Driving in France – The rules of the road

So you’re moving to France. If you thought remembering to roll your R’s was going to be the hardest transition to make, think again.

Driving in France isn’t just a simple matter of using the other side of the road. French regulations can be very different to those followed in the UK and in 2012 several important changes were made to French road rules. New requirements have been instated and the penalties attached to a variety of offences have been increased so it’s really important to be aware of French driving laws before you start using the roads. In some circumstances the punishments issued differ depending on whether you hold a French driving licence or not.

Remember, ignorance is no excuse! Here are the most important things expats should know about driving in France.

You have to:

• Have I.D. on you at all times.
• Have your log book and MOT certificate handy.
• Be over 18 – Even if you possess a valid full UK driving licence it is illegal to drive on French roads if you’re under the age of 18.
• Wear a seatbelt at all times, no matter what your age or position in the car.
• Wear a crash helmet if riding a motorbike.
You’ll need:
• Car insurance certification.
• Both the paper and plastic parts of a valid full UK driving licence.
• A GB sticker on the back of the car. (You don’t need the GB sticker if your car has ‘euro-plates’ – a number plate with a blue background and ring of 12 stars).
• Headlamp convertors. When driving on the right the risk of dazzling oncoming motorists is countered by using headlamp convertors, which are basically stickers for the headlights.
• A reflective jacket and a warning triangle: The jacket must be kept where it can be quickly accessed, without the driver or passengers having to exit the vehicle. Both items must be used in the event of a break down/maintenance issue. A fine of roughly €90 euro’s will be issued if you are pulled over and found to be without these items.

You should know that…

• It is illegal for children under the age of 10 to travel in the front seat of the car UNLESS there are no seats in the back.
• The drink drive limit is LOWER in France then it is in the UK. In the UK the limit is 80 mg per 100 ml of blood but in France it drops to 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. Most would recommend that you don’t drink drive at all, but if you’re used to the UK drink drive limit it’s especially important that you don’t take any risks whilst you get accustomed to the lower limit.
• You should always have plenty of change to hand for the automated barriers at motorway tolls.
• The usual speed limit on motorways is 80mph.
• The usual speed limit on main roads outside of built up areas is around 55 mph.
• Unless otherwise stated, the usual speed limit in built-up areas is roughly 30 mph.
• There is a zero tolerance policy for speeding in France. Being caught will result in at least a large fine. In extreme cases cars and licences can be confiscated on the spot.
• Random checks by the police or gendarmes are common!
• If you’re living in an area of France which receives a lot of snow organising winter tyres and snow chains is essential.

New Rules:

Breathalysers

This year it was made a legal requirement for all those driving in France to carry an alcohol level or breathalyser test. This applies no matter what vehicle you’re driving (car, lorry, motorbike etc). By November you will be fined if you’re discovered to be driving without one. Single use breathalysers can be picked up from chemists, supermarkets and garages nationwide for about €1.

Using your mobile

As of this year, using a mobile whilst driving on a French road will result in an on the spot fine of €130 euro’s. This applies to hands free devices too. If you hold a French driving licence you will also automatically receive 3 penalty points.

Motorway Tolls

The cost of motorway tolls changed in early 2012. Travel for a basic car (one without a trailer or caravan attached) on a motorway now works out at about €1 for every 10 miles.

Speed Cameras

There are currently more than two thousand stationary speed cameras scattered across France and in May 2011 the government ruled that drivers should no longer be warned of their position. Some of the warnings do still exist in a different form but others have completely vanished. Over the past few months the large signs originally used to warn of an upcoming speed camera have been taken away and many of them have been replaced by automatic speed detectors.

Radar Warning Devices

These are more commonly known as ‘speed camera detectors’ and as of 2011 they have been banned in France. If one is found in your vehicle you could be liable for a whopping €1500 fine, as well as having 6 points taken off your licence. The law gets a little murky where GPS systems like TomToms are concerned and it hasn’t been decided exactly how this will be policed. Although not ‘radar detectors’ in the strictest sense some do pick up on speed camera locations. By the end of the year it will be against the law to be in possession of a GPS device which either lists or records the position of speed cameras. Radar information is currently in the process of being replaced with warnings which announce ‘danger zones’.

If you should break down or have an accident…

Things will go a lot more smoothly if you have some kind of breakdown cover. You should also call your insurance company as soon as possible as they may be able to put you in contact with a French representative.

If a breakdown or accident renders your car immobilized you must put on a florescent jacket and set up your red warning triangle at a suitable distance from the vehicle.

If the accident involves two or more vehicles it is standard practice for those involved to fill in a ‘constat amiable’ (amiable declaration).

If you are involved in an accident and someone is injured you MUST remain at the sight of the incident until the police arrive. This applies in all cases, no matter how minor the injury or how minimal your involvement in the accident.

Essential maps and guides

• Michelin – National Map France
• Michelin Motoring Atlas: France

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