Driving in FranceTaking the car to France can be a great pleasure with mile after mile of quiet country roads or it can be sheer madness of trying to navigate around Paris in rush-hour!
Fortunately our corner of France is well served by the excellent autoroute network and apart from the occasional farmer's tractor and the obvious difference of the 'drive on the right' rule (serrez à droite), most people find that it's actually fairly easy to cope with driving in France as almost all the rules and regulations are similar to those in the UK and Ireland.
This section of our holiday home website gives advice for the uninitiated to driving in France and gives some hints and tips before you set-off for our Gite. Further details are available through the website links at the bottom of this page or by reading Sécurité Routiere's handy English Welcome guide to driving on France's roads.
To ease your journey to our Brittany Holiday Gite we supply full driving instructions to all our guests, regardless of which ferry port or airport in Northern France you've chosen to travel via. We've not lost a guest en-route yet and we hope this page of French driving advice will make your journey even easier!
Some important French Rules of the Road
Priorité à Droite - Give priority to traffic on the rightThe old rule that you must give way to any traffic coming out of a side-turning on the right hand side still applies in built up areas if there is no road sign at a crossing. This can be a dangerous trap for the unwary tourist, and if you collide with traffic arriving on the right hand side, where there was no road sign, it is your fault! This 'priority to the right' is also marked with a red triangle sign with a black cross on a white background so if you see these signs you know that the next junction coming up on your right has priority, so take care.
France is however slowly moving away from the Priorité à Droite rule and on the open road and town bypasses you will often now see a yellow diamond sign signifying that you have the priority. Conversely as you enter a town or village you will see a yellow diamond with a black line through it - signalling the re-commencement of Priorité à Droite so take extra care again! If in doubt, take care at all road junctions when in France.
Cedez Le Passage - Give Way
You'll often see a Cedez Le Passage sign on slip roads and at various junctions; like in the UK it's a reminder to Give Way as you do not have the priority. Also as in the UK you'll see 'STOP' signs meaning ... you guessed it, stop at the junction!
Vous n'avez pas la prioritié - You do not have the priorityAt roundabouts Vous n'avez pas la prioritié is a timely reminder that you do not have priority to enter a roundabout, and must give way to traffic on the roundabout (like in the UK).
Whilst on the subject of roundabouts it's advisable to pay particular care on roundabouts, remember that the danger is coming from the LEFT, and remember to look at the signs ANTI-CLOCKWISE to navigate where you are going!
Speed Limits and Speed CamerasIn France there's a two-tier set of speed limits, one set for normal driving conditions, and a second lower set which applies in wet weather conditions - not just when its raining, but also when the road surface is wet afterwards:
- Motorways - 130 km/h (81mph) or 110 km/h (69mph) if wet
- Dual Carriageways - 110 km/h (69mph) or 100km/h (62mph) if wet
- Other roads 90 km/h (56mph) or 80 km/h (50mph) if wet
- Built-up areas and towns 50 km/h (31mph) or as signposted
Unfortunately speed cameras are becoming an all too familiar sight across France (although not as bad as the UK yet) and if you're caught it's an on-the-spot fine, and if you don't have enough money the gendarme will drive you to the nearest cash dispenser so you can pay up! The Controle Radar website contains maps of fixed speed camera locations and we also include details of speed cameras in the travel directions we supply to our Gite guests.
Filling up with FuelAt the petrol pump you're presented with a similar set of fuel options as you would get in the UK or Ireland, only with different names - Unleaded (Sans Plomb) 95 octane, Super Unleaded (Super), LPG (GPL) or Diesel (Gazole). Don't fill up with E10 (usually in a blue pump) though which is 10% Ethanol added to Unleaded that most cars won't run well on.
As you might expect it's usually cheaper to fill up at the supermarket than at a motorway service station, so look for signs for "Centre Commercial" or Zone Industrial (Z.I.) which should lead you to a supermarket - major chains include E. LeClerc, Intermarché, Super U, Carrefour, Casino and Auchan.
At the petrol station you'll usually find some pumps where you pay afterwards by driving up to the pay booth, and some 24-hour fully automatic pumps that you can use your credit or debit card in. For speed the 24-hour pumps are best but you may find that your card and pin number isn't accepted, so try alternative cards if this happens to you - even our French bank card doesn't always work at the automatic pumps so don't take it personally!, or take your turn in the queue and pay afterwards but remember that the pay booth will be on the right hand (passenger) side of the car.
Finally a word about fuel prices. Compared to Britain Unleaded is generally a little more expensive in France than back home, whereas Diesel is always much cheaper. On the Gite travel directions we supply to our holiday guests we include directions to supermarket petrol stations en-route, or alternatively the government run Prix des Carburants website is a doddle to use (even if your French isn't perfect - see our Blog article on how to use the Prix des Carburants site for further details).
Taking your car to FranceIf you take your UK or Irish car over to France, here's a summary of the key laws and regulations that apply:
Headlamp adaptors/converters are compulsory. UK vehicles are designed for driving on the left-hand side of the road so if unconverted your headlamps will dazzle oncoming drivers whilst driving abroad. Even if you only drive in daylight you must correct your headlamps as otherwise the vehicle could be deemed unfit for the road and your insurance will be invalid! Either adjust the headlamp position (if you've a modern car), use self-adhesive beam adaptors (from any motoring shop), or stick a piece of gaffer tape on the headlamps to stop them shining to the right.
Seat belts must be worn by front and rear seat occupants, if fitted. Babies and children under 10 years old are not allowed to sit in the front seat, and they must sit in the rear using a proper restraint according to their weight - i.e. a child seat if they weigh between 9 and 15kg, and a seat belt with booster cushion if over 15kg.
