Driving in France

Driving in France information from Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

Getting on the road: the basics

With stunning scenery to discover there's no better way to explore France than behind the wheel of a car. Driving allows you to choose your A to B, and even take a detour on the spur of the moment, so you have total freedom to design your journey. To ensure a safe and smooth journey while in France, Eurotunnel le Shuttle has compiled this list of simple tips to remember.

What to bring:

  • A full, valid UK driving licence with both photo card and paper counterpart. You must be 18 or over to drive in France.
  • A GB sticker to display in the rear windscreen and your motor insurance certificate.(1)
  • A breathalyser - A new law passed in 2012 means all drivers in France (including visitors) must carry a NF (Norme Française)-approved breathalyser in their vehicle (look for the NF mark on the packet).
  • A warning triangle and reflective jacket for use in a breakdown. Without these you risk being fined around €90.(2)
  • Headlamp converters (for driving on the right) are compulsory to prevent dazzling drivers coming the other way.(3)

What NOT to bring:

  • Radar detectors are illegal in France. If you are caught with one you risk fines of up to €1,500. SatNav and GPS systems which show where speed cameras are located are also illegal so make sure this function is disabled or removed completely from your device.

Be fully prepared. Call into the AA travelshop at our Folkestone Passenger Terminal Building for all compulsory and recommended items for your vehicle whilst driving in France.

We also have maps and satnavs. Alternatively, our Route Planner will help you choose the quickest, non -motorway or most scenic route to your destination.

Ready to drive in France?

Fasten your seatbelts because, as in the UK, wearing front and rear seatbelts is compulsory when fitted.

It's illegal for children under 10 to ride in the front of the vehicle but this should help settle arguments about who gets the front seat! Children under 10 must be in the back seat and in a child seat if they weigh less than 15kg. Over this weight they can use a seat belt with a booster seat.

Now that you're all buckled in and ready to go, the main thing to remember is that people drive on the right-hand side of the road in France.

It's important to be alert when driving, so try to minimise distractions in the car until you feel comfortable in your new environment.

Tolls: you can beat the queues

If heading south, it's best to avoid driving via Paris as traffic can be heavy, unless of course the capital city is part of your trip.

The quickest way to travel between regions and cities in France is via motorways. Take plenty of change with you as you might have to pay motorway tolls at automated barriers. Alternatively, you can buy a "Liber-t tag" which enables you to use the automated lanes without the hassle of manually paying with Euros. The fee is exactly the same but payment will automatically be taken from your chosen bank account in GBP.

Exclusive Eurotunnel Le Shuttle offer

Buy a Liber-t tag and beat the queues at the French motorway tolls:

  • Apply for free - no fee (save €10)
  • Save 50% on the annual fee, only €3 (normally €6) from the second year onwards
  • €20* refundable security deposit on the tag
  • €5* active usage fee - only for the months in which the tag is used and capped at €10 in any subscription year

*Subject to French VAT

Rules of the road

Don't be intimated by roundabouts. The rules are the same as in the UK except you drive in the opposite direction. When approaching a roundabout, give way to traffic on your left already on the roundabout.

Priorité à Droite (give priority to traffic coming from the right) is an old rule which may still apply at some junctions. If you see the yellow diamond with a white border sign then Priorité à Droite does not apply to the road ahead. Although many drivers now realise it's dangerous to pull straight out into a road of oncoming traffic, keep your eyes peeled for vehicles appearing from the right. The rule is usually indicated as you enter or leave an area:

Priorité a droite

Speed limits in France

For your safety on the road be aware that speed regulations start at the town name sign and end on leaving the town. Check the examples below for an overview of speed limits on different roads in changing weather conditions (ranging from fine to difficult conditions).

a: Urban areas: 50 km/h – 50km/h
b. Rural areas: 90km/h – 80km/h
c. Dual carriageways: 110 km/h – 100 km/h
d. Autoroute: 130 km/h – 110 km/h

Remember, there are heavy fines for breaking the limits. If you are over by 30km/h you can lose your licence and your vehicle can be confiscated if you are over the limit by 50 km/h.

Ready to refuel?

You'll find motorway service stations manned around the clock so you can fill up your tank. Prices are often cheaper at supermarkets petrol stations though so it's worth scheduling in a stop. Many fuel stations have automatic pumps where you can pay using 'chip and PIN' UK credit or debit cards.

