Driving in France

Driving in France – Everything You Need to Know

With stunning countryside and vibrant cities to explore, it’s no wonder that France is such a popular destination for driving holidays. But if you’re planning a road trip, it’s essential you understand how driving in France differs to the UK. To make your trip to mainland Europe as safe and stress-free as possible, we’ve put together a guide to everything you need to know about driving in France, from required documents to rules of the road.

Image of a French lavender field.

France Facts

Population: 67.1m

Area: 549,970 square kilometres

Currency: Euro (EUR) € = 100 cents

A summary of the latest French regulations

If you are driving in France (car, van, motorhome or motorcycle) please take note of the latest regulations:

  • ALCOHOL LIMIT: For people that have less than three years of experience, the alcohol limit is 0.2 grams per litre. For experienced drivers and motorcyclists (more than three years’ experience) the limit is 0.5 grams per litre. Both are lower than the UK limit of 0.8 grams per litre.
  • HEADPHONES LAW: All drivers and riders have been prohibited from wearing headsets and headphones whilst driving, be it for music purposes or for phone calls. However, this does exclude motorcycle helmets that have integrated systems.
  • REFLECTIVE JACKETS: As of January 2016, motorcyclists are required to have reflective jackets to be worn in the event of a breakdown or an emergency.
  • LOW EMISSION ZONES: Paris has introduced a Low Emission Zone which means that petrol and diesel cars registered before 1997 are banned from 8 am to 8 pm on weekdays. By 2020, only vehicles made in or after 2011 will be allowed. Diesel and petrol lorries and buses made before 1997 are banned in Paris as well.
  • CLEAN AIR STICKER: You now need a Crit’Air sticker displayed on your car when travelling to certain cities. It costs £3.60 and drivers face an on-the-spot fine of almost £120 if they don’t have one. The RAC has a good guide to this.
  • SPEED LIMITS: The speed limit on many A and B roads in France has been reduced to 80km/h (50mph) – in a bid to save up to 400 lives a year.

Did you know, you could be fined up to €530 for not carrying the right kit?

Image of a zebra crossing in Paris, with the Eiffel Tower in the background and traffic in the foreground.
Image of the motorway en-route to Metz, France.

Essential information for driving in France

 

In an emergency:

Important: Because French motorways are privately managed, you’re not allowed to request your own assistance company to attend to you if you break down.

If you do break down, you should use the orange emergency telephones that are situated every 2km along main roads and motorways to call the police or the official breakdown service operating in that area.

Alternatively, if no orange telephone is available, you should call the emergency services by dialling 112.

You will be towed to a safe designated area where you can then be met by your chosen breakdown provider.

Charges for assistance on a motorway are fixed by the government and are reviewed and revised each year.

Driving licence laws in France:

Visitors must be aged 18 or over and hold a full, valid driving licence to legally drive in France. Riders of mopeds or motorcycles up to 125cc must be aged 16 or over.

Driving licences issued in EU and EEA countries are accepted. International driving permits are recognised but not required.

Things to take when driving in France

 

Documents for driving in France

Vehicles from the UK can be temporarily imported into France for up to six months in any period of 12 months. In order to stay on the right side of the law, the following documents should always be carried:

  • Full, valid UK driving licence
  • Proof of ID (passport)
  • Motor insurance certificate
  • V5 registration document
  • Vehicle On Hire Certificate (if you have hired a vehicle)

Do I need a GB sticker for driving in France?

You will need a GB sticker on your car to drive in France unless it’s equipped with EU number plates, which show the country code in a circle of stars on a blue background.

You will also need a GB sticker or number plate on anything you’re towing.

French ‘clean air’ stickers (Crit’Air vignettes)

You now need a clean air sticker – called a Crit’Air vignette – displayed on your car when travelling to certain cities.

