Before leaving for your holiday, have a read of the do’s and don’ts when driving in France, alongside some of our general tips for ensuring you have the best driving experience.
The minimum age for driving a car is 18, meaning that no one under the age of 18 can drive in France, even if they hold a valid license in another country.
It is important to remember that in France it is obligatory to carry a driving license, vehicle registration document, certificate of motor insurance and a current MOT certificate. If the car is a hire car then the driver must have a letter from the car hire company.
In built up areas, the speed limit in France is 31mph (50km/h), and outside these areas is 55mph (90km/h). The speed limit for urban motorways and dual carriageways separated by a central reservation is 68mph (110km/h). On motorways, it is 80mph (130km/h). Speed limits differ in wet weather and to motorists who are visiting the country and have held a driving license for less than three years.
The urban speed limit (31mph, 50km/h) begins at the town or city sign, which is usually indicated by a white name panel with a red border. The limit ends when the sign has an additional diagonal red line through it.
It is illegal to carry, transport or use radar detectors, or speed camera detectors. If you are stopped by police and have one in your vehicle, even if it is not in use, you could face penalties and a fine of up to €1500. If using a Sat Nav, it must have the ‘fixed camera POI (Points of Interest)’ function switched off.
The French Government recommend that all cars use dipped headlights at all times. It is compulsory for motorcycles to do so. It is especially important that drivers use dipped headlights in poor daytime visibility. Headlamp beam adjusters must be stuck on to headlamps to suit driving on the right side of the road. These will stop lights dazzling other drivers. Vehicles could be seen as unfit for the road and insurance could become invalid if headlamps are not corrected. If you are caught without adjusters you face a fine from police. It is also recommended that drivers have a spare set of replacement bulbs in their vehicle, as failure to replace a broken bulb can result in an on the spot fine.
Seatbelts must be worn at all times. Babies and children under the age of 10 years old are not allowed to sit in the front seat, and must have either a car seat or booster seat according to their weight/height.
Motorcyclists and their passengers MUST wear a crash helmet. All helmets must display reflective stickers on the front, read and sides. It is compulsory for motorcyclists to drive with dipped headlights in the day time.
All trailers must be equipped with two red lights, two triangular reflectors and a light illuminating the registration plate at the rear. There must be two white reflectors at the front and two white side lights if the trailer is more than 1.6m wide.
Snow chains must be fitted to vehicles using snow-covered roads in compliance with the relevant road sign. The maximum speed limit is 31 mph (50km/h).
Compulsory equipment check list
- Reflective warning triangle – This must be carried in your vehicle in case you are involved in an accident or break down to warn other traffic. The triangle should be placed 50-150 metres behind your vehicle.
- GB stickers - These must be attached to your vehicle, unless it has Euro-plates
- Reflective Jacket – must be kept within the passenger compartment of the vehicle, and must be put on before exiting the vehicle in an emergency or breakdown.
- Headlamp beam converters
-NF Approved Breathalyser – It is law to have one unopened breathalyser in the vehicle, but we recommend carrying two, so that if one becomes damaged, you will still have another to produce if you are required to.
An on the spot fine can be issued if you are stopped by the police and do not have these items in your vehicle.
France’s ‘Good Samaritan’ Law
It is recommended that you carry a first aid kit and fire extinguisher in your vehicle, as, although it is not legally required, France’s ‘Good Samaritan’ Law calls for you to provide assistance if you come across an accident or fire. If you are not properly equipped to deal with this, you can face a fine.
Many road signs in France are self explanatory, or similar to those found in the UK and across Europe. However, some do differ, so take a look at this advice before you travel.
Road numbering in France
When driving in France, it is always best to follow signs for destinations, rather than road numbers, as road numbers can get confusing and disappear from signs very quickly.
"A" roads, such as A71, are motorways, or Autoroutes. These are indicated by a blue sign with white lettering.
"N" roads are France’s main roads - the National network.
"D" roads are roads whose upkeep is paid for by the local Department, or county. They can be anything from busy local routes or former National routes now downgraded, to the quietest of country backroads.
Some direction signs may start with the word Bis. This means that the road is an alternative road, avoiding main roads, and generally has less lorry traffic. It is recommended that you follow these routes on Summer Saturdays.
Drink driving rules are stricter in France than in the UK. If the level of alcohol in the bloodstream is 0.05g or more (rather than 0.08g in the UK), the driver can face a penalty, fine, imprisonment and even confiscation of the driving license or vehicle itself.
If you have an accident
If you are involved in an accident with another vehicle, the driver will ask you to fill in a ‘constant amiable’ (an amiable declaration). Don’t worry, as this is standard procedure in France. If you have an accident which involves any injury at all – even if it is not your fault- you must wait at the scene until the police arrive.
If you are on the motorway, you should park your vehicle on the hard shoulder if possible, and go to the nearest orange emergency phone to seek help.
Diesel is a lot cheaper than petrol in France, so if hiring a car, it is always worth asking for a diesel if you have the choice. When possible, try to wait until you have exited the autoroute to get fuel, as it will be cheaper from a normal roadside petrol station or supermarket. Many supermarkets will have 24 hour self service machines, which can be paid for with a credit card as long as it has a pin number.