When I get to the pumps, how will I know which one I need? Well, you're likely to see these options...

a. Petrol = Essence (super / super 97)
b. Unleaded Petrol = Sans Plomb (98 & 95)
c. Diesel = Gazole ou Gasoil

Parking rules

It is usual practice in French towns to allow parking on one side of the street for half of the month and then on the other side for the second half of the month. Parking may also alternate weekly or daily.

Parking is free on roads with a dotted white line or no markings. Blue zone parking areas allow free parking for a designated time. You'll need to display a parking disc in your vehicle window showing your arrival time. Look for the parking sign in the area to find out the length of time you're permitted to stay. You can pick up a new parking disc at newsagents or tobacconists and failure to display the new disc could result in a fine. Blue parking zones are shown with a parking sign with a cryptogram in the bottom corner as in the example shown here.

Street parking in Paris is limited as many roads are pedestrianised and it's illegal to park your vehicle for longer than 24 hours in the same spot.

Car insurance and motor breakdown

You must have third party insurance cover (a legal requirement) at the least, but it doesn't cover any costs incurred by you as a result of an accident. Make sure your policy is fully comprehensive and that you have your Certificate of Motor Insurance before setting off.

Vehicle repatriation from Southern France could cost up to £1,300(4). With that in mind we recommend that you have sufficient motor breakdown insurance cover in case anything happens whilst you are away. We offer comprehensive insurance packages from only £16.95(5) for you and your vehicle.

Lights

It's advised that dipped headlights are used at all times outside towns in any weather. Dipped headlights must be used in poor daytime visibility. Motorcycles over 125cc must use dipped headlights during the day at all times. For motorhomes and caravans, lights must be used at all times when travelling in tunnels or in bad weather.

Drink driving

In France, the alcohol limit is 0.05mg/ml. It is advisable not to drink and drive at all because if you are caught over the limit, the penalties are severe.

As from 1 July 2012, all drivers of a motorised land vehicle, excluding mopeds, must possess a digital breathalyser or an unused (and immediately available) breathalyser kit which conforms to NF standards. This rule equally applies to vehicles registered outside France. Only vehicles fitted with Breathalyser Interlocks are excluded. Failure to carry a breathalyser in your vehicle will NOT incur a fine. However, as a precautionary measure, we recommend that drivers still carry in-car breathalysers.(6)

Motoring checklist

Compulsory Recommended
Minimum Legal Driving Age18
National Driving LicenceRequired
Original Registration Document (V5)Required
Motor Vehicle InsuranceRequired
Front & Rear SeatbeltsRequired
GB Sticker(1) Required
Warning TriangleRequired
Reflective Jacket(2) Required
Headlamp Adjustment(3) Required
Breathalyser(4) Required
Daytime Running Lights - MotorcyclesRequired
First Aid KitRequired
Fire ExtinguisherRequired
Daytime Running Lights - CarsRequired
Spare Bulbs and FusesRequired

Important Information

(1) GB Stickers are compulsory within the EU unless your UK registration plates display the GB Euro-symbol (Europlates) which became a legal option from 21 March 2001. The Euro plate must comply with the new British Standard (BS AU 145d). The Euro plate is only legally recognised in the EU; it is still a requirement to display a GB sticker when travelling outside the EU.

(2) Minimum of one reflective jacket. The jacket must be within reach of the driver without having to exit the vehicle.

(3) The legal requirement is to 'not dazzle oncoming drivers' rather than specifically to adjust/convert the headlamp beam pattern. Without adjustment the dipped beam will dazzle oncoming drivers and this could result in a fine. Headlamp beam converter kits are widely available but may not be suitable for all types of headlights. The AA shop sell beam converters suitable for all vehicles and individual fitting diagrams are included for the latest 'clear glass', 'projector and xenon' headlamps inside the packaging. In some countries it is compulsory to use dipped headlights at all times when driving during the day. Note: this adjustment is not required for two wheeled vehicles as the beam pattern is more symmetrical but check that any extra loading has not affected the beam height. On some cars it is inadvisable or impossible for anyone other than a qualified technician to change a headlamp bulb unit e.g. high intensity discharge (HID) headlamps and carrying spares is not an option. However, it is recommended that spare bulbs are carried for any lights that may be easily and/or safely replaced by the owner/driver.

(4) Based on Eurotunnel Le Shuttle customers average European Motor Breakdown claims in 2010.

(5) Price shown is for 1 day cover and includes Insurance Premium Tax.

(6) The official text states that one unused breathalyser must be produced. We recommend that 2 single-use breathalysers are carried, so that if one is used or damaged, you will still have a replacement to produce.

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