Driving advice for every country in Europe

From required documents to European breakdown cover and vehicle accessories, find all the up-to-date driving laws and advice for every country in Europe in our travel guides.

Driving in France

France
Population: 67.1m
Area: 549,970 square kilometres
Currency: Euro (EUR) € = 100 cents
With swathes of stunning countryside and vibrant cities to explore, it’s no wonder that France is such a popular destination for driving holidays. But if you’re planning a road trip, it’s essential you understand how driving in France differs to the UK.

To make your trip to mainland Europe as safe and stress-free as possible, we’ve put together a guide to everything you need to know before you go, from required documents to rules of the road. 

For starters, it's a good idea to get RAC European Breakdown Cover before you go. It will give you a wide range of benefits should you break down in France to make sure you stay safe. You can get cover for a single trip abroad or throughout the year if you travel to France on a regular basis.

As with any holiday, you should have travel insurance for your trip to France.

Need insurance for your road trip? Our temporary car insurance product is perfect if you're looking for flexible and comprehensive cover for between 1 hour and 30 days.

European Breakdown Cover

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Get covered when driving in Europe for just £4.17 a day*.

*Price is based on European Comprehensive breakdown cover for a 14-day trip, in a vehicle up to 1 year old.

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Advice for driving in France

In an emergency

Emergency telephones linked to an SOS telephone network are installed at 2km intervals along motorways. 

112 - Here's a really important bit of knowledge; you can dial 112 from anywhere in Europe and an operator will connect you to an emergency service in the country you're visiting.

Operators can answer your call in their native language, English or French

Whether you have RAC European Breakdown Cover or not, read our guide on what to do if you breakdown in France so you are ready for any emergency. 

Driving licence laws in France

Visitors must be aged 18 or over and hold a full, valid driving licence to legally drive in France. Riders of mopeds or motorcycles up to 125cc must be aged 16 or over.

Driving licences issued in the UK, the EU and EEA countries are accepted. International driving permits are recognised but not required. 

Key things to take when driving in France

Eiffel tower

If you are driving a vehicle or riding a motorcycle in France please take note of some mandatory and recommended items to bring with you.

  • UK sticker - from 28th September 2021, the distinuishing mark (or national identifier) displayed on vehicles registered in the United Kingdom that are driven abroad hav changed from GB to UK. This means that vehicles registered in the UK, must display the letters 'UK' when driving in France.
  • Mandatory items by law - reflective jackets, warning triangle, headlamp beam deflectors, snow chains when driving through 'snow zones' and safety helmets for motorcyclists and their passengers.
  • Camping Card International - if you are camping this is worth carrying for additional proof of identity, third party liability insurance, plus discounts at a wide range of campsites.
  • Clean air stickers - you 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. Find out more about France's emissions rules here.

A French driving kit will have the items you need - so pick one up today to help you avoid hefty on-the-spot fines.

Is there anything that I shouldn't take with me?

Be aware that you cannot take the following with you into France:

  • meat or products containing meat
  • milk or dairy products

You cannot take the following unless you pay to have them inspected before you leave and get a ‘phytosanitary certificate’:

  • fresh fruit (apart from bananas, coconuts, dates, pineapples and durians)
  • vegetables
  • plants
  • plant products

Documents for driving in France

Vehicles from the UK can be temporarily imported into France for up to six months in any period of 12 months. In order to stay on the right side of the law, the following documents should always be carried:

  • Full, valid UK driving licence
  • Proof of ID (passport)
  • Motor insurance certificate
  • V5 registration document

Hiring a car? You may want to consider car hire excess insurance – it could be cheaper than waiting to add it when you collect your car. 

Driving in France Kit from £24.49

Did you know you could be fined up to €530 for not carrying the right kit with you in France?

Driving in France Kit from £24.49
Driving in France Kit from £24.49

French rules of the road

Driving in France has some local rules that differ from the UK to be aware of:

  • Overtaking: 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, you must give way to vehicles approaching from your right, unless otherwise indicated. Drivers approaching a roundabout must give way to traffic already on the roundabout. You must also give way to emergency vehicles with flashing lights and sirens.
  • Warning of approach: Horns may only be used 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.

