Country-specific travel advice
Select the country you will be travelling in to see motoring information and advice, including any accessories you may need to purchase. Don't forget the RAC provides European breakdown cover while you're driving in Europe.
Driving in France
It is essential that motorists get to grips with these differences before taking a trip, in order to stay as safe as possible when using roads in France.
To make the experience as easy as possible we have outlined all of the information you need to know in one handy guide.
This guide covers:
- What are French 'clean air' stickers?
- Why have they been introduced?
- What areas and vehicles do they affect?
- When were they introduced?
- How much will it cost me and where do I buy them?
- What happens if I don't buy one?
If you are driving a vehicle or riding a motorcycle in France please take note of the latest regulations:
- For people that have less than three years of experience, the alcohol limit is 0.2 grams per litre. For experienced drivers and motorcyclists (more than three years' experience) the limit is 0.5 grams per litre.
- All drivers and riders have been prohibited from wearing headsets and headphones whilst driving, be it for music purposes or for phone calls. However, this does exclude motorcycle helmets that have integrated systems.
- As of January 2016, motorcyclists are required to have reflective jackets to be worn in the event of a breakdown or an emergency.
- Paris has introduced a Low Emission Zone which this means that although diesel and petrol lorries and buses made before 1997 have already been banned in Paris, also from July 2016, petrol and diesel cars registered before 1997 will also be banned from 8am to 8pm on weekdays. By 2020, only vehicles made in or after 2011 will be allowed.
Going away? Remember to take RAC Travel Insurance with you.
Important: As French motorways are privately managed, you are not allowed to request your own assistance company to attend to you if you break down. If you break down you should use the orange emergency telephones which are situated every 2km along main roads and motorways to call the police or the official breakdown service operating in that area. Alternatively, if no orange telephone is available motorists should call the emergency services be dialling 112.
You will be towed to a safe designated area where, in the case of those with RAC European Breakdown Cover, you can then be met by your chosen breakdown provider.
Charges for assistance on a motorway are fixed by the Government and are reviewed and revised each year. For the most part the Government-appointed towing service that tows you from the motorway do allow the RAC to pay them directly, however it is at the towing company's discretion. If you are an RAC customer and are asked to pay, please keep your receipt in order to be refunded by the RAC’s European customer care team.
The cost for recovery, correct as of 1 June 2016, is:
- €123.56 for vehicles 1.8t or under or €185.34 between the hours of 18:00 and 08:00, weekends and bank holidays
- €152.79 for vehicles 3.5t or under or €229.19 between the hours of 18:00 and 08:00, weekends and bank holidays
- For vehicles over 3.5t, the cost is at the towing service’s discretion
Visitors riding or driving in France must have reached the minimum age required to drive/ride a vehicle of equivalent category even if they are qualified to drive at a lower age in their country of residence.
A foreign driving licence does not entitle the holder to drive/ride a motor vehicle in France until the age of 18 years old.
Driving licences issued in EU and EEA countries are accepted.
International driving permits are recognised, but not required.
The French clean air stickers - called Crit'Air vignettes - are part of a six-category sticker system that applies to all motor vehicles in certain areas to identify what emissions they produce.
The six categories have six colours that denote how heavily polluting the vehicle is according to its Euro emissions standard, ranging from green for the cleanest, to black for the dirtiest.
The vignette, or sticker system has been introduced to reduce the emissions output in larger cities, so on days where certain cities are at risk of reaching their Euro emissions limit, heavily polluting vehicles can be refused entrance based on the Crit’Air sticker they are displaying on the windscreen.
The stickers are currently in use in Paris, Lyon and Grenoble.
They apply to all road vehicles including motorbikes and affect both French residents and foreign drivers.
Prices for stickers for foreign-registered vehicles have been set at €4.80 per vignette (as of 1 February 2017).
You can apply online for a sticker via the official Crit’Air website. You will need to know your vehicle’s European Emissions Standard - find out your car's European Emissions Standard using our helpful table.
