10 lesser-known French road rules you’ll need to follow on your trip

10 lesser-known French road rules you’ll need to follow on your trip
From its glamorous Riviera to the sweeping mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees, France has a diverse range of great destinations just begging to be explored.

And since driving through France from the comfort of your own car is the best way to experience the country, make sure you're aware of the different motoring rules you’ll need to follow.

To help you out, here’s an overview of the quirkier French motoring rules you might not know about.

1. Right of way on French roundabouts

Approaching a roundabout when driving on the other side of the road can be a little daunting at first, but it shouldn't put you off driving.

On most roundabouts, the standard cédez le passage – give way – is in place. This means that you give way to traffic already on the roundabout or about to join from your left – the same way it works back home.

But on a (thankfully decreasing!) number of roundabouts you will actually need to give way to vehicles entering the roundabout even if you’re already on it. 

french-road-signs-guide-priority-junction

This sign indicates that there is a junction (or roundabout) coming up ahead and that you don’t have priority, so you should slow down and be prepared to give way to vehicles joining the roundabout. Don't worry, these old-style roundabouts are quite rare, and once you have one under your belt, they'll be like second nature.

2. New offence cameras 

 

Before too long it might not just be speeding motorists that get snapped on France’s roads. This year sees brand new ‘Mesta Fusion’ cameras being rolled out across the country.

Although they’ll start off focusing on speed, Mesta Fusion cameras are capable of catching drivers breaking other road rules like tailgating, driving in a bus lane or on the hard shoulder and using a phone behind the wheel.

A recent survey by RAC Europe found that just 14% of UK drivers know about these cameras, so don’t get caught out on your next road trip! 

3. Mandatory breathalysers 

With all that great French beer, wine and cider available it’s tempting to try all the local tipples you can find. But resist the temptation to drink if you know you’re going to be driving, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the local roads.

To stay on the right side of the law, all motorists actually need to carry a portable breathalyser with them. While it’s unlikely you’ll face a fine if you don’t have one, it’s a sensible idea to carry one just in case. 

Check out the RAC driving in France kit which carries the NF approved breathalyser you’ll need to comply with this rule.

Driving in France Kit from £24.99

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

4. Breakdown fees for French motorways

French motorways are privately owned, which means if you break down on them you’ll have no choice but to use an emergency phone to contact the operator’s recovery team, who’ll tow you to a designated safe area, where you can call the RAC for help.

Because these roads are private you’ll have to pay a fee of at least €126 to get towed. This fee is sometimes even greater depending on the time or day of the week you break down – but don’t worry, if you’ve got RAC European Breakdown Cover you can get this fee reimbursed when back in the UK.

5. Using headphones is illegal

lesser-known-france-driving-rules-headphones

 

Whether you’re bopping along to Phoenix or Sacha Distel’s back-catalogue as you wind through the French campagne, make sure it’s on your car stereo, not through a headset.

Using headphones behind the wheel is actually illegal in France – something that just 38% of UK drivers identified in the RAC Europe survey – and if you’re caught you could face a fine, so keep your headphones in the glovebox.

6. Civil enforcement

As in the UK, France has several local community groups across the country who use speed guns in an attempt to deter motorists from speeding through their local towns and villages. These community groups then hand over their findings to the police, who will contact the registered keepers (drivers).

But, unlike in the UK, the French police can then issue fines or worse on the back of the community reports – so stay on the right side of the law and avoid an unwanted ticket in the post!

7. Private radar cars

Alongside speed cameras and local community groups with speed guns, following a successful trial in 2018 the French government also have plans to roll out the use of private radar-enabled cars across the country.

These unmarked cars operated by private companies recorded more than 12,000 speeding offences during a 12-month trial in the northern region of Normandy.

Although we should all be following French speed limits anyway – it’s worth being aware that these extra mobile speed camera vehicles will be on the roads so be especially careful to stick to the speed limits during your trip.

8. You might need clean air stickers in French cities

French-driving-rules-clean-air-sticker

 

In a bid to tackle air pollution, France has introduced a multi-category sticker system called Crit’Air that identifies a vehicle’s environmental impact. There are six different coloured stickers in total, and each relate to your vehicle’s Euro emissions standards.

Some cities, like Paris, have permanent low-emissions zones while other areas impose temporary low-emissions zones when air pollution is dangerously high.

Restrictions are based on your vehicle’s Crit’Air sticker, and you face fines for not having one attached to your car at all.  

For more information, read our definitive guide to Crit’Air clean air stickers

9. Fines may follow you home 

Think you can avoid picking up any motoring fines simply by driving back home to the UK? Think again. An EU cross-border directive came into effect in the UK in May 2017 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.