This six-category sticker system is designed to identify what emissions vehicles produce and are categorised based on your vehicles Euro emissions standard. You can purchase these stickers from the RAC

 Other items for driving in France

You are required by law to carry the following items:

  • Reflective jackets – One for each occupant, these must be kept inside the vehicle within easy reach
  • Warning triangle – Compulsory in every vehicle with four wheels or more
  • Headlamp beam deflector – Depending on your car, you will either need deflector stickers or have to adjust the beam manually
  • Breathalyser/alcohol test – As of January 2013 the French government announced that the introduction of an €11 fine for not carrying one had been postponed indefinitely. However, the law still states that drivers and motorcyclists must have an alcotest ready for use in their vehicle even though no penalty will be imposed if they cannot present one during a police road check
  • Spare bulbs – It is recommended but not mandatory that you carry a spare bulb kit for your vehicle
  • Snow chains – May also be needed in some areas during winter. These areas will be indicated by signs and are compulsory, so it is worth having them in your car if you’re visiting during winter
  • Safety helmets – For motorcyclists and their passengers

A French driving kit will have the items you need – to avoid hefty on-the-spot fines.

If you’re camping, it may also be worth carrying a Camping Card International to give you additional proof of identity, third party liability insurance, plus discounts at a wide range of campsites and tourist attractions.

Image of a round yellow crit'air vignette (French 'clean air') sticker on a windscreen.

French Rules of the Road

 

 

 

Overtaking and Passing in France

 

As a general rule, drive on the right, overtake on the left. However, where traffic is in lanes, vehicles may overtake on the right of other vehicles in slower-moving lanes.

On steep gradients, vehicles travelling downhill must give way to vehicles travelling uphill.

Overtaking trams in motion is normally permitted on the right only; it is permitted on the left in one-way streets if there is not enough space on the right.

 

Who Has Priority on French Roads?

 

At intersections, you must give way to vehicles approaching from your right, unless otherwise indicated.

Drivers approaching a roundabout must give way to traffic already on the roundabout.

You must also give way to emergency vehicles with flashing lights and sirens.

 

Warning of Approach

 

Horns may only be used to give necessary warning to other road users.

Between sunset and sunrise, a warning must be given by flashing passing lights. The horn may be used only in cases of absolute necessity.

In all built-up areas, use of the horn is prohibited except in cases of immediate danger.

The use of multi-tone horns, sirens and whistles are prohibited.

 

Towing in France

 

On a standard driving licence, motorists are allowed to tow a trailer with a maximum authorised mass of 750kg, including the trailer and its load.

You’re not allowed to tow a motor vehicle except in the event of a breakdown or an accident and if the distance to be travelled is short. This practice is banned on motorways where the assistance of a recovery vehicle must be sought.

It is forbidden to carry people in a moving caravan.

 

French Seat Belt Law

 

If seat belts are fitted to your car, they must be worn by both drivers and passengers. The driver has a responsibility to ensure that all passengers under the age of 18 are suitably restrained in the car.

The fine for failing to wear a seat belt is set at €135, reduced to €90 if paid within 15 days. 

 

Headphones Prohibited

 

As of March 2017, it is illegal to drive a car in France using headphones or earphones. Be sure to take off your headphones once you cross the Channel, otherwise, you could be fined on the spot.

 

Traffic Lights in France

 

The international three-colour traffic light system is used in France. However, there is no amber light after the red light.

A flashing amber light indicates caution, slow down or proceed but give way to vehicles coming from the right.

A flashing red light indicates no entry. It may also indicate a level crossing or exit used by emergency vehicles.

If a red light is accompanied by a yellow arrow, you may proceed in the direction indicated by the arrow, provided you give way to vehicles travelling in that direction, as well as to pedestrians.

 

French Speed Limits

 

France uses the metric system for all road signs, meaning speed limits and other road signs including distance are indicated using kilometres and metres.

Speed limits are lowered in the rain and other adverse weather conditions, while special speed restrictions apply to certain classes of vehicle, including coaches and cars with trailers, so check before travel.

There is a minimum speed limit of 80 km/h on motorways for vehicles travelling in the outside lane.