Seat belt law in France

  • If seat belts are fitted to your car, they must be worn by both drivers and passengers. The driver has a responsibility to ensure that all passengers under the age of 18 are suitably restrained in the car.
  • The fine for failing to wear a seat belt is set at €135, reduced to €90 if paid within 15 days. 

Traffic lights

  • The international three-colour traffic light system is used France. However, there is no amber light after the red light.
  • A flashing amber light indicates caution, slow down or proceed but give way to vehicles coming from the right.
  • A flashing red light indicates no entry. It may also indicate a level crossing or exit used by emergency vehicles.
  • If a red light is accompanied by a yellow arrow, you may proceed in the direction indicated by the arrow, provided you give way to vehicles travelling in that direction, as well as to pedestrians.

The EU Cross-Border Enforcement Directive

An EU cross-border directive came into effect in the UK in May 2017. This 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 driving offence abroad, the crime will effectively follow you back home to the UK, where you can still be prosecuted.

Find out more on the lesser-known aspects of driving in France.

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French speed limits

France uses the metric system for all road signs, meaning speed limits and other road signs including distance are indicated using kilometres and metres.

Speed limits are lowered in rain and other adverse weather conditions, while special speed restrictions apply to certain classes of vehicle, including coaches and cars with trailers, so check before travel.

There is a minimum speed limit of 80 km/h on motorways for vehicles travelling in the outside lane.

The following national speed limits apply:

MotorwaysPriority roads and dual carriagewaysOther roadsBuilt up areas
Normal traffic conditions130 km/h110 km/h80 km/h50 km/h
Rain or other precipitation110 km/h100 km/h70 km/h50 km/h
Visibility less than 50m50 km/h50 km/h50 km/h50 km/h
  • 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 speed limit on many A and B roads in France have been reduced to 80km/h (50mph) – in a bid to save up to 400 lives a year. This came into effect from July 1 2018.

French speeding fines

The standard fine for breaking the speed limit in France is €135, with points added to your licence depending on how much the limit is exceeded by.

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.

Speed camera detectors in France

French law prohibits drivers from using devices capable of detecting speed cameras and warning drivers of their location. In France, you could have to pay a massive fine of €1,500 if caught.

Find out more about driving offences in Europe here.

Travelling with children in France

Drivers are responsible for ensuring that all passengers under 18 are wearing a seat belt or appropriate restraint.

Child car seat rules France

Children under the age of 10 are not allowed to travel in the front seats of vehicles without using a special child restraint, unless there is no rear seat, the rear seat is already occupied with children under 10 or there are no seat belts.

Children up to the age of 10 must travel in an approved child seat or restraint, adapted to their age and size. European regulations classify child restraints in five different groups according to the child's weight:

WeightSeat rule
Group 0: < 10 kgRear-facing child seat placed either at front passenger seat (airbag switched off) or back seat. Babies can also travel in a carry cot on the rear seat only
Group 0+: < 13 kgThese 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 5-point harness or a protection tray
Group 2: 15 - 25 kgBooster seat or cushion with an adult seat belt
Group 3: 22 - 36 kgBooster seat or cushion with an adult seat belt

Taxis are exempt but in other vehicles, a fine is levied if a child is not restrained.

Driving a camper van and towing a caravan in France

Camper vans are not allowed to exceed 12 metres in length, and 2.55 metres in width. There are no height restrictions.

Cars with caravans are not allowed to exceed a combined 18.75 metres in length, and 2.55 metres in width. There are no height restrictions.

Loads on vehicles with two axles mustn’t exceed 19 tonnes. While weights at single axles mustn’t exceed 12 tonnes.

Towing in France

On a standard driving licence, motorists are allowed to tow a trailer with a maximum authorised mass of 750kg, including the trailer and its load.

You’re not allowed to tow a motor vehicle except in the event of a breakdown or an accident and if the distance to be travelled is short. This practice is banned on motorways where the assistance of a recovery vehicle must be sought.

It is forbidden to carry people in a moving caravan.

