General driving tips
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.
On other roads:
● On dual carriageways (divided highways) : 110 km/hr
● On main roads : 90 km/hr (outside built-up areas)
● In built-up areas : 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 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.
Normal speed cameras
Generally you will be warned in advance when there is a fixed speed camera; but not always! Some of the warning signs announcing upcoming fixed speed cameras have been removed. Gone are the days when all fixed speed cameras, radars, were announced in advance... a very effective way of slowing down traffic. Besides, these days there are more and more mobile speed cameras, some in stationary cars parked at the roadside, others in cars that are on the move. .
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. New speed cameras 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".
Average speed cameras
2012 saw the introduction of the first average speed cameras, known in French as radars tronçon, on French 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.
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.
It 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.
Find and book an overnight stop ....
for hotels beside motorways to west and southwest France.
for hotels beside motorways to east and southeast France.
For quiet B&B accommodation, check out the B-and-B in France website.
Book a hotel anywhere in France at best rates
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.
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 jacket.
When driving in France, you will need a recognised full driving licence, the car's registration certificate (for cars registered in the UK, the V5C certificate), and proof of insurance. The standard international and European insurance document is the "green card", though a standard insurance document from any EU country provides basic insurance for your vehicle (third party cover) throughout the Union, whether or not a green card is provided.
An international driving licence is not required for short term visitors (up to 90 days) from countries of the EU, EEA, USA, Canada; however it is either recommended or else required for visitors from other countries. For specific details, check with the local French embassy in your country of origin.
For longer stays, standard EU driving licences remain valid, but holders of driver's licenses from non-EU countries will probably need to obtain a French licence. Again, check with the French embassy in your country before starting off on your trip.
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).
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 France.
a) Petrol (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 litre.
b) Frequent drivers
Anyone who 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, pronounced gaz-warle) used to be about a third cheaper than unleaded, but that is no longer the case; today - 2017 - 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 recent updates.
c) Free motorways
Use free autoroutes or dual-carriageways where they exist. See below for details.
French road signs:
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 .
Signs indicating a non-motorway main route (route nationale or other) are indicated with white lettering on a green background, as in this
and other roads
Book a hotel anywhere in France at best rates
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.
2017 Motorway tolls in France
Signs on French toll gates:
Three tollgates on a French motorway. Left lane:
vehicles with the drive-through remote payment transponder (télépéage)
- speed limit 30 km/hr
for vehicles with the télépéage transponder OR pay by credit
all forms of payment - cards and cash
Red cross: closed
Orange T plus Green arrow: (at ticket pickup booths) open to all traffic.
Blue rectangle : debit or credit cards only
2017 Motorway tolls in France
The cost of motorway travel for a car without caravan or trailer is about 1 €uro for 10 miles. For example, in 2015, motorway tolls on the 1060 km trip from Calais to Marseille, via Reims, almost all of it on toll motorways, cost 88.20 €uros, about £65. Here are the toll costs for a selection of other common journeys that use toll motorways over long distances:.
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 traffic lights, speed restrictions and roundabouts will mean longer journey times and more stress. ... even if you have a satnav to help you along...
Driving south by motorway:
A sample selection of motorway tolls : Jan 2017 (for cars)
(For Car + caravan; add about 50%).
Truck / HGV toll rates (class 4) : approximately three times the rate for cars.
From Calais :
Calais - Abbeville (- Rouen). 8.00 €
Calais - Paris, via A 16: 20.60 €
Calais-Marseilles, via Reims: 88.20 €uros
Calais-Bordeaux, via Rouen & Chartres 57,00 €
Calais-Bordeaux, via Rouen & Le Mans 72,50 €
Calais-Toulouse, via Paris 56.40 €
Calais-Toulouse via Rouen, Dreux: 37.10 €
Calais - Perpignan via Rouen, Chartres & A 71: 55,20 €
Calais-Nice, via Reims, Dijon & A39: 103.80 €
Calais-Grenoble, via Reims, Dijon, A39: 74.00 €
From Le Havre :
Le Havre - Montpellier via Chartres & A 71: 44.70 €
Le Havre - Bordeaux, via Alençon: 62.80 €
Le Havre - Bordeaux, via Paris: 74.20 €
From Roscoff :
Roscoff - Toulouse via Bordeaux: 43.00 €
TIP : Save on motorway tolls when driving to southwest France
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 Bordeaux and southwest France, do not follow the A 10 motorway all the way. Leave the A10 at Orleans, following A71 > A20 Toulouse. At Limoges, follow N141 > Angoulême. At Angoulême, follow the N10 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.