Click here to view / download the national speed limits

  • Caravan/Trailer Speed LimitsHolders of EU driving licences exceeding the speed limit by more than 40 km/h will have their licences confiscated on the spot by the police.
  • French law prohibits drivers from devices capable of detecting speed cameras and warning drivers of their location.
  • Penalties can include fines of up to €1,500 and confiscation of the device and vehicle.
  • This has recently been extended to include GPS-based systems capable of displaying fixed speed camera locations as points of interest.
  • The speed limit on many A and B roads in France has been reduced to 80km/h (50mph) – in a bid to save up to 400 lives a year. This came into effect from July 1 2018.

 

The maximum speed for a car towing a caravan or trailer depends on their total weight. Click here to view / download this information.

If the weight of the trailer exceeds that of the car, the speed limits are lower as follows:

  • If the excess is less than 30%: 65 km/h
  • If the excess is more than 30%: 45 km/h

In these cases, a disc showing maximum speed must be displayed on the rear of caravan/trailers. They may not be driven in the fast lane of a 3 lane motorway.

 

Motorhome/Minibus Speed Limits

 

The maximum speed for a motorhome, minibus or any other vehicle used for the transport of people only also depends on their total weight. Click here to view / download this information.

French Speeding Fines

 

The standard fine for breaking the speed limit in France is €135, with points added to your licence depending on how much the limit is exceeded by.

 

Holders of EU driving licences exceeding the speed limit by more than 40 km/h will have their licences confiscated on the spot by the police.

 

Speed Camera Detectors in France

 

French law prohibits drivers from using devices capable of detecting speed cameras and warning drivers of their location. In France, you could have to pay a massive fine of €1,500 if caught. Find out more about driving offences in France here.

Travelling with Children in France

Drivers are responsible for ensuring that all passengers under 18 are wearing a seat belt or appropriate restraint.

France child car seats

Children under the age of 10 are not allowed to travel in the front seats of vehicles without using a special child restraint unless there is no rear seat, the rear seat is already occupied with children under 10 or there are no seat belts.

Children up to the age of 10 must travel in an approved child seat or restraint, adapted to their age and size. European regulations classify child restraints in five different groups according to the child’s weight:

Weight 
Group 0: < 10 kgRear-facing child seat placed either at front passenger seat (airbag switched off) or back seat. Babies can also travel in a carrycot on the rear seat only
Group 0+: < 13 kgThese are slightly bigger versions of those in Group 0. They must be installed under the same conditions as those in Group 0
Group 1: 9 – 18 kgA child seat with a 5-point harness or a protection tray
Group 2: 15 – 25 kgBooster seat or cushion with an adult seat belt
Group 3: 22 – 36 kgBooster seat or cushion with an adult seat belt

Taxis are exempt but in other vehicles, a fine is levied if a child is not restrained.

France bike helmet law

As of March 2017, children under the age of 12 must wear a helmet when cycling – both when riding themselves or as a passenger. The parent or guardian faces a €90 fine for breaking this law.

Penalties and Fines in France

 

On-the-Spot Fines

Visiting motorists should be warned that some French police authorities are authorised to impose and collect fines on the spot up to €750 from drivers who violate traffic regulations.

If the offence committed is not likely to entail the suspension of the driving licence or a prison sentence, the motorist can pay a reduced fine within the next three days. If you want to contest the fine, you must apply for a court hearing within 30 days.

If the offence committed is serious and likely to entail a heavy fine and the suspension of the driving licence or a prison sentence, a motorist who is not resident in France and has no employment there must deposit a guarantee.

The police may hold his or her vehicle until payment is made. This payment can be in euros, by cheque drawn on a French bank or by travellers’ cheques.

Minimum and Maximum Fines in France

Standard fines are classified into four categories according to the gravity of the offence, ranging from €11 to €750. They can be reduced if payment is made within 15 days (in the case of postal payments, three days if paid in person) or increased if payment is not made within 45 days.

