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Driving in France Requirements Checklist

Last Updated: July 2020

 

This is the most complete and up-to-date checklist of the legal requirements for driving in France until the end of the Brexit transition period (currently scheduled for 31st December 2020).

It also covers the kit that you need to take with you by law when driving in France and also other regulations that you need to adhere to.  Failure to comply with these can not only put your safety at risk, but there can also be hefty on the spot fines, points on your licence and in certain circumstances the seizure of your vehicle.  So, please take heed of the points raised and help to make your journey into France a happier and safer one!

driving in France requirements checklist

The Legal Requirements Checklist


These are the basic items that you must have with you at all times whilst driving or riding a motorcycle in France:

  • A valid driving licence covering you for the vehicle you are driving/riding
  • An up-to-date passport for each occupant of the vehicle
  • Vehicle insurance documents, providing at least third-party cover
  • A valid MOT certificate if your vehicle is over 3 years old
  • V5 log book or a VE103 document for rented/hired vehicles
  • A warning triangle (excl motorbikes)
  • Reflective helmet stickers for motorcycle riders²
  • It is illegal to drive with an important bulb gone. Having a spare bulb kit will help to avoid this
  • a High Visibility Vest for each occupant of the vehicle
  • Your vehicle (and any trailer/caravan/boat you are towing) should be displaying a GB sticker¹

¹ You don't need a GB sticker if your number plates have the GB letters on a blue background with either the Union Jack flag or EU symbol.

² There is some suggestion that this only applies to helmets made or sold in France.  However, as this is first and foremost a safety feature - we still recommend that all motorcyclists have them.

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Other Legal Requirements


In addition, you should bear these in mind:

  • Drivers have to be at least 18 years of age
  • Moped and Motorcycle (up to 125cc) riders need to be at least 16 years of age
  • Your vehicle should be taxed in the UK
  • Your dipped headlamps must be adjusted so as not to dazzle oncoming traffic²
  • All occupants must wear a seat-belt at all times whilst in the vehicle
  • Children under 10 years of age should be in an approved and appropriate child restraint or booster seat (appropriate for their size and weight)³
  • You must not use your mobile telephone whilst driving, even through a hands-free system or Bluetooth headset
  • You must not use anything in or on your vehicle which warns you of the location of speed cameras⁴
  • You must not wear headsets or headphones whilst driving (except motorcycle helmets which have these integrated)

 

² Some modern vehicles have a control to adjust the direction of the headlights, and some LED headlights do not need beam deflectors.  All other vehicles should be fitted with headlamp converters to block or redirect the beam that would otherwise have shone onto the offside of the road when driven in France.

³ Children under 10 should be seated according to this table:

Weight

Position in Vehicle

Type of Seat or Restraint

Up to 13kg

Front seat

Rear-facing child seat and airbag switched off

Up to 13kg

Rear seat

Babies in a carry-cot. Others in a rear-facing child seat

13 to 18kg

Front or Rear

Child seat with a 5-point harness or a protection tray

Above 18kg

Front or Rear 

Booster seat or cushion with an adult seat belt

 

⁴ Most modern satnav systems allow you to turn off speed camera alerts.  I personally use the Waze app on my mobile phone for navigating through the whole of the UK, France and Spain.  They have tried to get around this French law by only warning you when you are within range of a speed camera (this is very helpful).

Even though there is a significant fine for breaching this law, it's difficult to imagine how the French Police might actually enforce it as they would practically have to drive in the car with you towards a speed camera.

 

The 'Not So' Legal Requirements

 

These items aren't always required by law, but some can also be considered essentials, for the reasons given:


European Breakdown Cover

It isn't a legal requirement to have breakdown cover, but I can tell you from personal experience that it is a 'nice to have'.  I once broke down in an estate car at the foot of the Pyrenees, with five people in the car (three adults and two children).

It was a Sunday afternoon, and I only spoke a little 'School French'.  I had no idea what was wrong with the car, other than the engine had stopped and wouldn't start again.  There were only hills, roads and a lake within sight in any direction - no houses or businesses.

