Driving advice for every country in Europe

Find up-to-date driving laws and advice for any country in Europe before you visit, 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

France
Population: 65.6m
Area: 543,965 square kilometres
Currency: Euro (EUR) € = 100 cents
Driving and riding in France are vastly different experiences to driving and riding in the UK.

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.

Here are some quick links to help you jump to the guide's different sections:

A summary of the latest regulations

Essential information

What are French 'clean air' stickers and do I need one?

Things to take

Rules of the road

Travelling with children

Penalties

Parking

Drink- and drug-driving

Tolls

Service areas

Availability of fuel

A summary of the latest regulations

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. Both are lower than the UK limit of 0.8 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.
  • You now need a Crit'Air sticker displayed on your car when travelling to certain cities. It costs £3.60 and drivers face an on-the-spot fine of almost £120 if they don’t have one.

Going away? Remember to take RAC Travel Insurance with you.

Essential information

In an emergency

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 April 2017, is:

  • €123.90 for vehicles 1.8 tonnes or under or €185.85 between the hours of 18:00 and 08:00, weekends and bank holidays
  • €153.21 for vehicles 3.5t or under or €229.82 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

European breakdown cover

Wherever you end up on holiday, we’ve got you covered

Driving licence laws

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.

 

French 'clean air' stickers (Crit'Air vignettes)

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.

They were introduced in late 2016.

Click here to find out when you need a French clean air sticker and how to purchase one.

 

Things to take

Documents

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)
  • Registration document (V5C Certificate)

Other items

When driving in France you are required by law to carry the following items:

  • 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, however, law still states that drivers of motor vehicles and motorcyclist must have an alcotest ready for use in their vehicle even though no penalty will be imposed if they cannot present one during a police road check)
  • A GB sticker (or ‘euro’ registration plates featuring the GB initials)
  • Spare bulbs - by law you’re also mandated to carry a spare bulb kit for your vehicle, as 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.

European driving kit will have all of these items - a simple purchase from £20 which can help  you avoid hefty on-the-spot fines.

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.

 

Rules of the road

Overtaking and passing

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.

Who has priority?

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.

Warning of approach

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.

Towing

It is prohibited to tow a motor vehicle except in the case of a breakdown or an accident and if the distance to be travelled 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.

Seat belts

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.

Headphones in cars

As of March 2017, it is illegal to drive a car in France using headphones or earphones. The offence is liable to a €90 on-the-spot fine. Be sure to take off the headphones once you cross the channel.

Traffic lights

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.

Speed limits

The following national speed limits apply:

MotorwaysUrban motorway or dual carriageway with a central reservationOther roadsBuilt up areas
Normal traffic conditions130 km/h110 km/h90 km/h50 km/h
Rain or other precipitation110 km/h100 km/h80 km/h50 km/h
Visibility less than 50m50 km/h50 km/h50 km/h50 km/h
  • Vehicles in excess of 12 metric tonnes may not exceed 50 km/h in urban areas, 90 km/h on highways, and 80 km/h elsewhere.
  • Vehicles under 12 metric tonnes but over 3.5 tonnes 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.

Travelling with children

The driver of the vehicle is responsible for ensuring that all passengers under 18 are wearing a seat belt or appropriate restraint.

Child car seats

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 or less than 1.4 metres tall must travel in an approved child seat or restraint.

Weight
Group 0: < 10 kgRear-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 kgChild 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 kgChild seat with a harness or a protection tray.
Group 2: 15 - 25 kgBooster seat or cushion with an adult seatbelt.
Group 3: 22 - 36 kgBooster seat or cushion with an adult seatbelt.

Bicycle helmets

A new law for March 2017 is also worth being aware of: children aged under 12 must wear a helmet when cycling - both when riding themselves, or as a passenger. The parent or guardian faces a €90 fine for breaking this new law.

Penalties

On-the-spot fines

Visiting motorists should be warned that some French police authorities are authorised to impose and collect fines on the spot up to €750 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 or her vehicle until payment is made. This payment can be in euros, by cheque drawn on a French bank or by travellers' cheques.

Minimum and maximum fines

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.

Confiscation of vehicles

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 a licence
  • Driving a vehicle with a category of licence thatof 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.

The EU Cross-Border Enforcement Directive

A new EU cross-border directive comes into effect in the UK in May, which is aimed at tracking down people who commit traffic offences in cars that are registered in an EU Member State different to where the offence was committed.

This means if you commit a speeding, or any other drving offence abroad, now the crime will effectively follow you back home to the UK where you can still be prosecuted.

Parking

Regulations

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 that issue tickets indicating the length of parking time paid for.

Some machines take debit/credit cards “stationnement à la carte”.

Enforcement of parking regulations

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.

Disabled parking access

There are spaces reserved for the disabled. In Paris, free parking is allowed where a fee is normally payable.

In principle, the disabled badge gives the holder permission to park his/her vehicle in a designated space, it does not mean that he/she can park free of charge in a fee paying zone.

Generally, a disabled motorist may park without time limit on roads where parking is free but restricted by time.

In general, the responsibility for parking concessions rests with the local authorities, but the police are required to show consideration for parking by the disabled, provided that they do not cause obstruction.

Drink- and drug-driving

Legal limit

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.

Alcohol

The police are empowered to carry out random breath tests. A test is compulsory after an accident that has caused injury or when a driver has committed a serious motoring offence.

Drugs

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 the test is positive, a blood test follows.

 

Tolls

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)

 

Service areas

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

 

Availability of fuel

Unleaded petrol, diesel fuel 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.

Means of payment

Credit cards are generally accepted at petrol stations.

Automatic petrol pumps

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.

 

*Price for 1 day cover for up to 9 people travelling in a vehicle up to 1 year old in Zone 1.
RAC European Breakdown cover arranged and administered by RAC Financial Services Limited (Registered No 05171817) and provided by RAC Insurance Ltd (Registered No 2355834). Registered in England; Registered Offices: RAC House, Brockhurst Crescent, Walsall WS5 4AW. RAC Financial Services Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in respect of insurance mediation activities. RAC Insurance Ltd is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

 
Source: Information in this document is sourced from the AIT (Alliance Internationale de Tourisme) & the FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) and, to the best of the RAC’s knowledge, is correct at the time of publication (April 2017).
Still current at:
22nd Sep 2017
Updated at:
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Latest update:
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British Embassy in Paris

British Embassy
35, rue du Faubourg St Honoré
75383 PARIS

Telephone: +33 (0) 1 44 51 31 00
Fax: +33 (0) 1 44 51 31 09

Website: http://www.amb-grandebretagne.fr/

British Consulate in Bordeaux

British Consulate
353, Boulevard du President Wilson
33073 BORDEAUX

Telephone: +33 (0)5 57 22 21 10
Fax: +33 (0)5 56 08 33 12

British Consulate in Marseille

British Consulate
24, Avenue du Prado
13006 MARSEILLE

Telephone: +33 (0) 4 91 15 72 10
Fax: +33 (0) 4 91 37 47 06