Confiscation of Vehicles

In some cases, instead of (or in addition to) a fine or prison sentence, the vehicle can be confiscated. The main offences this can be applied to are:

  • Exceeding the speed limit by over 50 km/h
  • The repeated offence of driving under the influence of alcohol (0.40 mg per litre of breath)
  • Hit and run
  • Refusal to stop when requested
  • Driving without a licence
  • Driving a vehicle with a category of licence that of a category which does not cover that vehicle
  • Driving without insurance

Any of the above cases can result in the vehicle becoming the property of the French government.

The EU Cross-Border Enforcement Directive

An EU Cross-Border Directive came into effect in the UK in May 2017. This is aimed at tracking down people who commit traffic offences in cars that are registered in an EU member state different from where the offence was committed.

This means if you commit a driving offence abroad, the crime will effectively follow you back home to the UK where you can still be prosecuted.

Parking in France

 

Parking Regulations

Stopping and parking are permitted on the right-hand side only of roads with two lanes of traffic; in one-way streets, stopping and parking are allowed on both sides if the street is wide enough.

Restrictions and limitations are indicated by road signs or by yellow lines on the kerb. A continuous yellow line indicates that stopping and parking are prohibited. A broken yellow line indicates that parking is prohibited.

Paid Parking

Road signs indicate the areas where parking is restricted and must be paid for, either at parking meters or automatic machines that issue tickets indicating the length of parking time paid for.

Some machines take debit/credit cards ‘stationnement à la carte’.

Enforcement of Parking Regulations in France

Vehicles that are parked illegally may be towed away and impounded, even if registered abroad. The owner is liable for the cost of impounding and for every 24 hours the vehicle is kept.

In Paris and some other large towns, illegally parked vehicles are immobilised by wheel clamps. The driver must go to the local police station and pay a fine for dangerous parking or for causing an obstruction, as well as a fine to have the vehicle released.

Disabled Parking Access

There are spaces reserved for the disabled. In Paris, free parking is allowed where a fee is normally payable.

In principle, the disabled badge gives the holder permission to park his/her vehicle in a designated space. It does not mean that he/she can park free of charge in a fee-paying zone.

Generally, a disabled motorist may park without time limit on roads where parking is free but restricted by time.

The responsibility for parking concessions usually rests with the local authorities, but the police are required to show consideration for parking by the disabled, provided they do not cause obstruction.

Drink-Driving Law in France

 

France Legal Limit

The maximum legal level of alcohol in the blood for drivers of private vehicles is 0.05%.

For bus and coach drivers, as well as newly qualified drivers with less than three years’ experience, the limit is 0.02%.

Random Breath Tests in France

The police have the power to carry out random breath tests. A test is compulsory after an accident that has caused injury or when a driver has committed a serious motoring offence.

A driver involved in an accident, or who has committed a traffic offence such as speeding or not wearing a seat belt, must take a drugs test.

The police use saliva or urine tests to detect drivers under the influence of drugs. If the test is positive, a blood test follows.

French Tolls

French motorways are operated by a variety of private companies, with most featuring tolls.

Tolls can be paid in cash or with a Mastercard or Visa card (Maestro and Electron debit cards are not accepted).

French Service Areas

There are three main types of service area in France.

Lay-by: parking area
Resting area: with toilets, drinking water, picnic area and playground
Service area: open 24 hours a day with petrol station, restaurants and shops

Availability of Fuel

Unleaded petrol, diesel fuel and lubricating oil are readily available throughout France.

The fuel SP95-E10, which contains up to 10% of ethanol and 90% of unleaded 95 petrol, is available. This fuel can be used in 60% of petrol-driven cars, especially in recent models.

There are now many automated petrol pumps operated by credit or debit card. There is also a growing network of electric charging points.

How do I Pay for Fuel in France?

Credit cards are generally accepted at petrol stations.

There are now many automatic petrol pumps operated by credit or debit cards. However, cards issued abroad are not always accepted by these petrol pumps.

Driving in France FAQs

Do I need a GB Sticker to Drive in France?

You will need to display a GB sticker on the rear of your car unless it has EU number plates with country code in a circle of stars on a blue background.

