Driving in France: top tips

Our guide to driving in France has advice, tips and a car checklist to keep you safe and legal

If you are holidaying in France, it makes sense to be hot on your French driving tips before you go. That way, you are free to enjoy all the delicious food, stunning locations and spectacular driving roads the land of liberty, equality and fraternity has to offer.

Sadly, things aren’t as simple as just driving on the opposite side of the road. You have hyper-strict speed limits (being frog-marched to a cash point to pay a fine is a serious threat) and by law you are required to have certain items in your car – many of which are not needed here in the UK.

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You must carry reflective high-visibility jackets (one for each occupant), which should be accessible in the event of an emergency, so plan ahead when packing for your car. Other mandatory items include a warning triangle and headlight beam deflectors if you cannot adjust the beam manually.

On top of this, a breathalyser is required. Previously there was a fine for not carrying an unused alcohol testing device in your car, but that was revoked back in 2013. Which means, it is best to carry a breathalyser with you, but you will not be fined should you be found to not have one.    

Make sure you’re au fait with French road signs, many of which will be familiar to UK drivers, with a few notable exceptions. For example, if you’re hoping to make your way across the country, you’ll need to follow the main road signs. Green indicates a main road, while blue is used for the Autoroute (motorway) network.

The Autoroutes enable rapid progress, but be prepared to dig deep, as many motorways feature a toll. These will be clearly marked ‘Péage’ on the blue and white signs, and the payment can be made in cash or with Mastercard or Visa card.

The most obvious rule difference is driving on the right hand side of the road, but it’s hard to get that wrong – initially at least – as the traffic is routed off the ferries on the correct side to avoid catastrophes. However, there are plenty of other rules to be aware of, including different limits for alcohol in your bloodstream while driving, and a ban on hands-free electronic devices. It’s also crucial for UK drivers to make sure they have the right insurance and breakdown cover – and the paperwork to prove it.

All in all, there’s quite a lot to think about when it comes to driving in France, or any other European country for that matter. Which is why we’ve packed this handy guide to driving in France full of useful tips and advice for UK motorists venturing in to Europe.      

Read on for our detailed guide to the documents, equipment and road etiquette you need to take with you across the channel. 

Which documents do I need to drive in France?

A full and valid UK driver’s licence will allow you to drive in all European Union countries, including France. In terms of documents, UK drivers will also need proof of insurance and ownership (V5C) as well as a passport or national identification card to satisfy the French authorities.

What do I need to carry in my car when driving in France?

The French law requires each car to carry warning triangles and a French government certified (NF) breathalyser or alcohol detection test kit. Reflective jackets must also be within reach for all passengers.

Drivers in right-hand drive cars will also need to fit headlamp beam deflectors to avoid dazzling other road users. If your car does not have a number plate that includes the GB euro-symbol you must also invest in a GB sign to attach to your car. 

In a further effort to increase road safety, France has also banned the use of all mobile phone hands-free and Bluetooth devices. This is something all UK drivers must remember as a €135 fine awaits those who are chatting away. 

Those looking to get to their destination a little faster will have to do so without speed camera detectors, which are also illegal in France. If your navigation system comes with them, you are by law required to disable the alerts. Failure to do so can result in a €1,500 fine.

And, if you’re driving in Paris remember to buy a pollution sticker for your car. As of January 2017, all cars driving in the French capital are required to display a clean air sticker that shows how much you pollute. These can be bought online and cost around 4 Euros (£3.50). Failure to do so could land you a fine between 68 and 135 Euros.

What is the alcohol limit for driving in France?

Should you need to test the breathalyser, the allowed blood alcohol level in France is 0.05 per cent and 0.02 for drivers with less than three years experience. In theory you should invest in two breathalyser kits. If you get pulled over and have to use one you will be left without one, which is a violation of the law.

French Autoroute tolls and petrol prices

The motorway can be an expensive way to travel, made worse by the fact French fuel is not as cheap as it once was. French motorways are split by tolling stations that charge a hefty fee for passage, the 295km trip from Calais to Paris will cost €21.70 and €39.20 if towing a trailer or caravan.

The fuel prices in France for petrol and diesel stand at around at €1.582 and €1.503 per litre, respectively. Just remember that gazole stands for diesel, something that could end up saving a lot of money and time.

Driving in France: insurance and breakdown cover

Most UK insurance companies allow for 90 days of cover in EU countries – but the majority will only provide third party cover. Confirm the type of insurance cover you will have in France before you leave.

Unlike insurance, breakdown cover is not a mandatory requirement in France. It is nevertheless a welcome addition to any long journey. The bigger breakdown providers will offer Europe wide coverage, but this is often an added policy. Check with your provider the type of cover you have, and if necessary you can purchase single trip covers online. 

Driving in France: top tips

France drives on the right side of the road, which may seem intimidating at first for many UK motorists. An easy way to remember the motorway (or Autoroute) etiquette is that overtaking happens closest to the side with oncoming traffic – the left lane.

On the French motorways the speed limit is 130km/h (80mph), and 110km/h in the wet (70mph), unless otherwise indicated. Like the motorways, dual-carriageways and other roads will often have two speed limits; the lower of the two is to be obeyed in wet and poor driving conditions. 

Once you reach cities, the speed limit drops to 50km/h (30mph) unless the signs say otherwise. Be careful with your speed, as any UK/EU driver found driving 40km/h above the limit will have their licence confiscated by the French authorities.

Finding yourself driving in Paris or other large cities can be extra intimidating, with traffic levels similar to busy UK cities. The small streets packed with cars, one-way roads and hordes of scooters can be tricky to negotiate but most drivers acclimatise fast. On unmarked intersections priority is given to those coming from the right, unless otherwise stated. This is why a second look to the right is always a good thing to remember.

An alternative to the Autoroute motorways (A-signed roads) is the French equivalent to A and B-roads – route nationale (N-signed roads) or the route departmentales (D-signed roads). These roads will add a few hours to the journey but will swing you by the more scenic parts, small villages and the vineyards. Better still, they’re free from tolls.

Driving in France checklist

Here’s everything you need to carry with you when driving in France and a couple of things to leave at home  

  • • Full and valid driver’s licence
  • • V5C
  • • Proof of Insurance
  • • Passport/national ID
  • • Two NF certified breathalysers
  • • Reflective jackets for all passengers
  • • Warning triangles
  • • Headlamp beam deflectors
  • • GB sticker (non GB-euro symbol plates only)
  • • No speed camera detectors or sat-navs with camera locations

What are your top tips for driving in France? let us know in the comments section below…

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