It’s illegal to tow another motor vehicle except in the case of a breakdown or an accident and if the distance to be travelled is short.

Please note: The Department for Transport advises that A-frames are not legal for use by UK campers and caravanners abroad. In practice, this could mean towing your car while it’s fixed to a trailer.**

Caravan / trailer speed limits

The maximum speed for a car towing a caravan or trailer depends on their total weight:

MotorwaysPriority roads and dual carriagewaysOther roadsBuilt up areas
Under 3.5t130 km/h110 km/h80 km/h50 km/h
3.5t to 12t90 km/h90 km/h80 km/h50 km/h
Over 12t90 km/h80 km/h60 km/h50 km/h

If the weight of the trailer exceeds that of the car, the speed limits are lower as follows:

  • If the excess is less than 30%: 65 km/h
  • If the excess is more than 30%: 45 km/h

In these cases, a disc showing maximum speed must be displayed on the rear of caravan/trailers. They may not be driven in the fast lane of a 3 lane motorway.

Motorhome / minibus speed limits

The maximum speed for a motorhome, minibus or any other vehicle used for the transport of people only also depends on their total weight:

MotorwaysPriority roads and dual carriagewaysOther roadsBuilt up areas
Under 3.5t130 km/h110 km/h80 km/h50 km/h
3.5t to 12t110 km/h100 km/h80 km/h50 km/h
Over 12t90 km/h80 km/h80 km/h50 km/h

Penalties and fines in France

nice france

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 want 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 in France

Standard fines are classified into four categories according to the gravity of the offence, ranging from €11 to €750. 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 this can be applied to are:

  • Exceeding the speed limit by over 50 km/h
  • Repeated offence of driving under the influence of alcohol (0.40 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 that 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.

Parking in France

Much like it is across the continent, there are some different parking rules and regulations in France.

  • 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 allowed 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.
  • Enforcement of parking regulations. Vehicles that are parked illegally may be towed away and impounded, even if 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. 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.
  • Paid parking, 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'.
  • 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. The responsibility for parking concessions usually rests with the local authorities, but the police are required to show consideration for parking by the disabled, provided they do not cause obstruction.

Alcohol limit in France

The maximum legal level of alcohol in the blood for drivers of private vehicles is 0.05% blood alcohol content. That's lower than the 0.08% in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but the same as Scotland.

For bus and coach drivers, as well as newly qualified drivers with less than three years' experience, the limit is 0.02%.

Random breath tests

The police have the power 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.

A driver involved in an accident, or who has committed a traffic offence such as speeding or not wearing a seat belt, 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.

Hiring a car in France

Not all of the information in the guide above will be relevant to those looking to rent a hire car in France. Though it might be a good idea to read through everything anyway, here are the most important things to know for drivers of rental vehicles.

Rental information

  • The minimum age to hire a car is 21, although this may vary depending on the vehicle type
  • You need a full, valid UK driving licence and usually a second proof of ID (passport)
  • Car rental companies ask that you have held your licence for a minimum term of 1 year
  • Some companies may require you to use a credit card for a deposit
  • You may not be able to drive outside Spain unless planned in advance - check with your hire company first
  • Make sure you get car hire excess insurance before your trip to protect yourself from unexpected costs. It's almost always cheaper to do this with a seperate insurer and in advance
European Breakdown Cover

European Breakdown Cover

Get covered when driving in Europe for just £4.17 a day*.

*Price is based on European Comprehensive breakdown cover for a 14-day trip, in a vehicle up to 1 year old.

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Driving in France FAQs

  • Do I need a GB/Uk sticker to drive in France?

    You will need to display a UK sticker on the rear of your car. GB stickers have been discontinued.

  • Do I need a fire extinguisher to drive in France?

    No, it’s not compulsory to carry a fire extinguisher in private cars in France. Public transport vehicles with more than nine seats must have at least one on board though.

  • Do I need a breathalyser to drive in France?

    Strictly speaking, you’re required to have a breathalyser kit in your vehicle when driving in France, but the reality is that no penalty will be imposed if you can’t present one during a police road check.

  • What does rappel mean on French road signs?