Do I Need a Fire Extinguisher to Drive in France?

No, it’s not compulsory to carry a fire extinguisher in private cars in France. Public transport vehicles with more than nine seats must have at least one onboard though.

Do I Need a Breathalyser to Drive in France?

Strictly speaking, you’re required to have a breathalyser kit in your vehicle when driving in France, but the reality is that no penalty will be imposed if you can’t present one during a police road check.

What Does Rappel Mean on French Road Signs?

You may sometimes see the word ‘rappel’ under a speed limit sign on French roads. It’s just a reminder that you’re still in that speed zone and should already be at the limit. It’s not informing you that it’s changing to a new limit.

Do I Need My V5 to Drive in France?

Yes, you will need to take the original vehicle registration V5 document (log book) with you to prove you’re the legal owner of the vehicle.  

Do I Need Headlamp Converters in France?

Yes. Depending on your car, you will either need deflector stickers or have to adjust the beam manually. This is so you don’t dazzle oncoming traffic when driving on the right side of the road at night.

How Much are Tolls in France?

The amount you pay will depend on the autoroutes you take and how long you stay on them. Costs also depend on the type of vehicle you’re driving, while those towing caravans also pay more.

Visit https://www.viamichelin.com to calculate the cost of your journey.

Can You Turn Right on Red in France?

No, not unless there is a yellow arrow pointing to the right. Be aware, however, that the yellow arrow does not give you right of way.

What is the National Speed Limit in France?

The normal speed limit on French motorways is 130km/h (just over 80mph). If you’re on the main road outside a built-up area, the speed limit is now 80km/h after the law changed in 2018, and for built-up areas, it’s 50km/h. In rain, speed limits are lowered.

Do I Need an International Driving Permit for France?

As a general rule, all valid UK photocard driving licences should be accepted in other EU/EEA countries so it’s not necessary to have an International Driving Permit for France.

Do I Need Snow Chains in France?

Winter tyres aren’t required by law in France, but snow chains must be fitted to vehicles using snow-covered roads in mountainous regions in compliance with local road signs or conditions. So, if you’re visiting in winter, it’s recommended you carry them with you.

How Old Do You Have to Be to Drive in France?

To legally drive in France, you must be 18 years or older and in possession of a full valid driving licence.

How Do You Pay For Toll Roads in France?

On most toll roads, you take a ticket when you enter the motorway and pay the fee when you exit at a booth with a green arrow. Simply insert your ticket into the machine and it will show you how much you need to pay. You can either pay by cash or credit card.

If you regularly use toll roads, it’s worth signing up to the Telepeage scheme which takes you through the fast lane without having to stop and pay.

Can You Pay Cash at French Tolls?

Yes, tolls can be paid in euro notes and coins. You can also use a Mastercard or Visa card. Debit cards Maestro and Electron are not accepted, however.

Does France Require a Vignette?

To drive in certain cities, you will need to display a vehicle emissions sticker on your windscreen, known as a Crit’Air vignette. There are six categories of sticker, which are colour-coded according to how much vehicles pollute. They range from the cleanest (Crit’Air 1) for electric vehicles to the most polluting (Crit’Air 6).

How do Roundabouts Work in France?

Traffic flows anti-clockwise round roundabouts in France, not clockwise as in the UK.

Drivers approaching a roundabout indicated by a triangular sign with a red border and three arrows forming a circle in the centre must give way to traffic already on the roundabout. In the absence of a sign, the rule of priority for vehicles coming from the right applies.

Does France use mph or kph?

France uses the metric system for all road signs, so speed limits and other signs including distance are shown in kilometres and metres.

Is it Compulsory to Carry a Spare Wheel in France?

There is no legal requirement to carry a spare wheel as most cars no longer have them. However, you should make sure you check all your tyres before setting off. All motor vehicles and their trailers must have tyres with a minimum tread depth of 1.6mm.

Image of a smiling woman with blonde hair paying a toll fee whilst sat in a white car, with the door open.

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