlingo or Peugeot 208 police
cars, so they are not
detect - apart from the fact that the cars tend to be very clean,
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
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
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
any problems !
Also see Speed cameras
► ► French Breathalyzer law
a brethalyzer with you in the car is
a legal requirement in France.
- 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
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 is 0.5 mg. per ml - just over
half the limit
tolerated in England
(0.8 mg per ml).
The central areas of Paris, Lyon and Grenoble,
Nancy, Rennes and Toulouse have adopted low emission zone regulations.
(within the Boulevard
apply every weekday
As from July 2019 the restrictions are extended to cover the whole area
inside the A86 orbital motorway (though motorways and the
are not concerned).
For other cities, notably Grenoble,
Lille, Lyon, Rennes Strasbourg and Toulouse, restrictions apply only in
the event of serious episodes of air pollution. Though most common in
winter, these can occur at any time of year.
To be compliant with the rules, vehicles must diplay an
exhaust-gas quality sticker, known as a vignette Crit'air
placing them in one out of six categories. Generally
speaking, cleaner vehicles (categories 1 to 3) are not
by restrictions; vehicles that generate more pollution may be concerned.
Foreign-registered vehicles are not exempted and must obtain
sticker if they think they may need to be in a restricted zone on a
restricted day. However vehicles not entering Paris nor visiting any of
the major cities concerned on a poor air-quality day do not need to
have a Crit'air sticker, and most vehicles in provincial France do not
emissions quality certificate stickers
can be ordered online from the French government agency running the
scheme. The cost is just 3.62 Euros + postage. Click here for
more information and to order from the official
These are banned in France.
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
have their software updated to remain legal.
With regard to TomToms
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
MAIN FRENCH DRIVING LAWS
documents, things you must have with you in the car when driving in
France - a
in the car, seatbelts.
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
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
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 80 km/hr (outside
built-up areas). However while the 80 km/hr applies
on all single carriageway routes
nationales (N roads), paradoxically it often does not
apply on good routes
départementales ( D roads) where local councils have used
their powers to raise the limit to 90.
- The normal speed limit in built-up areas
is 50 km/hr – unless otherwise indicated.
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 |
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.
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.
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.
are now well over two thousand stationary speed cameras on France's
roads and motorways.
Unfortunately, the official
French radar speed camera map
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
replaced, so take care !
Some of the big old signs that used to warn drivers of an
camera have been removed. But most of those that have gone have now
been replaced by automatic
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.
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 exceed the speed limit".
- "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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
place de l'Etoile on the Champs Elysées in Paris, where it
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.
and breakdown information
taking their car abroad are strongly advised to have some form of breakdown
that will ensure repatriation of the vehicle in the
event of problem or immobilisation.
1. Avoiding accidents
Driving in Bad weather conditions
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
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
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 your vehicle is badly
damaged or immobilized, and you have some other form of special
continental vehicle assistance and repatriation service, phone them
If you are involved in an accident involving any sort of injury - even if it is not your
- 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
Breakdown or accident:
if your car is immobilised on, or partly on, the road due to a
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
available from any motoring store, and also a yellow fluorescent
See the French shopping guide
for useful information if you are planning to stop to shop on your way