Because I had breakdown cover, I was able to speak to someone on the telephone in English, explain what the problem was and give them my location.  They rang me back a few minutes later to say that a mechanic was on their way. 

A very nice French man turned up about 45 minutes later, looked under the bonnet of the car, went and got something from the back of his breakdown truck and then did a 'running repair' which got us back the 1,000 miles to home so we could get a more permanent repair of the accelerator cable that had snapped.

Now, can you imagine how difficult it would have been to arrange all that myself?  And how much would the breakdown company charge for coming out to me on a Sunday afternoon?  I'm convinced that it isn't worth driving in France - or any other European country without European Breakdown Cover.


Fire Extinguisher

You don't have to carry a fire extinguisher by law, although many people do still buy one for peace of mind.

If you notice a fire breaking out on your own or someone else's vehicle, we suggest you follow these steps in order:

  1. If it is safe to do so, get all occupants away from the vehicle
  2. Call 112 and ask for the fire brigade
  3. If the fire is small and it is safe to do so, try to put it out with an appropriate fire extinguisher, sand, soil or water.

 

Breathalysers

France has been up and down regarding breathalysers over the past few years, but at the beginning of 2020 they finally abolished the law that meant you had to carry them.  If you want to hear the full story behind their antics, take a look here.

It is worth noting that the general level of alcohol permitted whilst driving in France is lower than in the UK - 0.5mg/ml compared to 0.8mg/ml - although drivers with less than three years experience are restricted even further to 0.2mg/ml.  It is best to just accept that you shouldn't drive after consuming any alcohol, until it has cleared out of your system.

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Spectacles/Glasses

If you need glasses for driving, then you are required to carry a spare pair in the car with you whilst driving.

 

Crit'Air Air Quality Certificates

Critair air quality certificates

Since 2016 vehicular access to certain cities has been governed by the requirement to display a valid Crit'Air Air Quality Certificate on your vehicle.

These areas have been designated 'low emission zones' and can be permanent (ZCR or 'Zone à Circulation Restreinte') or temporary (ZPA or 'Zone de la Protection de l’Air').

Basically, diesel vehicles made before 2006 are not allowed in these areas at all.  Other vehicles should display the appropriate certificate (which you can apply for here and will cost you about €10).

If you are caught driving in a restricted area in contravention of the rules, you can be fined €68 for cars/motorbikes, and €135 for vans and lorries.

 

The main cities where this applies currently are:

Paris, Gironde/Bordeaux, Hérault/Montpelier, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Strasbourg, Toulouse and Poitiers

...but these are sure to be increased in the near-future, with climate change being such a high priority nowadays.

If you are driving past one of these cities - sticking to the main roads and not actually driving through them - you shouldn't encounter a low emission zone and therefore don't need to display the sticker.

 

Priorité à droite

This will definitely seem strange to most UK drivers.  The French have an outdated rule called 'Priorité à droite', which means that unless it is marked otherwise at junctions, you should give way to vehicles joining from the right.

You are more likely to be affected by this in small villages and towns that haven't had their roads updated lately.  For example, you can be driving down a straight piece of road, and there can be a junction joining that road from your right.  If there are no markings on the junction, you might see an older French man or woman in their Citroen Rosalie approach that junction from the right - see you coming towards them - and then pull straight out in front of you to go the opposite way on the road that you are on.

In 18 years of driving through France, this has happened only twice to me - but on both occasions I was the one that got the evil stare from the French motorist who couldn't understand why I thought I could continue straight-on without giving way to them!

One Final Suggestion

If you have never driven in France before have a look at our French Road Signs page, that will also be useful to you. 

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Please note that the information given on this website is provided for general guidance only.  It is intended to represent our understanding of the complex rules and regulations that are pertinent to driving or riding a motor vehicle in France - most of which are not readily available to us in the English language and laws change without notice.  We therefore cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information shown here.

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