From 31 March 2017, all foreign-registered vehicles must display an appropriate sticker, or face a fine.
Important: The RAC is aware of non-official, third party websites selling Crit’Air vignettes for more than seven times more than the rate set by the French government – motorists should ensure they only buy a sticker through the official Crit’Air website.
Fines of between €68 and €135 (between £59 and £117) are in place but we expect French police to be lenient in enforcing the new system during its introductory phase from January to March 2017.
Vehicles from the UK may be imported into France for up to 6 months in any period of 12 months. When driving in France the following documents should be carried:
- A full, valid driving licence
- Proof of insurance (third party or above)
- Proof of ID (Passport)
- Proof of ownership (V5C Certificate)
While driving in France you are required by law to carry the following items. You might like to consider purchasing a European driving kit from the RAC Shop. Hefty on-the-spot fines can be issued for failing to carry specific items including:
- Reflective jackets (one for each occupant, these must be kept inside the vehicle within easy reach)
- Warning triangle (compulsory in every vehicle with 4 wheels or more)
- Headlamp beam deflectors (depending on your car, you will either need deflector stickers or have to adjust the beam manually)
- Breathalysers/alcohol test (as of January 2013 the French government announced that the introduction of an €11 fine for not carrying one has been postponed indefinitely)
- A GB sticker (or euro plates featuring the GB initials)
Motorcyclists and their passengers must also wear safety helmets.
Paragraph 6.16 of ECE regulation 22-04 states that helmets should feature reflective elements.
However EU and EEA approved helmets without reflective elements are also acceptable, but only if they have been validated by the French authorities. If in doubt, foreign motorcycle riders are strongly recommended to use reflective stickers on their helmets.
As a general rule, drive on the right, overtake on the left. However, where traffic is in lanes, vehicles may overtake on the right of other vehicles in slower moving lanes.
On steep gradients, vehicles travelling downhill must give way to vehicles travelling uphill.
Overtaking trams in motion is normally permitted on the right only; it is permitted on the left in one way streets, if there is not enough space on the right.
At intersections, the driver of a vehicle must give way to vehicles approaching from their right, unless otherwise indicated.
Road users must give way to police and fire brigade vehicles and ambulances.
The horn may only be used in order to give necessary warning to other road users.
Between sunset and sunrise, warning must be given by flashing passing lights. The horn may be used only in cases of absolute necessity.
In all built-up areas, use of the horn is prohibited except in cases of immediate danger.
The use of multi-tone horns, sirens and whistles is prohibited.
It is prohibited to tow a motor vehicle except in the case of a breakdown or an accident and if the distance to be traveled is short. This practice is totally prohibited on motorways where the assistance of a recovery vehicle must be sought.
It is forbidden to carry people in a moving caravan.
It is compulsory for the driver and all passengers of private vehicles to wear seat belts, where available. The driver of the vehicle is responsible for ensuring that all passengers under 18 are wearing a seat belt or appropriate restraint.
The three-colour system conforms to the provisions of the Convention on Road Signs and Signals (red light on top). There is no amber light after the red light.
Flashing amber light indicates: caution, slow down, proceed but give way to vehicles coming from the right.
Flashing red light indicates: "no entry". It may also indicate a level crossing, exit used by fire engines, etc.
Yellow arrow at the same time as a red light indicates: motorists may proceed in the direction indicated by the arrow, provided they give way to vehicles travelling in the flow of traffic which they are entering and to pedestrians.
The following national speed limits apply:
|Motorways||Urban motorway or dual carriageway with a central reservation||Other roads||Built up areas|
|Normal traffic conditions||130 km/h||110 km/h||90 km/h||50 km/h|
|Rain or other precipitation||110 km/h||100 km/h||80 km/h||50 km/h|
|Visibility less than 50m||50 km/h||50 km/h||50 km/h||50 km/h|
- Vehicles in excess of 12 metric tons may not exceed 50 km/h in urban areas, 90 km/h on highways, and 80 km/h elsewhere.
