Driving in France

Driving in France is a dream, but beware the nightmare of on the spot fines! The French police can be pretty tough on UK drivers so it pays to be prepared.

We help you navigate French roads with ease, revealing the essential regulations you need to know about.

Keep reading to ensure a delightful, worry-free driving experience, and avoid those costly surprises along the way.

Drive like a Local
Driving in France
Image by Mike McBey

Driving in France rules, tips & advice

For anyone planning a European road trip this website, will prove very valuable to you. We'll show you what you need to know and do, to successfully drive your car in France.  

On the whole it's very enjoyable but we can help you to avoid the pitfalls. I show you the legal requirements for driving in France, as well as providing lots of free information, hints & tips.

Whether you are planning short trips in and around Paris or driving huge distances across the length and breadth of France - through the beautiful countryside - then this website is what you need It should prove useful to both first timers and experienced travellers alike.

Driving on the continent especially through the stunning French countryside is an experience to be enjoyed. So, for all you ever needed to know about Driving in France, please read on.

Before you head off on your trip, please read about European Breakdown cover. Breaking down hundreds of miles from home in a country where you don't speak the language is no fun.
Full Driving in France Kit

Full Driving in France Kit

All the items you need, inside a handy zip up bag.
Just £32.95

What you need to take with you

Here we give a brief outline of what you need to take but there is a more in-depth look at the items mentioned on on "Post Brexit Checklist". You can also see what makes up the contents of the ultimate driving in France kit.

Quick run-down

Passport, driving licence (for anyone who will be driving in France), insurance, MOT, V5 log book (VE103 document for rented/hired vehicles). A UK sticker, GB ones are no longer valid. 

Warning Triangle, spare bulbs, and Hi Viz vest. Your headlights will probably need headlamp deflectors fitted to them to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic. 

Not in the countryside but a lot of French cities have clean air zones and you will need to display a Crit Air Pollution Sticker if driving in Paris or other large city.

Any animal your taking with you, must have an animal health certificate. A visa if staying for more than 90 days.

What about you?

If you are driving you must be over 18, wearing a seat belt and most definitely NOT using a mobile phone while driving. The French police are very strict on this and can dish out some meaty on-the-spot fines for it. 

If you need spectacles for driving, then by law in France you have to carry a spare pair. 

Relax and enjoy

Driving in France really is nothing to worry about. At first you will feel a little strange driving on the 'wrong' side of the road, but the process is quite straightforward. Most of the junctions will steer you towards the correct positioning - but do make yourself familiar with the quirky rules that France has, that we don't in the UK.

Our in-depth FREE information on everything from speed limits to driver etiquette will prove a useful resource to you the motorist.

Motorways and dual carriageways are the easiest to drive on and as long as you take it steady through the towns, you shouldn't have any issues. Paris is one place that people avoid driving in if at all possible though it's usually issues with parking that creates the biggest headache.

Parking up somewhere and using public transport for sightseeing is actually a smart move in Paris - if you can find somewhere to park!

You do of course need to carry some compulsory items in the car, which you might not normally carry in the UK. See our Checklist page and have a look at our "All in one Travel Kit".
Road Types in France

Road types

In France as in the UK the different types of roads range from the narrow single track country lanes right through to 8 lane motorways. Driving through historical towns and villages has its own difficulties and charm as they were obviously built many years before the motor car was invented and some of them are simply unsuitable for traffic.

Roads come in the following main types, Autoroute (Motorway) which has red number signs. “N” which are the National roads, “D” which are the departmental roads these have yellow number signs. You might also encounter “municipal” (white number sign) and “forestry” roads (green signs).

We have a French Road Signs page that will give you the basics you need to safely drive in France.

The motorway network throughout France is far superior to the UK network in my opinion and you will not generally encounter mile after mile of road works like we have to suffer in the UK.

In the countryside and mountainous regions you may well come across less well maintained roads and worse driving conditions.

I personally prefer to avoid the motorways not just to save on tolls but because I don't particularly enjoy that type of driving and I’m never in a hurry. I enjoy the journey as much as the destination and have had some fantastic meals in small villages along my route.

Mountain regions of France

A lot of people visit France for a skiing holiday and the areas in the Alps, Vosges, Jura, and the Pyrenees offer up some additional things to consider.

They get an awful lot of snow and roads often get closed through the mountains and snow chains are compulsory in these snowy conditions.
Mountain Regions of France

Driving Rules: You and the law

Law enforcement via the French police can be a little heavy handed so having everything you legally need to hand will definitely make things go a lot smoother if you get stopped and a smile is advisable.

They will almost certainly want to see your driving licence, insurance and MOT and if they are being bloody minded the items in our driving checklist like warning triangles, Hi Viz vests etc. (see all products here)

You should have a valid UK driving licence with you. The driving age for France means you MUST be 18 to drive in France not 17 as it is in the UK.

If you still have an old style paper licence, then it is still legal to drive with one in France. (Valid till you're seventy years old).

It is not a legal requirement to have an international driving permit (IDP) if you are a UK licence holder in France but other EU countries require one. So if you are doing a road trip through more than just France then you should get one. 

This should be stating the obvious but drive on the right! You'd be amazed how many people roll off the ferry and immediately drive on the wrong side if the road. 

France has a lower legal limit for drink drive blood alcohol levels than the UK so simply do not drink and drive as even one drink can put you over the limit. See the rules about the legal drink driving limits here. (It is an old article but still up-to-date)

You may have heard about breathalysers being a legal requirement, but read our page on that before deciding whether to take some with you.

Breathalysers in France do you need them?

