Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Driving in France

If you are heading to France in your car this year, are you sure you know all the ins and outs of driving à la française?  There is a little bit more then remembering to drive on the left and going the opposite way round roundabouts (for those of us used to driving on the left).  You also need to know exactly what you should carry with you in the car as well as some different French laws.  This way you'll not risk getting a dreaded on the spot fine.

So, first of all what must you carry in (or on) your car?  Failure to have something on this list could result in a fine so do make sure you have:

* GB or other country sticker
* Headlight adjusters if you have a right hand drive car
* Warning triangle
* Luminous vests - one for everyone in the car.  They must be in the car (NOT the boot) with the theory being you in case of an emergency you should be able to put them on before you get out of the car.
* Breathalyser kits - 2 if they are disposable.  After much moving of the goal posts it appears now that whilst it is compulsory to carry these you will not be fined for not having one ... but as they are very cheap to buy I would recommend getting them, just to keep on the right side of M. Gendarme.
* Your UK driving licence and insurance documents
* Spare glasses if you wear contact lenses
* First aid kit
* Spare bulbs - technically it is not a legal requirement to carry bulbs but you can be fined for having a broken light so it would be a bit daft not to have them.
* Fire extinguisher

OK - so that's the car and contents sorted out.  There are however a few more things that are different in France from the UK and other countries:

Devices for Detecting Speed Cameras

CAUTION!  Speed/radar trap notification MUST, by law, be disabled whilst driving in France.  Failure to do so can result in heavy fines up to €1500 and/or confiscation of equipment and vehicles.  Previously, warning signs showed where speed cameras were but the authorities are now removing these signs.  The French police also love hiding behind trees with mobile speed cameras so my advice is at all times, know the speed limit and stick to it.

 Speed Limits

Variable speed limits exist in France depending on the weather conditions, your age and if you are towing a trailer.  This page from Driving in France clearly explains all the differences and how to recognise what speed limit applies where.

  Children and Car Seats

There is considerable confusion about what the exact law is around children and car seats.  This is what I understand from the "clear as mud" French websites:  No child under 11 is allowed in the front of a car that has back seats.  All children under 11 must be in or on a car or booster seat.  However the law seems to rather unhelpfully state that if the child is under 11 is - "big enough" - then no booster seat is needed.  Quite what big enough means is not clarified but I would hazard a guess that when the seat belt sits comfortably on their shoulder, as with as adult, and not across their neck then they are big enough.

Driving and Earphones

From July 1st 2015 it will be illegal for drivers (and cyclists) to use earphones when driving/cycling including bluetooth earphones.  If caught you could get 3 points and a €135 fine.

Drinking and Driving

The legal alcohol limit in France is 50 mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood as opposed to 80mg in the UK and for new drivers this has now been reduced to 20 mg.  50 mg equated to about one small 125cl glass of wine.  It isn't much but at least you'll have your breathalyser to check if you are over the limit or not!

Minimum Driving Age

In France this is 18 so even if you have your UK (or other country) licence but you are not yet 18, you cannot drive in France.

 Priority to the Right

This is the possibly the oddest driving rule of any country and the one most likely to cause confusion - even amongst the French.  It doesn't apply on many main roads but does on some smaller roads and in towns and villages so you need to be aware of how to recognise it.  Cars at a junction on your right have priority over you if their junction has no give way or stop line across it.  They do not have priority over cars going in the opposite direction; not that that means they won't pull out without looking at times!  On main roads a yellow and white diamond indicates that there is no priority to the right rule but once this has a black line through it, then the rule then applies again.  On rural roads a red triangle with a black cross will often indicate a side road where you don't have priority (but not all such side roads have this sign!).

 Confused?  So are many of the French but as a general rule, if in doubt, slow down and let them out.

If all this sounds rather daunting don't panic - I was nervous about first driving over here in France but once I started it all dropped into place.  Just take your time, enjoy the scenery and make the journey part of your holiday!

Lou Messugo


  1. Oh my goodness -- I don't know if I could ever actually drive in Europe! I think that I'll have to stick to public transportation. ;)

    1. You'll be fine! I used to felt that and just got in the car one day and drove.

  2. We're coming camping in France in August so very useful post - thank you!

    1. Glad to be of assistance and enjoy the camping.

  3. I am fairly certain we did not have about half those things in our car the couple of times we have rented cars in France or perhaps they were hidden in the trunk. Great tips and agreed that some of the laws are a bit murky!

  4. Certainly, traveling with high visibility vests in the car was not a requirement the last time we drove in France ~ much less breathalyzer kits! Not even country sticker, although the car had British plates. Helpful information to keep us on the right side (no pun intended!) of ever changing and increasingly exacting French driving law.

  5. This is a great post, you cover a lot of ground!

    I might add that for anyone who needs to get a French driver's license, the process is daunting! I had been driving since the age of 16 in the States and got a French license when I was 30. I somehow, amazingly, passed the extremely detailed multiple choice written test the first time around, but FAILED my first driving test! La honte! I got it the second time, though. At least it's for life! #AllAboutFrance

  6. Driving as an American in France is still just crazy confusing! We go a lot slower now after getting speed trapped with the flashers, and I happily put on my hazard lights anytime I just don't feel comfortable going fast! Great tips and rule-sharing here; should help a lot of tourists and expats!

  7. Thanks for linking this up to #AllAboutFrance, I'm sure a lot of people will find it very helpful. The whole breathalyser thing is confusing too, I don't think it ever became law but then I'm not 100% sure about that.


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