Top 10 tips for driving through France

Top 10 tips for driving through France
If you’re off on holiday to the continent this summer, then you’ll more than likely have to drive through France to reach your destination.

But with differing traffic laws across the Channel, it's important to 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 to what documents you need, updated rules of the road, traffic news and embassy information visit our full driving in France advice page.)

UPDATED: Remember those of you driving through larger cities will need to purchase a french clean air sticker as they are now mandatory in certain areas.

If you do not have one you may receive a fine or not be able to enter certain cities at certain times.

These clean air stickers, known as Crit'air stickers, denote the level of emissions your vehicle produces, and is based on your car's Euro emissions rating. There's a chance if you drive a slightly older car, it might not be allowed in to certain cities at certain times based on air quality levels on that day.

1. High visibility vest(s)

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 British-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 as soon as 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 before you leave – it is an excellent way of warning traffic of your stranded vehicle ahead should you experience difficulty which will go along way to keeping you safe.

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.

All of the above items can be purchased in a European Driving Kit from £20.

European breakdown cover

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

6. Lower drink-drive limit

Following on from this, beware of the lower blood-alcohol limit in France.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the blood-alcohol limit is 80mg per 100ml of blood, however, in France it is (the same as in Scotland) it is 50mg per 100ml of blood.

Also 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.

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 90kph (unless otherwise directed) in the dry and 80kph in the wet, while motorways are 130kph (unless otherwise directed) in the dry and 110kph in the wet.

For more on speed limits click here.

8. Child passengers

One to note, 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.

Babies up to nine months in a rear-facing child seat are an exception to the rule also.

READ MORE: Where do I need an International Driving Permit?

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.

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