If you commit a driving offence in France or any other EU country, the crime will effectively follow you back home to the UK where you can still be prosecuted. Find out the eye-watering amounts you could be charged for commiting a range of motoring offences in our guide: Driving offences abroad – a guide to fines in Europe.

10. Black Saturday

And finally... It’s not a motoring law or anything to do with festive discounts, but you might want to read up on the ominously named ‘Black Saturday’ when planning your trip. 

According to the French highways agency, CNIR, ‘Black Saturday’ is shorthand for the few days of the year when roads in France are at their busiest.

These so-called ‘black’ days occur throughout the year and are linked to the holidaying habits of the locals (when French schools break up, for example), but the situation is often exacerbated by motorists from the UK and other EU countries.

Here's some info on these high-congestion days so that you can factor them into your plans:

 

Black Saturdays

Saturday 3rd August 2019

  • Extremely heavy traffic expected: On routes heading south from Paris to the coasts and major cities
  • Very heavy traffic expected: On routes heading north from the south west and south east of France, specifically away from Auvergne- Rhône -Alpes, Sud-Ouest and Arc Méditerranéen

Saturday 10th August 2019

  • Extremely heavy traffic expected: On routes heading towards the south west and south east of France, specifically towards Auvergne- Rhône -Alpes, Sud-Ouest and Arc Méditerranéen
  • Very heavy traffic expected: On all other routes heading south from Paris to the coasts and major cities
    On routes heading north from the south west and south east of France, specifically away from Auvergne- Rhône -Alpes, Sud-Ouest and Arc Méditerranéen

 

Try not to be put off by this alarming map, there are plenty of alternative routes, so the entire country won't be in gridlock as this suggests...

 

black-saturday-france-traffic-3-august

 

The story is a little more positive for the 10th, but if you can be flexible with the days you're planning to travel, you'll dodge the worst of the traffic.

 

black-saturday-france-traffic-10-august

 

Other particularly busy weekends

Saturday 17th August 2019

  • Very heavy traffic expected: On routes heading towards the south west and south east of France, specifically towards Sud-Ouest and Arc Méditerranéen
    On all routes heading north from the coasts and major cities towards Paris 

Saturday 24th August 2019

  • Very heavy traffic expected: On all routes heading north from the coasts and major cities towards Paris 

 

Don’t let this stand in the way of your trip! If you can’t avoid travelling on one of these days, there are some great detours you can take. Always check your route ahead of time to avoid the worst of the holiday traffic.

European Cover from just £6 per day^

​The RAC provide you with up to £1,250 worth of roadside assistance in Europe, starting from just £6^ per day.

What do I need to remember before driving in France?

Driving on the other side of the Channel is different from driving in the UK, so before grabbing your beret, prepare yourself and your car for France’s driving laws and requirements.

These range from carrying warning triangles and hi-vis vests to Crit’Air clean air stickers, while motorists should also remember that the French drive on the right and have different speed and drink-drive limits to the UK.

The RAC Driving in France kit will help you meet some of these laws, but you should always research the specific requirements for you and your car if driving in another country.

Before heading off on any long journey, it’s always important to carry out some essential maintenance checks at home to ensure your car is tip-top condition and you’ll get to your destination – and back – safely. 

The RAC encourages motorists to remember the acronym ‘FORCES’ when carrying out car checks: Fuel, Oil, Rubber, Coolant, Electrics, and Screenwash. Check our tips for avoiding a breakdown for more information on FORCES.

france-rules-forces

 

You should also remember to take along a few road trip essentials for the journey, including a first aid kit, additional engine oil and water, a mobile phone charger and snacks and games, especially if you’re travelling with children.

Do I need European breakdown cover to drive in France?

If you’re heading to France, the first thing you need to make sure is that you have breakdown insurance that covers the entirety of your trip.

The RAC has some great value European breakdown cover options that offer comprehensive cover if you break down, offering roadside assistance and a 24/7 English-speaking helpline. 

What happens if I break down in France?

Depending on the level of your European breakdown cover, the RAC will pay towards any garage labour costs, onward travel expenses and accommodation fees — something to consider if you’re travelling with your family. 

Taking out RAC European breakdown cover will also save you money should your car need repatriating to the UK. Recovery from France could cost you up to £3,000*, but with our Comprehensive Plus cover all costs will be covered as long as your car’s not a write-off.

To find out everything you need to know about breaking down in France, and to get the right quote that meets your needs, check out our complete guide to RAC European breakdown cover in France.

 

*Based on the cost of recovery from  Poligny, France to Lincolnshire, England on the 30th May 2018.

Is it illegal to drive without shoes?

Get the answer and more useful driving content sent straight to your inbox.

^Price for 1 day cover for up to 9 people travelling in a vehicle up to 1 year in zone 1.

*Comparison based on top standalone cover levels from other major providers. Visit www.rac.co.uk/eurocompare for full details.

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.