The first thing to know about driving in France is that they drive on the right-hand side of the road, and therefore vehicles tend to be left-hand drive. For UK drivers this can take a few hours of driving to get used to if you’ve not done it for a while.
If you are taking your own UK vehicle to France then there are several things you will need to buy to comply with French road laws. These include headlamp convertors, a hi-viz vest for every passenger, a GB sticker on your vehicle, a warning triangle for if you breakdown, spare bulbs, and breathalysers. If you are stopped and the police check if you have these items you may receive fines for any that are missing, see fines below for the amount.
If you wear glasses then you need to carry a spare pair with you in the vehicle.
You need to carry your passport, driving licence, proof of ownership (V5 logbook) if you’re driving your own vehicle, insurance documents, and an MOT if the car is older than 3 years.
Recent change to driving laws in France has been to make it illegal to use headphones while driving. As you would expect mobile phone usage while driving is banned, but now mobile phones with headphones is too, so only really a hands-free kit is acceptable.
For more information on French road laws a valuable website resource is www.drive-france.com
Speed limits may vary and always look out for road signs to check what the limit is on the road you are on. Typically the following applies:
Rural roads : 90kmph
Dual Carriageways : 110kmph
Motorways : 130kmph
Built up areas : 50kmph
These speed limits are often reduced in bad weather on digital boards, but bad weather is rarely seen in the Cote D’Azur and Provence.
If you are towing a caravan and the gross weight of the car and caravan is over 3.5t then your maximum speed limit on any French road is 90kmph. Otherwise standard limits apply.
Speed cameras including average speed cameras are a lot more frequent in France than in the UK, so you are always best to drive below the maximum speed limit.
Typical fines in France for road offences are:
Drink driving : €4,500
Driving under influence of drugs : €4,500
Watching a screen that isn’t a Sat Nav : €1,500
Improper use of mobile phone : €135
Not wearing seatbelt : €135
Use of headphones : €135
Listening to loud music : €75
Eating while driving : €75
Applying make-up while driving : €75 (includes stopped at traffic lights and junctions)
Not having headlamp converters : €90
Not having Hi-Viz Vest : €135
Not having GB sticker : €90
Not having warning triangle : €35
Not having spare light bulbs : €80
Most motorways in France have sections which charge a toll, and it’s very difficult to travel great distances in France without avoiding them. Rates are reasonable although this can add up if you’re travelling from the North down to the South.
Toll rates change frequently but if you want to calculate your toll fees for a journey you could use: www.viamichelin.com
The drink driving laws in France are very stringent especially for young drivers. For 18-24 year olds’ the limit is 0.2 grams per litre which is less than one drink, so you would be advised to avoid alcohol altogether. For 25 years and older the limit is still only 0.5 grams per litre which is still very low, and again no alcohol consumption would be advised to stay safe.
Due to French law you must carry around your own breathalysers, which is provided in rental cars but must be brought with you if you are entering France. The police are no longer enforcing this, but better safe than sorry.
Parking rules are set locally and may vary per town, so look out for signs indicating the length of stay possible and the means of payment. Pay and display is common, as are large underground car parks in major cities where you take a ticket on entry and pay just before exit at a machine. Fines for ignoring parking rules can be strict and steep so best to pay rather than try and get away with it.
In smaller towns and on the coast near beaches you can often find places to park for free but of course your vehicles security as it your own risk. Always keep luggage concealed in the boot, and don’t leave valuables including satnav systems on display. Car rental vehicles have distinctive number plates in France so locals are aware when a vehicle is being driven by a tourist!
The majority of road signs in France are similar to those in the rest of European including the UK, however it is good to familiarise yourself with the main signs as some of them are very different and you probably wouldn’t guess what they mean. If you would like to familiarise yourself with French road signs before travelling then a recommended purchase is the book French Road Signs by Jeff Steiner (available on Amazon and other good book stores).
Useful words to know are:
Entrée – Entrance
Sortie – Exit
Droit – Right
Gauche – Left
Ferme – Closed
Ouvert – Open
La Gare (SNCF) – Train station
La Gare Routiere – Bus Station
Lundi – Monday
Mardi – Tuesday
Mercredi – Wednesday
Jeudi – Thursday
Vendredi – Friday
Samedi – Saturday
Sunday – Dimanche