Driving in France - The Rules

Written by: Graham Gilbert Date: 4 April 2013

Drive ON THE RIGHT! – This is No.1 because it can save your life! British drivers are most likely to forget when setting off – especially first thing in the morning or when there is no other traffic around to remind you. TOP TIP: make yourself a visual reminder – I put an old ski pass on a ribbon and drape it over the rear view mirror whenever I stop, it provides an instant reminder whenever I set off.

CHECKLIST (compulsory items):

  • Driving Licence
  • Car Registration Certificate: (‘log book’ i.e. form V5C in the UK) – proves ownership, you must produce this if asked for your “Carte-grise” (grey card)
  • Insurance Document: standard UK insurance only gives third-party cover in France, contact your insurer for comprehensive cover and for a “European accident statement form” in case of accident.
  • Headlamp beam converters: a right-hand drive car has headlamps that dip to the left – dazzling oncoming drivers in France. You must use stick-on adapters or (possible in some high-tech vehicles) make ‘on-board’ adjustments to your lights.
  • Hazard warning triangle: in the event of breakdown you are legally obliged to place this at a suitable distance behind your car to warn other road users, use with your hazard warning lights. Fine for non-compliance is currently 90 euros.
  • High Visibility waistcoats: ‘high viz’ fluorescent yellow or orange waistcoats must be carried INSIDE the car (not in the boot) so you can slip one on quickly if your car breaks down on a motorway or main road. Fine for non-compliance is currently 90 euros.
  • GB Sticker: Compulsory for UK drivers who don’t have Euro-plates (the circle of 12 stars above ‘GB’ on a blue strip on the left hand side of the plate)
French Driver© All drawings copyright Christine Goldsmith 2013

ALCOHOL: Unbelievably for those who remember ‘the good old days’ France now has stricter laws on drink-driving than the UK (0.5mg/ml rather than 0.8mg/ml). The best advice is not to drink and drive or invest in one of the widely available self-test breathalyser kits they introduced before abandoning plans to make them compulsory.

MOBILE PHONES: Drivers caught using a mobile phone while driving are liable to an on-the-spot fine of 130 euros.

SPEED LIMITS: Drivers exceeding the limit by more than 25km/hr can have their licence confiscated, 50km/hr over and your vehicle can be impounded! Warning: there are more and more mobile radars in unmarked cars.

Motorway (Autoroute): 130 Km/hr (approx 80 mph) or 110 Km/hr (approx 70 mph) in rain

Dual carriageways: 110 Km/hr (approx 70 mph) or 100 Km/hr (approx 60 mph) in rain

Regional roads (outside built-up areas): 90 Km/hr (approx 55 mph) or 80 Km/hr (50 mph) in rain

Built-up areas (towns and villages): 50 Km/hr (approx 30 mph)

*Want to convert Km/hr into mph? Divide by 1.6

SAT NAVS: Technically you can be hit with an on-the-spot 1,500 euro fine if the French police catch you using a Sat Nav or smart phone which warns you about the location of speed cameras. It’s possession of the device that counts, not its use, so we would advise you to disable the speed camera warning function while in France. The AA website advises UK motorists to contact their vehicle or device manufacturer and get a software update to remove the cameras from their vehicle or device’s database. How likely are you to be fined? We are waiting for a test case to set some precedent in the matter – watch this space! If you don’t want to be that test case then we would caution prudence.

CHILDREN IN CARS: children under 10 must be seated and belted in the rear and only allowed in the front seats if there are no rear seats.


Autoroute e.g. A27 = motorway (destinations marked by white lettering on dark blue background)

Route Nationale e.g. N74 = trunk road (white lettering on a green background)

Route Départementale e.g. D13 = minor roads maintained by local authorities

*Bison Futé (the cunning bison) is a motoring organisation which helps drivers steer clear of heavy traffic congestion in peak periods and high season. They provide helpful signs e.g. “bis Paris” directing you away from congested routes – especially on days designated as ‘red’ or ‘black’.

Confusing French road signs© All drawings copyright Christine Goldsmith 2013


Most of the French motorway network consists of toll roads with entrances and exits to the paid-for sections marked by the words “Péage”. Pick up a ticket at the barrier as you join the motorway and pass it to the attendant in the kiosk when you exit, the amount you have to pay will be displayed. Don’t lose your ticket or you will have to pay for a full section even if you’ve only covered part of the distance. On average you can expect to pay about 1 euro for every 10 miles.

*Make sure you choose the right toll gate when you exit the motorway: a red cross means a gate is closed, a green arrow means it is open for all methods of payment and a blue credit card pictogram is for credit cards only. Do not head for the orange T – this is Télépéage for vehicles fitted with toll charging sensors which allow them to pass without stopping. You will not be very popular if you stop here!


Petrol (UK) = Gasoline (US) = Essence (Fr) – this will show as SP (sans plomb = unleaded) and you will have a choice of octane ratings SP 95 and SP 98

Diesel (UK) = Gasoil or Gazoil (Fr) [pronounced gazwal]

LPG = GPL (Gaz de pétrole liquéfié)

*Always top up (‘faire le plein’) at supermarkets as fuel is more expensive at motorway service stations.

BREATHALYSERS: You do NOT need to buy a self-test breathalyser kit before driving in France. While technically you are required to carry one the proposed €11 fine for not doing so has been postponed indefinitely!

REPLACEMENT BULB SET: the letter of the law requires spare bulbs – but many French drivers don’t bother.

WORDS YOU NEED TO KNOW: ‘Vous n’avez pas la priorité’ (you do not have right of way) and ‘Cèdez le passage’ (give way)

OVERTAKING: if you are in a right hand drive car take great care when overtaking in France as you can no longer just pull out a tiny bit to see if there is anything coming. Allow more space and time before deciding to move out.


If you have an accident call the police (Tel. 17), make sure that both parties fill in an accident report form (‘constat à l'amiable’ in French) and exchange insurance details. If you can, take photos of the scene.

AND FINALLY……… Get your car serviced or at least checked before setting off (any repairs will be cheaper and more conveniently carried out at home rather than in France!). In particular double-check your tyres and tyre pressures – especially if you’re doing a lot of motorway driving.

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