Driving in France
Bowling down a French Nationale route, with the sun high in the sky, tall trees offering shade on either side and views across miles of vineyards is a delight. French roads, apart from in the big conglomerations or particularly busy parts of the Cote d’Azur, tend to be emptier than in the UK. After all, the population of France is about the same as the UK but France is three times as big so you are going to have a lot more space to play in! The roads are also well-maintained and well-signposted so getting from A to B is easy. However, there are some things that you need to be aware of.
If you have never driven abroad before, you may think that it is simply a case of driving on the other side of the road. However, before you embark on a motoring holiday you'll find that a bit of research may not only save you a potentially embarrassing situation and possible legal action, but could save your life.
The AA website is an excellent site for up-to-date info on driving in France.
A word of warning: do not be lulled into a false sense of security that, just because you are a foreigner, you can ‘get away with it’. French gendarmes are tough and will enforce on-the-spot fines if you flout the law.
France has many laws governing motoring that are quite different to those at home. For example, contrary to popular thought in the UK, they have stricter laws ruling acceptable blood alcohol levels in cases of drink-driving. Speeding offences are subject to on-the-spot fines. It is also worth mentioning that in cases where a driver exceeds the speed limit by more than 40 km/h, any holder of an EU driving licence will have it confiscated on-the-spot. Random spot checks are common on all roads, even in town centres, so be aware!
It is now illegal to have a SatNav (GPS) that warns you of approaching radar cameras. In addition, there are many more speed cameras planned which will not be signposted. Existing signage for speed cameras may also be removed.
There are certain regulations which are weather dependent; for example, in poor visibility, you must use dipped headlights, although this is not well-adhered to by French drivers themselves. Speed limits vary according to area, vehicle and weather conditions and in wet weather all speed limits are reduced. Drivers who have passed their driving test within the last two years are also limited to lower speeds on all roads. It is now compulsory to use snow chains on snow covered roads.
Inside The Car
Your vehicle needs to carry a warning triangle and a hi-viz reflective jacket for every person in the car, in case of accidents or breakdown. It is not acceptable to carry your reflective jacket in the boot; it must be kept in the body of the car so that you can put it on before exiting your vehicle.
You are required by law to carry your driving licence, passport, the vehicle registration document (V5 Log Book or 'la Carte Grise'), the MOT certificate (if the vehicle is more than 3 years old) and a certificate of motor insurance, as well as - more surprisingly perhaps - a spare pair of spectacles. You are also required to carry a breathalyser kit in the car. (These are available in supermarkets for a couple of euros). The legislation for this law has been postponed several times so you won’t get fined if you don’t have one but we would advise you to carry two kits; one to check your own blood alcohol, and the other to show any overzealous policeman that you do have the kit in your car, as required.
If the requirements of motoring in France cause you any anxiety, then it might be worth considering car rental. If hiring a car on arrival, please note that a credit card is essential, no other form of payment is acceptable, not even cash. Be sure and check that the hire car desk will be open when you arrive at your destination airport.
As of June 2015, if you want to hire a car you will also need to have a code to show the car rental company so they can check the validity and penalties on your licence. This is issued by the DVLA online.
With car rental concessions for all the major car hire companies located at the airport, it couldn’t be easier. Not only will you have the advantage of not having to drive the whole length of France - nearly 1000 kilometres - but on arrival you will be driving a left-hand drive car, which certainly makes taking tickets from a motorway toll booth easier! Most of the southern French airports have car rental desks but we strongly recommend you pre-book to avoid disappointment.
A Quick Checklist:
V5 Log Book (‘La Carte Grise’)
MOT Certificate (if car is more than 3 years old)
GB sticker for car, trailer and caravan
Hi-viz jackets for all the family (to be kept inside the car)
Spare light bulbs
Spare set of glasses