    You may sometimes see the word ‘rappel’ under a speed limit sign on French roads. It’s just a reminder that you’re still in that speed zone and should already be at the limit. It’s not informing you that it’s changing to a new limit.

  • Do I need my V5 to drive in France?

    Yes, you will need to take the original vehicle registration V5 document (log book) with you to prove you’re the legal owner of the vehicle.

  • Do I need headlamp converters in France?

    Yes. Depending on your car, you will either need deflector stickers or have to adjust the beam manually. This is so you don’t dazzle oncoming traffic when driving on the right side of the road at night.

  • How much are tolls in France?

    The amount you pay will depend on the autoroutes you take and how long you stay on them. Costs also depend on the type of vehicle you’re driving, while those towing caravans also pay more.

    Visit https://www.viamichelin.com to calculate the cost of your journey.

  • Can you turn right on red in France?

    No, not unless there is a yellow arrow pointing to the right. Be aware, however, that the yellow arrow does not give you right of way.

  • What is the national speed limit in France?

    The normal speed limit on French motorways is 130km/h (just over 80mph). If you’re on a main road outside a built-up area, the speed limit is now 80km/h after the law changed in 2018, and for built-up areas it’s 50km/h. In rain, speed limits are lowered.

  • Do I need an International Driving Permit for France?

    As a general rule, all valid UK photocard driving licences should be accepted in other EU/EEA countries so it’s not necessary to have an International Driving Permit for France.

  • Do I need snow chains in France?

    Winter tyres aren’t required by law in France, but snow chains must be fitted to vehicles using snow-covered roads in mountainous regions in compliance with local road signs or conditions. So, if you’re visiting in winter, it’s recommended you carry them with you.

  • How old do you have to be to drive in France?

    To legally drive in France, you must be 18 years or older and in possession of a full valid driving licence.

  • How do you pay for toll roads in France?

    On most toll roads, you take a ticket when you enter the motorway and pay the fee when you exit at a booth with a green arrow. Simply insert your ticket into the machine and it will show you how much you need to pay. You can either pay by cash or credit card.

    If you regularly use toll roads, it’s worth signing up to the Telepeage scheme which takes you through the fast lane without having to stop and pay.

  • Can you pay cash at French tolls?

    Yes, tolls can be paid in euro notes and coins. You can also use a Mastercard or Visa card. Debit cards Maestro and Electron are not accepted, however.

  • Does France require a vignette?

    To drive in certain cities, you will need to display a vehicle emissions sticker on your windscreen, known as a Crit’Air vignette. There are six categories of sticker, which are colour-coded according to how much vehicles pollute. They range from the cleanest (Crit’Air 1) for electric vehicles to the most polluting (Crit’Air 6).

  • How do roundabouts work in France?

    Traffic flows anti-clockwise round roundabouts in France, not clockwise as in the UK.

    Drivers approaching a roundabout indicated by a triangular sign with a red border and three arrows forming a circle in the centre must give way to traffic already on the roundabout. In the absence of a sign, the rule of priority for vehicles coming from the right applies.

  • Does France use mph or kph?

    France uses the metric system for all road signs, so speed limits and other signs including distance are shown in kilometres and metres.

  • Is it compulsory to carry a spare wheel in France?

    There is no legal requirement to carry a spare wheel as most cars no longer have them. However, you should make sure you check all your tyres before setting off. All motor vehicles and their trailers must have tyres with a minimum tread depth of 1.6mm.

  • Can I drive in France with a paper UK licence

    Your licence is recognised in France for as long as it is valid. Paper licences are usually valid until you are 70. For plastic photocard licences, the expiry date is on the front.

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

European Breakdown Cover

European Breakdown Cover

Get covered when driving in Europe for just £4.17 a day*.

*Price is based on European Comprehensive breakdown cover for a 14-day trip, in a vehicle up to 1 year old.

European Breakdown Cover

^£11 a month is for existing Camping and Caravanning Club members purchasing new personal based Caravan or Campervan Standard cover only on a monthly renewing contract. Personal based Motorhome standard cover from £12 a month.