Driving in France - What you Need to Know
By Dom at Compare Breakdown Cover,
03 July 2018
Driving off from the Eurotunnel train and realising that you have absolutely no idea how to drive in France is not a recommended way to begin your holiday (FYI they drive on the right). We want your stay abroad to be as relaxing as possible, so we’ve put together an important checklist to keep your spirits high and blood pressure low.
Weirdly, these are usually in French. They’re also laid out slightly differently to UK ones. For starters they use the metric system, so all distance markers are in kilometres. The majority of everyday signs will be very familiar to you, ‘STOP’ signs are common, as are yield ones (upside down triangles with red borders). The one big thing to know about French road signs is that they are often colour coded: Blue signs refer to ‘Autoroutes’ or motorways; green tend to indicate important or major roads; yellow often signify temporary roads or déviations (detours), and white road signs are for local roads. Another handy aspect of French road signs is that they’re actually all numbered. On each sign there’s a separate small sign with a letter number and colour code at the top. The number will let you find the road online or on GPS to help with your exact location whilst the letter tells you the type of road:
C & R = Communal/rural, black letters on a white background.
D = Departmental, black letters on a yellow background.
N = National road, white letters on a red background.
A = Autoroute, white letters on a blue background.
E = European roads, white letters on a green background.
Speed limits in France vary depending on how the weather is. In normal conditions the Autoroutes are mainly 130kph. However, if there is rain, snow, sleet or hail, this will almost certainly be reduced to 110kph. Urban roads, are almost always limited to 50kph, and all roads are limited to this speed in low visibility. Look out for the limits written on the road signs, these always tell you how fast you should be going now, and if the conditions change.
Clean Air Tax
This is very new, and very important. France has recently introduced the Clean Air tax into some of its major cities. This means that all vehicles driven within city limits are required to display what is called a ‘Crit'Air vignette’ or ‘clean air sticker’. These stickers cost around €4 and detail your vehicle’s emissions, failure to display one will cost you around €120 in fines, so it’s well worth buying one, even if you’re not planning on heading into any cities. Visit the French Environment Ministry website to get your sticker, and see exactly where and when you need one
Many Autoroutes in France are tolled, meaning you have to pay to use them. Toll booths will be at the start and end of your use of the Autoroute, the cost can vary depending on how long you use the road for, and which département (county) you’re travelling through. Make sure you’ve always got spare change in the car, as contactless payments aren’t always a guaranteed option.
Who Has Right of Way?
Much like in the UK, in most cases you actually give way from the right in France too. However, it’s important to remember at roundabouts vehicles already in the roundabout have right of way over any vehicle joining it. So always wait for a suitably large gap. If in doubt, wait that little bit longer, better to get there slower than not get there at all!
Are illegal for all drivers. Don’t use them.
Breathalysers are not currently enforced in France, but we highly recommend taking one anyway, the reason they are not mandatory is because the Government couldn’t find an accurate way to standardise all breathalysers, and as a result, tests weren’t always the same. So as a result, they’re not a legal requirement, but it’s always best to err on the side of caution and take one anyway.
In France, police routinely give on-the-spot fines of anything up to €750 for anyone caught breaking traffic laws. Best not do anything silly then.
Make sure you plan your route as best you can, if there are road closures, or traffic jams, always have a plan B up your sleeve to get around them. But wherever you end up driving to, get yourself covered with comprehensive breakdown insurance. With all this information to remember, the last thing you want is to not be covered in the event of a breakdown. Have a look at our France Breakdown Cover now.