France is the UK’s most popular holiday destination, and visiting by car gives you incredible freedom to experience it on your own terms.
Go to Paris for excitement and culture, then trek down to the Loire Valley to taste the finest French wines and food before swinging by La Rochelle on the coast, all in the space of a few days with minimal fuss. Driving is the ultimate way to explore France.
Whether you’re going for an extended holiday or just for a couple of days, driving in France isn’t anything to get stressed about, but there are some things to be aware of. Here are some tips to make sure you don’t get on the wrong side of the law or involved in an accident.
Driving in France checklist
France is one of the more regulation-heavy countries to drive in, and you need to keep in mind the following changes to the law:
- Drivers with less than three years of experience have a lower blood alcohol limit of 0.2 grams per litre. For other drivers the limit is 0.5 grams. Our advice is simply this: don’t drive after an alcoholic drink.
- Motorcyclists must also carry reflective safety jackets.
- It is now illegal to wear a headset for any purpose, even for the answering of phone calls. If you’re a motorcyclist with an integrated headset in your helmet then you’re exempt.
- Paris has introduced a Low Emission Zone to improve air quality. Check to see if your trip takes you through it and what charges you’ll have to pay.
You must have a valid driving licence issued in an EU or EEA country to drive a vehicle in France, and make sure your car has GB stickers on it.
When driving in France, always carry the following documents:
- Your driving licence
- Your passport
- Your V5C certificate
- Your insurance documents
You must also carry these safety items, unless you’re happy being slapped with a big fine:
- Warning triangle
- Reflective safety jackets
- Beam deflectors
- Helmet with compliant reflective elements if you are riding a motorcycle
Just like in the UK, everyone in a car has to wear a seatbelt at all times. If you have children with you then make sure you obey these rules on car seats and restraints:
- All children up to the age of 10 must travel in a car seat or restraint. The use of car seats is determined by weight:
- Under 10kg: Rear-facing seat in the front passenger seat (with passenger airbag deactivated) or back seats.
- 10 - 13kg: The same conditions as above apply.
- 9 – 18kg: Child seat with included harness or protection tray.
- 15 – 25kg: Booster seat used in conjunction with adult seatbelt.
- 22 – 36kg: The same as above.
- Children under the age of 10 cannot travel in the front seats without using a child restraint. The only exceptions are if there are no rear seats, the rear seats are already occupied by children under 10 or if there are no seat belts.
Just like the UK, France uses the three-colour traffic light system, however:
- There is no amber light displayed after a red light.
- A flashing amber light can mean: caution, slow down or proceed but give way to the right.
- A flashing red light means no entry, and can also indicate a level crossing or emergency vehicle exit point.
- If a red light is accompanied by a yellow arrow then drivers may turn in the direction of the arrow but have to give priority to vehicles travelling in that direction, as well as to any pedestrians.
You should overtake on the left, but if you are driving on a multi-lane road you may overtake on the right if the other lanes are moving slower due to traffic build-up.
Vehicles travelling uphill have right of way over those coming downhill.
Generally you should give way to the right, and this is compulsory at all intersections unless signs tell you otherwise.
Emergency services vehicles always have priority over other road users.
You must give way to traffic already on a roundabout (so on your left) unless signs say otherwise.
Your horn should only ever be used to give necessary warning to other drivers. You should never use your horn between dusk and sunrise unless in an emergency; the same rule applies at all times of day in urban areas.
Warnings to other drivers should be given by your lights, but don’t think that a quick flash from an oncoming car means you can proceed or make a turn. In narrow roads in towns and cities the French use a headlight flash to say: “I’m coming through here, so watch it.”
If an oncoming driver flashes you while driving on a main road it could well be a warning of a police speed trap up ahead.
These are the national speed limits. Stick to them but be aware that some signs may indicate a different limit in specific areas.
- Motorways — 130 km/h in normal conditions, 110 km/h in rain, 50 km/h when visibility is under 50 metres.
- Dual carriageways or inner city motorways — 110 km/h in normal conditions, 100 km/h in rain, 50 km/h when visibility is under 50 metres.
- Other roads — 90 km/h in normal conditions, 80 km/h in rain, 50 km/h when visibility is under 50 metres.
- Urban/built-up areas — 50 km/h in all conditions.
If you break the speed limit by 40 km/h or more you will have your licence confiscated on the spot by the police. You can also have your vehicle impounded, be hit with a fine and possibly be held in custody.
If you’re unfortunate enough to have a breakdown don’t call your breakdown company straightaway. If you’re on a motorway or toll road you need to use the orange emergency phones at the roadside. A local firm will tow you to a recovery zone and only then can you contact your cover provider.
To make sure your breakdown is handled efficiently be sure to take out European breakdown cover before your trip.
Whatever you do, don’t park up on a single yellow line. In France this means that both parking and stopping are forbidden, and parking will get you a fine and your car could be towed away. If the line is broken you can stop, to load or unload for example, but you cannot park.
Local parking restrictions will be indicated by signs, so before you lock up and wander off for some sightseeing, make sure you are allowed to park if you want your car to be there when you return.
Yes, it’s the land of amazing wine (and pretty good beer) but don’t be tempted to drink and drive. The police can carry out random breath tests as they see fit, and must carry one out after a driver has committed any driving offence or been involved in an accident.
The maximum level of blood alcohol is lower than the UK at 0.05%, except as noted earlier for those with less than three years of experience.
Stick to these rules, and you’ll be able to enjoy your holiday no matter where the journey takes you.
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