Read all about this daft breathalyser rule here.

Mobile Phone Use

It is illegal to use a mobile phone whilst driving even if you have a headphone set or headphones. Mobile or cell phones can only be used via a fully fitted wireless Bluetooth car kit. When it comes to using your phone as a "Sat Nav" see our "Speed Cameras in France" section.  

Let me reiterate to be totally clear you cannot use your phone while driving in France. Don't even have it in your hand for any reason. 

UK Stickers replace GB stickers

There have been some changes post Brexit that have had an effect on the rules regarding GB number plate stickers. It is now the law that GB plates have to be replaced/covered over with new UK stickers.

You can read the details here: UK Sticker and UK Number Plate Stickers.

Low Emission Zone (LEZ)

LEZ's are popping up all over the place in France these days as more and more French cities are going green. If you check out our page on the Crit Air Sticker, you find everything you need to know about them. Including which cities have LEZ's and where to find out what classification your vehicle is and where to buy a Crit Air sticker from.

Accidents or breakdown

What to do if you are involved in an accident or breakdown. French emergency numbers for Police, Fire and Ambulance provided with useful information you hopefully may never need but should have just in case.

Most common accidents in towns and cities happen at a give way sign or because people are exceeding the speed limit. So just be careful. 

If you are involved in a car accident in France, or any other European country, it's important to follow the local laws and procedures in addition to those established by your car insurance company. Here are the steps you should follow:

Stay Calm and Ensure Safety: After the accident, make sure that everyone involved is safe. If anyone is seriously injured, contact the local emergency services immediately.

Contact the Police: Depending on the severity of the accident, you may need to contact the police. In France, you can dial 112 for any type of emergency.

European Accident Statement: In Europe, there's a standard document called the European Accident Statement, or "constat amiable". It's a form that you and the other party fill out to agree on the facts of the accident. You should carry a copy in your car if you're driving abroad, as it's accepted throughout Europe. If there are disagreements about the circumstances, don't sign the form. In this case, your insurers will have to sort it out later.

Gather Information: Collect all the necessary information, including the other driver's details (name, contact information, insurance details), details of the vehicle (make, model, colour, registration number), accident details (date, time, location), and details of any witnesses. Take pictures of the scene if you can.

Inform Your Insurance Provider: Contact your insurance company as soon as possible and provide them with all the information about the accident.

Inform Your Car Hire Company: Phone whoever you hired the car from, they should be able to offer assistance.

Summary: Remember, driving in a foreign country means that you should be well aware of the local traffic rules. Ensure your insurance covers international travel before you go, and bring all necessary documents. If you're driving your own car, make sure your car is in good condition to avoid any mechanical problems.
French Road Signs

French road signs

Understand what the main road signs mean in France, or you could make some pretty bad mistakes. See our guide to French road signs here.

Also remember that in France a single continuous white line is the same as a double white line in our country. You must not overtake when there is one in the centre of the road.
European Breakdown Cover

European breakdown cover

It would be unwise to drive your car hundreds of miles from home in a foreign country without adequate breakdown cover. Why not visit our sister website EuropeanBreakdownCover 4u.co.uk

Taking out European breakdown cover before driving in France is a sensible thing to do for several reasons. 

Firstly, it gives you peace of mind, as knowing you're covered in case of a breakdown can reduce stress. 

Breakdown cover typically includes services like roadside assistance, recovery to a local garage for repairs, or even repatriation of your vehicle back to the UK if necessary, saving you from potentially HUGE expenses. 

Secondly, language barriers could make it difficult to arrange for help yourself if your car breaks down. Breakdown cover often includes a 24/7 English-speaking helpline, making the process much smoother. 

Lastly, having this cover can minimise disruption to your trip, as many policies include provision for a courtesy car or alternative transport, allowing you to continue your journey while your vehicle is being repaired. 

Overall, the investment in European breakdown cover is a small price to pay for the security, convenience, and stress-free experience it offers.

Speed Limit & Speed Cameras

It's important that you know the speed limit in France, depending on what type of road in France you're actually on.

In urban areas (towns and cities): 50 km/h (31 mph)

Outside urban areas (open roads): 80 km/h (50 mph) or 90 km/h (56 mph) depending on the type of road and local regulations.

On dual carriageways or non-toll motorways: 110 km/h (68 mph)

On toll motorways: 130 km/h (80 mph), reduced to 110 km/h (68 mph) in wet weather

Bear in mind that lower limits may apply in certain circumstances, such as in areas with high pedestrian traffic or near schools, and higher limits may apply on certain motorways. Always adhere to the posted speed limit signs.

Also, if you've held your driving license for less than two years, you have to follow a lower speed limit on some roads:

Dual carriageways and non-toll motorways: 100 km/h (62 mph)

Toll motorways: 110 km/h (68 mph)

Speed Cameras in France

There are lots of them on French roads and the police will have hand held cameras in speeding hotspots so be careful. Read more about speed cameras in France

You & your car in France

I hope after reading all this it hasn't discouraged you from the adventure of a road trip in France. Some of the best holidays I've ever had, have been spent driving round the quaint villages in the French countryside. 

Here I'm just giving you the worst case scenarios so you'll be better prepared, chances are you'll be like 99% of people have just a great time. There roads on the whole are so much better and safer than ours. 

It will not take you very long to get acclimatised to French driving and the French motorways are much better than ours. They hardly ever seem to have roadworks. 

So have a great trip.

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Full Driving in France Kit

Full Driving in France Kit

All the items you need, inside a handy zip up bag.
Just £32.95
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