- Vehicles under 12 metric tons but over 3.5 have the same limits except 90 km/h on motorways.
- Holders of EU driving licences exceeding the speed limit by more than 40 km/h will have their licences confiscated on the spot by the police.
- French law prohibits drivers from devices capable of detecting speed cameras and warning drivers of their location.
- Penalties can include fines of up to €1,500 and confiscation of the device and vehicle.
- This has recently been extended to include GPS-based systems capable of displaying fixed speed camera locations as points of interest.
The driver of the vehicle is responsible for ensuring that all passengers under 18 are wearing a seat belt or appropriate restraint.
Children under the age of 10 are not allowed to travel on the front seats of vehicles without using a special child restraint, unless there is no rear seat in the vehicle, or the rear seat is already occupied with children under 10, or there are no seat belts.
Unlike the UK the use of child car seats is not determined on height but on weight. Under French law, children up to the age of 10 must travel in an approved child seat or restraint.
|Group 0: < 10 kg||Rear-facing child seat placed either at the front passenger seat or at the back seat (if placed at the front, the airbag must be switched off). Babies can also travel in a carry cot (this can be placed at the rear seat only).|
|Group 0+: < 13 kg||Child restraints in this category are slightly bigger versions of those in Group 0. They must be installed under the same conditions as those in Group 0.|
|Group 1: 9 - 18 kg||Child seat with a harness or a protection tray.|
|Group 2: 15 - 25 kg||Booster seat or cushion with an adult seatbelt.|
|Group 3: 22 - 36 kg||Booster seat or cushion with an adult seatbelt.|
Visiting motorists should be warned that some French police authorities are authorised to impose and collect fines on the spot up to 375 EUR from drivers who violate traffic regulations.
If the offence committed is not likely to entail the suspension of the driving licence or a prison sentence, the motorist can pay a reduced fine within the next three days. If you would like to contest the fine, you must apply for a court hearing within 30 days.
If the offence committed is serious and likely to entail a heavy fine and the suspension of the driving licence or a prison sentence, a motorist who is not resident in France and has no employment there must deposit a guarantee. The police may hold his vehicle until payment is made. This payment can be in Euros, by cheque drawn on a French bank or by travellers' cheques.
Standard fines are classified into four categories according to the gravity of the offence. They can be reduced if payment is made within 15 days (in the case of postal payments, three days if paid in person) or increased if payment is not made within 45 days.
In some cases, instead of, or in addition to, a fine or prison sentence, the vehicle can be confiscated. The main offences for which it can be applied are:
- exceeding the speed limit by over 40 km/h
- repeated offence of driving under the influence of alcohol (0.50 mg per litre of breath)
- hit and run
- refusal to stop when requested
- driving without licence
- driving a vehicle with a licence of a category which does not cover that vehicle
- driving without insurance
Any of the above cases can result in the vehicle becoming the property of the French government.
Stopping and parking are permitted on the right-hand side only of roads with two lanes of traffic; in one-way streets, stopping and parking are permitted on both sides if the street is wide enough.
Restrictions and limitations are indicated by road signs or by yellow lines on the kerb. A continuous yellow line indicates that stopping and parking are prohibited. A broken yellow line indicates that parking is prohibited.
Road signs indicate the areas where parking is restricted and must be paid for, either at parking meters or automatic machines which issue tickets indicating the length of parking time which has been paid for.
Some machines take debit/credit cards “stationnement à la carte”.
Vehicles which are parked contrary to the regulations may be towed away and impounded, whether they are residents' cars or vehicles registered abroad. The owner is liable for the cost of impounding and for every 24 hours the vehicle is kept.
In Paris and some other large towns, illegally parked vehicles are immobilised by wheel clamps, even if the vehicles are registered abroad. The driver must go to the local police station and pay a fine for dangerous parking or for causing an obstruction, as well as a fine to have the vehicle released.
Parking discs for ‘blue zone’ parking areas can be obtained from police stations, tourist offices and some shops.