The majority of UK motor insurance policies will automatically provide you with a minimum legal level of third-party cover to drive in France, but having said that it's worth 'upgrading' to fully comprehensive cover just in case you do have a 'wrong side of the road' accident! Some insurance companies won't even charge you for this but you should check beforehand.
Although a 'green card' is no longer needed to drive in Europe, it's still worth contacting your insurer to obtain one before you leave in case you need to prove you are properly insured. The Green Card is internationally recognised and proves that you have the minimum car insurance required for the country you are in - although many insurance companies will issue one for free, some companies do charge, so check beforehand.
Always carry your driving licence, car registration document (Carte Grise), and motor insurance certificate when driving. Random spot-checks are quite common in France, even in rural areas, and failure to produce them can lead to an on-the-spot fine. It's also worth carrying your passport with you as well to prove your identity, especially if you have an old-style driving licence without a photograph.
A GB Sticker (or licence plate that includes the GB euro-symbol) is required by International Law to indicate the Vehicle's Country of Registration. We use a magnetic GB plate so there's no difficulty in peeling a sticker off afterwards.
Warning Triangle is required by law to be carried in the car, and if you break down or are involved in an accident the triangle must be placed 50 - 150 metres behind your vehicle to warn other traffic. Using your hazard warning lights is not sufficient.
Spare Bulbs and Fuses are not a legal requirement, but as all car lights must be in working order at all times and failure to replace a broken bulb could result in an on-the-spot fine, it's strongly recommended to carry spares for all your car lights.
You are not actually legally obliged to carry a First Aid Kit and Fire Extinguisher in your vehicle but you under France's 'good Samaritan' law you must render assistance if you come across an accident or fire, and its possible to be fined if you're not properly equipped to do so! Carrying both is thus recommended, but not a legal requirement.
High-visibility reflective jackets that comply with EU Standard EN 471 must be carried in your vehicle, and must be easily accessible (i.e. not in the boot). This requirement was brought into French law in October 2008 and you could face a €90 fine if you don't comply!
On 1st July 2012 a new law came into force requiring you to carry an unused single-use breathalyser in the car at all times. The breathalyser must have the NF logo (to show compliance with French regulations), and as the breathalyser must be unused its a good idea to carry a pack of two.
It is illegal to drive with side (parking) lights turned on at any time, but conversely you must use your headlamps when visibility is poor (or if there's an Allumez vos Feux sign in a tunnel). Motorcycles must use dipped headlights at all times during the day.
A Radar detector is strictly forbidden in France and even possessing such a device in your vehicle, regardless of whether in use or not, is illegal and penalties can include a fine of up to €3,000.
Finally, it's worth reading The Automobile Association's up to date list of Compulsory Equipment required when driving in Europe.
Common road signs in FranceAlthough most of the road signs are now harmonised and look the same across Europe, it's still worth being familiar with the key words and phrases you may see on road signs:
Aire de .... - Motorway rest area (usually with just toilet and picnic facilities)
Alcootest - Breath test / breathalyser
Allumez vos feux - Turn on your headlights (in tunnels)
Attention au feu - Beware of traffic signals/lights
Attention travaux - Beware of road works
Autres directions - Other directions ... follow this signpost in a town literally for "all other directions"
Bande d'arrêt d'urgence - Emergency breakdown lane / hard shoulder
Cédez le passage - Give way (i.e. give priority traffic on the other road)
Centre commercial - Commercial (shopping) area; where the supermarkets are, usually at the town edge
Centre ville - Town centre
Chaussée déformée - Bumpy road ahead
Chaussée glissante - Slippery (Icy) Road
Contrôle radar - Radar / speed trap
Déviation - Diversion, e.g. for road works
Essence sans plomb - Unleaded petrol
Fermé - Closed
Feu rouge - Red traffic light
Feu vert - Green traffic light
Fin de chantier - End of construction/road works
Fin de voie vehicules lents - End of slow vehicle lane
Gazole / Gasoil - Diesel fuel
Gendarmerie - Police station
Haute tension - High-power electric pylons
Interdit aux piétons - No pedestrians
Ouvert - Open
Parking gratuit - Free parking
Parking payant - Parking must be paid for
Passage à niveau - Level crossing
Passage piétons - Pedestrian crossing
Péage - Toll booth or Motorway with tolls
Plage - Beach
Priorité à droite - Give way to the vehicles from the right (see above)
Priorité aux piétons - Give way to pedestrians
Prochaine sortie - Next exit (e.g. next exit off the motorway for a particular town)
Ralentir/Ralentissez - Reduce speed
Rappel - Remember or reminder (e.g. speed limit reminder)
Route barrée - Road closed
Sauf en case d'urgence - No stopping (on the motorway), except in the case of an emergency
Sens interdit - No entry
Sens-unique - One-way
Serrez à droite - Keep to the right
Sortie - Exit
Stationnement interdit - No parking
Suivre ... - Follow ... (as in suivre Paris - follow the signs for Paris to get to ...)
Tout droit - Continue straight ahead
Toutes directions - All directions (follow these signs in a town literally for "all directions")
Travaux - Roadworks
Véhicules lents - Slow crawler lane
Vitesse adaptée sécurité - Adapt your speed for safety
Voie unique - One lane road
Voitures - Cars
Vous n'avez pas la prioritié - You do not have the priority - i.e. give way
Z.I. or Zone Industriel - Out-of-town industrial area
Sécurité Routiere have also published two documents in French - a quick reference guide to road signs in France or the fuller Les Signalaux Routiers that details all signs and signals.
Other useful websites:AA travel advice for driving in France
Information Routieres - Traffic News and Roadworks in France
Find the cheapest fuel en-route in France with Prix des Carburants
Positions and maps of fixed speed camera locations in France
UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office's Steer Clear of trouble advice for driving abroad.