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Driving in France




What to expect and how to stay legal.

Driving in France can be a great pleasure (endless, mostly straight, quiet country roads) or sheer madness (ring-roads & rush-hours in any big city).  .

For most people travelling in France on holiday, they are more likely to experience the quieter more rural parts of France as drivers. However, wherever you drive some basic laws and common-sense tips apply:

•It is compulsory for front and rear seatbelts to be worn.

• Children under 10 are not allowed in the front. In the rear they must use a proper restraint system appropriate to their weight, which means a child seat if they weigh between 9 and 15 kg. Over this weight they can use seat belts with a booster cushion.

• Carry a warning triangle-- it’s a legal requirement. (your hire car should have one)

As of the 1st July you are required to have yellow ‘high-visibility’ jacket in the car.


If using a right-hand drive car please note the following:

• By law you must adjust the direction of your headlamp beams for driving on the right, either by using the stick-on adapters or (on more modern cars) by making an adjustment to the lights. Check your manual or consult your dealer if in doubt.

• Drive on the right! -- it’s often after a few days or weeks of successful right-side driving that UK drivers “forget”, especially when pulling out of drives or small side roads – if you think you might forget try using post it notes or other steering wheel reminders before you drive off. It’s preferable than the other common reminder: a French driver heading for you with lights flashing, horn blaring and fists waving!

• Study the rules for priorities when entering and exiting roads, roundabouts, junctions etc; if in doubt give priority to the right. Come to a complete stop at

STOP signs.

• Someone flashing their lights behind you on a motorway means ‘get out of my way I want to go faster than you’ ; it’s best just to quietly move over and not let it get to you – remember your on holiday!.

• Someone flashing their lights on a country road may mean there’s an obstruction or a police check ahead (it's actually illegal to flash these warnings, so the French always do it!)

• It is illegal to drive with your side (parking) lights on at any time, and you must use your dipped headlamps when visibility is low or it is raining.  

• According to research by Saga Breakdown Assistance, although GB stickers are compulsory in France, only 56 per cent of British cars go abroad with one on. The company has also found that Brits care more about their stomachs than their safety when travelling abroad - 85 per cent remember to pack food in the car, but only 71 per cent remember their first aid kit and 60 per cent their warning triangle, both of which are compulsory in most European countries.

• Carry your driving licence, insurance documents and car registration documents at all times. It is probably a good idea to have your passport with you. (Spot checks are quite common, even in country areas) These are also sometimes required at  tourist sites in order to hire equipment.

• If you break the rules you can expect to be fined if the gendarmes catch you out.

Fines vary from around 30 euros to over 3,000 for serious speeding offences or more for drunken or reckless driving.

      Non-residents must pay in cash on the spot. Residents have 30 days to pay up.

• Expect the unexpected. In rural areas, where roads are quiet and long  the French are in the habit of driving quite fast and often drive along the centre line until another car appears. This can be alarming ……if encountered as you round a bend! Don’t let the lack of traffic lull you into a false sense of security and don’t let the scenery distract you too much as its very easy to find yourself wandering  on to your …...favoured left-hand side and then wondering why the car coming towards you is on the wrong side of the road!! We’d all have to admit to having done this at sometime!

       Speed Limits (the second figure indicating the reduced speed limit in rainy conditions)

o Motorways – 130/110 km/h (81/69 mph) https://www.autoroutes.fr/index.htm?lang=en
o Dual Carriageways – 110/100 km/h (69/62mph)
o Other roads – 90/80 km/h (56/50mph)
o Built-up areas/towns – 50 km/h (31mph) or as signposted


If you have a pre planned route print-out ie Via Michelin then zero the mileage if it has not been preset, as this is a good as-you-go indicator as to at what distance you should have to look for or react to signage.

If you lose your way in a town or village the best solution is to follow either "Toutes Directions" or "Autres Directions" (the latter if you cannot see a specific sign to where you are going.). This will normally take you to an interchange or roundabout on the outskirts where it should be possible to pick up the correct route. It also handy to take a small torch for map reading  just in case your journey takes longer than you think—or indeed a different direction!—and you need to rely on your navigator in the passenger seat.

Exits from Motorways or Dual-Carriageways are clearly signposted but beware that some exits also serve for traffic joining the major road.  Do not forget that most accidents involving British drivers occur at roundabouts where you must go to the right and give way to traffic on your left.


After that time they use the French charge cards.  They do not all take UK charge and credit  cards though more and more are accepting credit cards.  The cheapest places to purchase fuel are at the large supermarkets.

The above pointers are by no means exhaustive. Drivers spending any time in France should try to familiarise themselves with all the rules of the road, including traffic signals, signposting, road-markings, speed limits etc – a good place to start is by buying a copy of the "Code de la Route", the French highway code.



If you have an accident.

If you are in a hire car and are unfortunate enough to have an accident, you must fill out a damage assessment form (you will find them in the glove compartment of your rental car or you may request it from your insurance company) It must be signed by the other party, and in the event of a dispute / refusal to complete the form, you should immediately obtain a constat d'huissier (or so everyone advises us) ,this is a written report from a bailiff (huissier) but where you find one is a mystery to us. Perhaps they live in small huts by the side of the road waiting to be called upon to give an opinion. When we find out we’ll let you know. In the event of an injury, call the SAMU, ambulance,(15) or the fire brigade (18). The police are only called out to accidents when someone is injured, a driver is under the influence of alcohol or the accident impedes the flow of traffic. Please notify your car hire company as soon as possible.



If your car breaks down, try to move it to the side of the road so that it obstructs the traffic flow as little as possible. You are advised to seek local assistance as, at the present time there is no nationwide road assistance service in France. On auto routes use the orange SOS phones which are situated every 2 km on motorways and every 4 km on dual carriageways and other major roads. Each one has a number. You will be expected to give your name, your location and your vehicle details.The use of warning triangles or hazard warning lights is mandatory in the event of an accident or break down.

Know the signs.

Give way to right      Give way to left and right       Stop - full stop!

You have priority     You have priority       Priority ends

Take special note of last two signs as the 'Prioity ends' means you can have someone pulling out in front of you from the right because they have Priority ! An apparently ancient rule that still applies, sometimes bizarrely but one you must adhere to. 

You should also know the following terms:

Autres Directions = other directions.

Cédez le passage = give way.

Déviation = Diversion.

Péage = Toll.

Rappel = reminder.

Sortie = exit.

Toutes Directions = All directions.

Aire de repos - Rest stops
Allumez vos lanterns (or feux) - Turn on your lights
Attention au feu - Beware of traffic signal
Attention travaux - Beware roadworks
Autre directions - Other directions

Chaussèe dèformèe - Bumpy road ahead
Cèdez le passage - Give way (Give priority to the other road)
Centre ville - Town center

Ferme - Closed
Gendarmerie - Police station
Gravillons - Loose chippings

Nids de poules - Potholes
Ouvert - Open

Prochain èchangement gratui - No toll at next exit
Rappel - Remember
Route barrèe - Road closed
Sens-unique - One-way
Serrez a droite - Keep to the right
Sortie - Exit
Suivre - Follow
Sur - On
Toutes directions - All directions
Vitesse adapteè sècuritè - Adapt your speed for safety
Voie unique - One lane road
Voitures - Cars



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