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 France.
For a detailed route, use the route-finder map and distance calculator page on About-France.com.
Or see your part of France, or the whole country, on the About-France.com Maps of France page.
Free motorways and major highways:
Note that there are just a few free motorways in France, and some long-distance dual carriageways that are up to motorway standard. 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 Paris-Toulouse route).
- the A75 motorway between Clermont Ferrand and Beziers - an alternate route for people driving to Languedoc and the Spanish border. Careful however, there is a bit of this still missing at the southern end, and the Millau viaduct has a toll (Toll prices). Mountain motorway not recommended for caravans or in winter.
- the motorway between Dunkerque and Lille.
- Most 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.
Major dual-carriageway routes :
- Main arterial roads west of Rennes, in Brittany
- The N 10 from Poitiers to Bordeaux. See map of routes through France.
For other dual carriageways, check on a detailed road map of France.
TRUNK ROADS :
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.
Road numbering in France
When driving in France, it is always best to follow destinations rather than 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 N13
signs reappear, but after that it's the D113
....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 to 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 destination, 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
being a European route running from Inverness to Algeciras.
In the motorway sign above, 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 toll motorway.
Other useful tips
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 to alternative 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.
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 traffic.
Check out the busy holiday weeks for 2016
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.
HGV restrictions in France
Most heavy goods vehicles over 7.5 tonnes are banned from the French road and motorway network every weekend between the hours of 10 p.m Saturday and 10 p.m Sunday. This weekend truck ban is longer from early July to mid August, when HGVs are banned from Saturday 7 a.m. to sunday 10 p.m. HGV's are also banned on public holidays, normally from 10 p.m the night before, until 10 p.m on the holiday itself. The two big summer public holidays in France are 14th July and 15th August.
Further restrictions apply for HGV access to the Paris area, (Mondays and day following a public holiday, from 6 a.m to 10 a.m), and for HGVs leaving the Paris area (Fridays and days preceding a public holiday, usually from 4 p.m). This means that trucks cannot transit via the inner ring road of Paris (boulevard périphérique) during these hours.
There are also extra weekend lorry bans on Alpine motorways in February - though given the traffic jams that are possible here at the time, these routes are best avoided by anyone not needing to use them - lorries or cars, ban or no ban.
More info for HGVs 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.
France Fuel price watch:
The cost of fuel in France: France has suffered like any other country from the recent sharp fluctuations in fuel prices.
Compared to the UK, there is not a big difference, except for diesel which is much cheaper in France.
In Jan 2017 typical supermarket fuel prices in France were (per litre);
Unleaded 98 octane
1.43 Euros -- Unleaded 95 octane
1.39 Euros -- Diesel
In non-supermarket and motorway filling stations, petrol prices can be anything from 5 to 20 cts. a litre more expensive, depending on the location.
E10 graded fuels (containing 10% of ethanol bio-fuel) are a couple of centimes cheaper, where they are available. These are 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 the USA.)
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 as Novotel (3 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. See the About-France.com route pages listing conviently located hotels close to motorway exits.
Conveniently located hotels ; find and book ....
for hotels beside motorways to west and southwest France.
for hotels beside motorways to east and southeast France.
Beware of the "cheap ferries" scam
Some internet sites that announce "cheap" ferry prices are actually charging more than the Ferry companies themselves. Avoid dodgy websites; click to book directly with ferry companies
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