Driving in France

  • © Atout-France

  • © Atout-France

  • © Atout-France

Driving in France

A car is probably the best way to explore France in total freedom. From motorways to departmental roads and country lanes, the French road network is very dense. But there is a bit more to driving in France than just remembering to stay on the right hand side of the road. Planning to travel by car in France needs some requirements.

Documents to take

You may be asked to produce your documents at any time. Make sure that they are in order and readily available to avoid the risk of a police fine or even having your car taken away. When driving in France, you will need:

  • A valid full (not provisional) driving licence
  • A vehicle registration document (V5c) - the original not a copy, called "carte grise" (grey card) in France
  • A motor insurance certificate
  • Passport(s)

If the vehicle is not registered in your name, carry a letter from the registered owner giving you permission to drive.

GB sticker

A GB sticker clearly displayed on the back of your car - unless your car has 'Euro-plates' (number-plates that show a circle of 12 stars on a blue background).

Use of the warning triangle and safety vest

As of the 1st of July 2008 you are required to carry not only a warning triangle in your car but also a fluorescent safety vest while driving in France, to be worn in the event of a breakdown. If your vehicle breaks down or is involved in an accident, you must give warning to approaching traffic. Drivers must position the warning triangle on the road surface immediately upon exiting the vehicle at a distance of at least 30 meters from it or from the obstacle in question.

Breathalysers

From 1 July 2012 drivers of all motor vehicles and motorcycles (excluding mopeds) must carry a breathalyser. The regulation will be enforced in March 2013. Anyone stopped who fails to produce a breathalyser when requested will receive an on the spot fine of €11.The official announcement states that one unused, certified breathalyser must be produced showing the French certification mark NF. Carrying two single-use breathalysers will ensure that if one is used or damaged, you will still have a spare to produce. The breathalyser produced has to be in date - single-use breathalysers normally have a validity of twelve months.

Satnav and speed camera alerts

Since 3 January 2012 French laws have prohibited drivers from carrying any device capable of detecting speed cameras. This includes products or devices able to warn or inform of the location of speed cameras e.g. satnav or gps systems capable of showing speed camera sites as Points of Interest.
If you have a satnav capable of displaying French camera locations in France then you must at least disable camera alerts. Contact the manufacturer for advice too as a software or database update is likely to be available that will remove camera data for France from the device.If you have a satnav system built into your car then contact the vehicle manufacturer in the first instance.

Speed limits

Unless otherwise signposted and on dry roads

  • 130 km/h (80 mph) on toll motorways
  • 110 km/h (68 mph) on dual carriageways and motorways without tolls 
  • 90 km/h (56 mph) on other roads 
  • 50 km/h (31 mph) in towns. Town name starts the limit, a bar through the town name is the derestriction sign

On wet roads

  • 110 km/h (68 mph) on toll motorways 
  • 100 km/h (62 mph) on dual carriageways and motorways without tolls 
  • 80 km/h (50 mph) on other roads

Speed limit of 50 km/h (31 mph)

  • On motorways in foggy conditions, when visibility is less than 50 m.

Cars towing a caravan

  • If the weight of the trailer exceeds that of the car, the speed limits are lower: 65 km/h (40 mph) if the excess is less than 30%, or 45km/h (28 mph) if the excess is more than 30%.

Please note 

  • During the first 3 years after passing your test, you must not exceed: 80 km/h (50 mph) on roads, 100 km/h (62 mph) on urban motorways and 110 km/h (68 mph) on motorways.
  • On motorways there is a minimum speed limit of 80 km/h (50 mph) for vehicles travelling in the left lane (ie outside lane).

Penalties

Minimum age to drive in France is 18 for a car and a motorcycle over 125cc and 15 for a motorcycle under 125cc. France has very strict drink driving laws. You are allowed a maximum of 0.5mg/ml of alcohol per litre in your blood, compared to 0.8mg/ml in the UK. Drivers who test positive for a substance classified as a narcotic face up to two years imprisonment and a €4,500 fine.

Alcohol penalties:

  • 0.8mg/litre blood: you will have to go to court; maximum fine: 4.500€
  • 0.5 and 0.8mg /litre blood: standard fine: 135€

Speeding penalties:

  • 50km/h (31 mph): you will have to go to court; maximum fine: 1.500€
  • 40km/h (25 mph): you will have to go to court; maximum fine: 750€
  • 30km/h (19 mph): you will have to go to court; maximum fine: 135€

Mobile penalties

It is illegal to use a mobile phone behind the wheel, regardless of whether it is operated with a hands free kit. On-the-spot fines of up to €135 could be issued.

Driving with children

Children under 10 must be in the back seat and must use a proper restraint system appropriate to their weight, which means a child seat if they are between 9 to 15kg. Over this weight they can use a seat belt with a booster seat.

Headlights

Driving in France requires adjusting the beam pattern to suit driving on the right so that the dipped beam doesn't dazzle oncoming drivers.
Delays and bad weather can't always be predicted so even if you're only making a short trip and don't plan to drive at night, you should carry a set of headlamp beam convertors - unless the lights of your car can be adapted without them. 
Motorcycles over 125cc must use dipped headlights during the day at all times.

Eurotunnel

If you are coming from Great Britain, you can use the Eurotunnel. Eurotunnel's car carrying service runs via the Channel Tunnel from Folkestone to Calais/Coquelles. Taking as little as 35 minutes platform to platform, it is a fast and exciting way to France and beyond. The service operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with up to 4 departures an hour at peak preiods.

Consult the website http://www.eurotunnel.com/ or phone 08705 35 35 35.

Roads

The road network is very well developed in France: nearly a million kilometres, of which almost 8,000 kilometres are motorways. There is usually a toll for motorways. To find out everything about toll charges, service stations, rest areas, restaurants, filling stations, and hotels along your route, and for details of your journey, consult the website http://www.autoroutes.fr/

Finding your way

There are numerous guides and road maps available at bookshops, service stations… The main reference maps are Michelin and IGN. Some Internet sites suggest different ways of getting from one place to another (from the quickest to tourist routes with stopovers…): http://www.viamichelin.com/ or http://www.mappy.fr/

Times to avoid

At peak times (7.30 – 9.00am and 5.30 – 7.30pm generally during the week), take care on the approaches to large towns and town centres: the traffic is often very dense. Some problems can also be found at "sensitive" places at the start of holiday periods (approaches to large towns, toll booths…).
To find out about traffic conditions: http://www.bison-fute.equipement.gouv.fr

In your car, you can listen to the Autoroute FM radio station on frequency 107.7

For hire

You can of course hire all sorts of vehicles, from a bicycle to a lorry, but mainly cars, from specialist agents (or shops and garages for two-wheeled vehicles). France is well stocked with car hire agencies. At list can be obtained at local tourist offices. Fly-drive arrangements are available through airlines and tour operators.
The minimum age limit for hiring a car in France ranges from 21 to 25, with some companies operating a surcharge system for drivers under the age of 25. The maximum age limit varies from company to company, the average being 70 years.
The main car hire companies have offices at all railway stations of large towns, at airports and in the centre of some towns.

If you prefer to arrange your car hire before you leave, contact one of the following companies: