Tips for driving in France
27 September 2023
Advice, Checklist & Legal Requirements
France is the number 1 holiday destination in the world for tourists and each year more than 14 million British nationals visit France, many of them taking their cars so the following advice is a godsend. From holidays to the Cote D Azur, shortbreaks to Disneyland Resort Paris or a Ski holiday in the French Alps or Pyrenees, France seems to push all the right buttons for holidaymakers. However, there are certainly some considerations when it comes to legal requirements when driving in France - read on for our comprehensive guide or skip straight to our checklist!
What do I need to drive in France?
If you are looking to drive in France then you must be at least 18 years old and have a valid UK driving licence, insurance and vehicle documents. Failure to comply may lead to a fine and/or your vehicle being impounded. You are not permitted to drive at 17 even if you hold a valid licence.
- · Valid driving licence
- · Proof of identification (passport)
- · Insurance documents (third part or above)
- · Proof of ownership (registration certificate)
If you do not own the vehicle you are driving, you are advised to obtain written permission from the registered owner.
Driving in France is considered safe. In 2011 there were 6.1 road deaths per 100,000 of the population in France, compared to the UK average of 3.1 per 100,000. Tiredness was a big contributor to this figure and due to the size of the country many drivers will undertake long journeys cross country. If you are driving long distances then care should be taken to plan your journey and to take regular breaks. Please don’t become a statistic for the sake of a break.
It is compulsory when driving in France for front and rear seat occupants to wear seat belts, if fitted. It is the driver’s responsibility to ensure all passengers under 18 are appropriately restrained. Children under the age of 10 are not permitted to travel on the front seats of vehicles. They must travel in an approved child seat or restraint adapted to their size. A baby up to 13kg must be carried in a rear facing baby seat. A child between 9 and 18kg must be seated in a child seat and a child from 15kg up to 10 years can use a booster seat with a seat belt or a harness.
Kit You Need to Carry On Board
It is compulsory in France to carry the following safety equipment within any vehicle with more than 2 wheels:
- · A Warning triangle
- · Reflective Jacket
- · Snow chains
- · Spare bulb kit is recommended
French laws about the obligation of having to carry a breathalyzer kit in the car have been postponed indefinitely. After several months of uncertainty about it, there is no obligation about them, although they´re cheap and easy to find in France and maybe it´s not such a bad idea to get a hold of one or two of them.
Fuel in France is similar to the UK and unleaded petrol, diesel and LPG are all available. Petrol stations will allow you to top up a jerry can but note that carrying fuel in one of these containers is forbidden by the ferry and Eurotunnel operators. A new type of fuel, the SP95-E10 which contains a 10% Ethanol mix is now available throughout France but this fuel is not suitable for use in all cars and you should check compatibility with your manufacturer before using. Many european breakdown cover policies will not provide cover if you mistakenly refuel you vehicle with the wrong fuel.
Although the French like a glass of "Vin" at lunchtime they take their drinking and driving laws very seriously. If the level of alcohol in the bloodstream is 0.05 per cent or more, severe penalties are imposed including fines, imprisonment and/or confiscation of the driving licence. The same applies to driving under the influence of drugs and saliva drug tests will be used to detect drivers under the influence of drugs. Penalties are severe and are similar to those of drink driving.
The French Police take speeding seriously and there are grave consequences for non compliance. Since March of 2013 most of the warning signs in French roads have been removed and although it seems they are going to be put back there is no information about if this has happened yet. Also be aware that there are unmarked police cars carrying invisible mobile speed cameras. Holders of EU driving licenses exceeding the speed limit by more than 40 km/h will have their licenses confiscated on the spot by the police. In built-up areas the limit is 50 km/hr (31 mph) , outside built-up areas 90 Km/hr (56 mph). 110 km/hr (68 mph) on dual carriageways separated by a central reservation and 130Km/hr (80 mph) on motorways. Lower speed limits do apply in wet weather and to visiting motorists who have held a driving licence for less than two years.
If you are looking to beat the Police at their own game, dont try. In-car radar detectors are illegal in France whether they are in use or not. On-the-spot fines are severe and can involve a fine of up to 1500 Euros and the vehicle and/or device being confiscated. Other apparatus such as televisions, video, DVD equipment which could potentially distract a driver should be positioned so the driver is unable to see them. This excludes GPS systems. It is prohibited to touch or program the device unless parked in a safe place.
Standard speed limits (km/h) unless otherwise stated by traffic signs:
Urban roads (31 mph).
Non-urban roads (56 mph).
Motorways / expressways (80 - 68 mph). 100 km/h (62 mph) in rainy/wet conditions. 50 km/h (31 mph) if the visibility is less than 50 m.
Motorcycles driving in France are required to raise their profile to other road users and the use of dipped headlights during the day is compulsory. The wearing of crash helmets is also compulsory for both driver and passenger of any two-wheel motorised vehicle.
Dipped headlights are recommended for all vehicles and must be used in poor daytime visibility. It is highly recommended by the French Government that 4x4 wheeled vehicles use dipped headlights day and night.
General Driving Advice
In terms of French driving habits the following are worth noting:
- · In built-up areas give way to traffic coming from the right “Priorité a droite”
- · At signed roundabouts bearing the words "Vous n'avez pas la priorité" or "Cédez le passage" traffic on the roundabout has priority
- · Where no such sign exists traffic entering the roundabout has priority
- · Overtaking stationary trams is prohibited when passengers are either getting or off the tram
- · In built up areas the use of the horn is prohibited except in cases of immediate danger
Getting to France
Between the Eurotunnel and a multitude of ferry operators, Eurobreakdown clients have a range of choices available to them when deciding the best options for getting to France.
The principal ports in France are Calais, Dieppe, Dunkirk, Le Havre, Caen, Cherbourg, St Malo and Roscoff and they are served by a variety of operators including Eurotunnel, DFDS, Brittany Ferries, P&O Ferries, Myferrylink and Condor.
Prices are dependent on a number of factors with the shorter Dover - Calais crossings offering the best value. The price of a return ticket is dependent on a number of factors including the time and date of travel, the vehicle size and the number of occupants and whether you require the use of a cabin or club lounges. For longer overnight crossings the price of a ticket will be more expensive especially if you have a cabin but this tends to be balanced by reduced motoring costs at the other end.
So to recap here is our checklist for driving in France:
- Ensure you have proper documentation: valid driving licence, ID, driving insurance covering driving in France, proof of ownership (registration certification).
- Take plenty of breaks when driving long distances.
- Ensure rear passengers are wearing seat belts and remember children 10 and under are not allowed to travel in the front seat. Children below 10 yrs are also required to be seated on a booster seat.
- Ensure your car is equipped with the following safety equipment: : A Warning triangle, Reflective Jacket and snow chains. Especially if travelling to snowier parts of France.
- Check fuel compatibility as some fuels may not be compatible with your vehicle.
- Do not drink and drive.
- Observe local speed limits – as a general rule built up areas have limits of 50km/h (31 mph), outside built up areas are 90km/h (56mph). In car radar detectors are illegal.
- Dipped headlights are recommended in even in daytime conditions.
The team at Eurobreakdown.com hope that this information has been useful and wish you "Bon Voyage" on your next trip to France.
Driving through France to another destination? You might like to read our guides to:
Need breakdown cover for France? Eurobreakdown.com can provide you with comprehensive single trip breakdown cover or annual multi trip breakdown policies with a best price guarantee.
Reference: The statistics mentioned on this page were sourced from the International Transport Forum’s Road Safety Annual Report 2013 and, to the best of Eurobreakdown.com’s knowledge, are correct at the time of publication (May 2014).
For general European driving tips click here