The maximum legal level of alcohol in the blood is 0.5 grams per litre except for bus and coach drivers who must have no more than 0.2 grams per litre of alcohol in the blood. For drivers with less than three years' experience the alcohol limit has been lowered from 0.5 grams per litre to 0.2 grams per litre.
The police are empowered to carry out random breath tests. A test is compulsory after an accident which has caused injury or when a driver has committed a serious motoring offence.
A driver involved in an accident, or who has committed a traffic offence such as speeding, not wearing a seatbelt or a helmet, must take a drugs test.
The police use saliva or urine tests to detect drivers under the influence of drugs. If positive, a blood test follows.
French motorways are operated by a variety of private companies, with most featuring tolls.
Tolls can be paid in cash or with a Mastercard or Visa card. (Maestro and Electron debit cards are not accepted)
There are three main types of service area in France:
Lay-by: parking area
Resting area: with toilets, drinking water, picnic area and playground
Service area: open 24 hours a day with petrol station, restaurants and shops
Unleaded petrol, diesel oil and lubricating oil are readily available throughout France. Historically, there have been times of fuel shortages in some parts of France. The website Mon Essence (in French) provides a map indicating current known shortages.
Credit cards are generally accepted at petrol stations.
There are now many automatic petrol pumps operated by credit or debit cards. However cards issued abroad are not always accepted by these petrol pumps.
- Still current at:
- 28th Feb 2017
- Updated at:
- 27th Feb 2017
- Latest update:
- Latest update: Summary – removal of information and advice for fans on the Manchester United match against Saint-Étienne on 22 February and also about migrants in and around Calais
Information and advice for British nationals travelling and living in Europe, following the result of the EU referendum.
In mid-February, there were a number of violent demonstrations against the police in the suburbs of Saint Denis and in north-eastern Paris. Further demonstrations may occur. Follow police advice and stay well away from any protests.
There is a high threat from terrorism. Due to ongoing threats to France by Islamist terrorist groups, and recent French military intervention against Daesh (formerly referred to as ISIL), the French government has warned the public to be especially vigilant and has reinforced its security measures.
The French government has launched a free smartphone app to alert users about possible security incidents, including all major natural, technological and terrorist-related risks. Users will be able to view alerts for up to eight geographical areas. The app, called SAIP (Système d’alerte et d’information des populations), is available in English and French. You can download the app by entering the term ‘SAIP’ in the Apple App store or Google Play.
From 16 January 2017, all vehicles – including motorbikes – driving in central Paris from 8am to 8pm on Monday to Friday will need to display a special ‘pollution sticker’. If you have a vehicle registered in France, you can apply for a sticker now on the French Ministry of Environment website.
Some older vehicles don’t qualify for a sticker at all due to their high emissions; these vehicles can’t be driven in central Paris at all from 8am to 8pm on Monday to Friday. See this table for more information. For vehicles registered outside France, a special website (in English) will be available to submit applications from early February 2017.
If you’re crossing the Channel, check the website of your chosen operator before you set off. In the event of any disruption, information about alternative routes and operators is available via this interactive map.
Around 17 million British nationals visit France every year. Most visits are trouble-free. The most common problem reported is pick-pocketing. See Safety and security
You should apply for a free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) before you travel. If you already have an EHIC, make sure it hasn’t expired. Some medical costs aren’t covered by the EHIC so you should also take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel. See Health
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.
The Emergency phone number in France is 112.
British Embassy in Paris
35, rue du Faubourg St Honoré
Telephone: +33 (0) 1 44 51 31 00
Fax: +33 (0) 1 44 51 31 09
British Consulate in Bordeaux
353, Boulevard du President Wilson
Telephone: +33 (0)5 57 22 21 10
Fax: +33 (0)5 56 08 33 12
British Consulate in Marseille
24, Avenue du Prado
Telephone: +33 (0) 4 91 15 72 10
Fax: +33 (0) 4 91 37 47 06