But with differing traffic laws across the English Channel, do you know the regulations and what you need to legally carry for a jaunt to France? Here are our top 10 tips for driving in France.
(For a more extensive guide offering an indepth look into everything from what documents you might need to rules of the road to traffic news and embassy information our full driving in France country advice page has you covered.)
1. High visibility jacket
A high visibility vest (one per passenger) must be carried inside the passenger compartment of your vehicle in case of a car breakdown. Don’t dismiss this as a silly rule – the French police will stop English-registered vehicles to check they have the correct equipment for driving in France. If you breakdown on the motorway or need to repair a puncture, make sure you wear it if you step out of the vehicle or you could risk a hefty fine.
2. Warning triangle
Along with a high-vis vest for all of the car’s occupants, a warning triangle is a legal requirement in France. Most modern cars now come with one fitted as standard, but don’t rely upon the manufacturer giving you one. Always check if there’s one present in your car – besides, it is an excellent way of warning traffic of your stranded vehicle ahead should you experience difficulty.
3. Spare bulbs
By law you’re also mandated to carry a spare bulb kit for your vehicle should you have a failure – while most motorists in the UK would get a broken bulb fixed as soon as possible, the French police deem it necessary to replace it there and then on the grounds of safety. For a few pounds to buy a kit, you could avoid unwanted attention and a fine.
4. Headlight beam adjusters
Modern car’s headlights are set up to point towards the nearside – or kerbside – of the vehicle. A right-hand drive car on the right-hand side of the carriage way means this could blind oncoming traffic at night. Either adjust the angle of your headlights, or fit headlight beam adjusters to compensate and help improve safety by increasing visibility on the nearside.
5. Breathalyser kit
All drivers and motorcyclists will have to carry a personal breathalyser kit, with at least two disposable testing units. The kits are relatively cheap and can be picked up for around five pounds or less – don’t go for a cheap internet item though, or if you do, make sure it meets NF standards (similar to BSI here in the UK). Update - as of January 2013 the French government announced that the introduction of an €11 fine has been postponed indefinitely.
6. Lower drink-drive limit
Following on from this, beware of the lower blood-alcohol limit in France. In the UK you’re allowed up to 80mg per 100ml of blood. Compare that to the French limit of 50mg per 100ml of blood – and although it’s not an exact science – you’re affective legal alcohol consumption is nearly halved. Does that extra drink seem worth it now?
7. Speed limits
Just like the UK, there are set speed limits for rural and urban areas that do not always feature repeated signage. Be mindful of your surroundings and adjust your driving accordingly. As a general guideline, built up areas are usually 50kph, but can be reduced to 30 in residential areas. Trunk roads are 70kph, while motorways are 130kph (unless otherwise directed) in the dry and 110kph in the wet.
8. Child passengers
One to note, children under 10 aren’t allowed to ride in the passenger seat, so unfortunately young kids will have to ride in the back even if they’re feeling a little queasy. Babies up to nine months in a rear-facing child seat are an exception to the rule, however.
9. Radar detectors
Radar detectors used to hunt out mobile speed guns are illegal in France and if you’re caught carrying one – even in the boot – you’ll be met by very strict punishment. This is one transgression the French police don’t take kindly to and you leave yourself open to a minimum €2,000 fine if you break it.
10. Odd driving practices
Be mindful of old French driving customs, such as giving way to traffic making its way onto a roundabout. In the most part, this tradition has died out, but some French motorists still abide by the former law, meaning they’ll dart out onto the traffic island without warning.
The important thing to remember is to be vigilant when driving in Europe if you’re heading out there this summer. The traffic laws and conventions are different to that here in the UK so heightened concentration and careful planning will go a long way. Finally, it may sound simple but it often gets overlooked: make sure you drive on the right.