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Driving in France

Written By Andrew Brady

french motorway
  • Everything you need to know about driving in France 
  • Know your French speed limits
  • Read our tips for driving abroad

It’s also never been easier to get to the continent. But you need to prepare yourself and your car for motoring there. Our checklist details legal car requirements and driving regulations for driving in France.

Driving in France requirements

This falls neatly into two categories: paperwork and items you should - and in some cases shouldn’t – have in your car.

Legal requirements for driving in France

Most importantly, you must have your driving licence with you at all times and your car must be insured. Your regular UK car insurance will automatically give you third party cover in France.

For comprehensive insurance, check your existing policy. Some include a period of European cover which may be enough; others don’t. But you can often buy European cover as an add-on. Shop around to make sure that you get the best price.

If the car is yours, have the original V5C registration document with you to prove you’re the owner. If it’s owned by a lease or finance company, you need documents from them proving that you have permission to take the car abroad.

Other things to consider…

You should take out breakdown cover. Again, your UK provider may include a period of European cover but there’s no guarantee. Remember: if you don’t have it and your car does conk out, you could be stranded at the roadside facing a very big bill should your car need bringing back to the UK.

You must also investigate whether you need a Crit’Air pollution sticker for your car. France has a series of low emissions zones. The idea is for every car to show its exhaust emissions through a sticker. The most polluting can then be banned from city centres.

The zones are monitored by number plate recognition cameras and you can get a 65 Euro fine if you don’t have a Crit’Air sticker (‘vignette’, in French).

Some zones like Paris are permanent. But the majority, in cities such as Lille, Lyon and Grenoble, are only active when pollution is particularly bad. Check whether you need to buy a Crit’Air sticker here.

To get a Crit’Air sticker, apply on the official French website with details of your vehicle. It will cost you around £5, including postage.

Car requirements for France

The most obvious thing you need for your car is a GB plate. Many cars already have them incorporated in their rear number plates. If yours doesn’t, GB plates are easy to get hold of. The other option is to buy a GB sticker then you won’t need to buy new plates.

Your car should also be equipped with beam deflectors. These are to ensure its headlights don’t blind drivers who drive on the other side of the road. Some newer cars no longer need them. Their lights can either be adjusted in the car or their beams automatically set within an acceptable limit for driving in Europe.

Every car must carry at least one reflective jacket but it’s ideal to have one for each passenger. These must be easily accessible so they can be put on before leaving the car if you stop at the roadside.

Warning triangles are also compulsory in all vehicles with four wheels or more. But if you break down only put one out if it’s safe to do so.

In a bid to cut drink driving, every car must now carry at least two working breathalysers. These must conform to the Norme Française (NF) which is the French standard and must be within their use-by date. Police can ask to see these if they stop you. Confusingly though, they can’t fine you for not having them.

Depending on where you’re driving in France, it may be compulsory to carry snow chains during the winter. You can be fined if you’re stopped and not carrying them in the specified areas so it’s worth checking if you need them.

Driving regulations in France

The most important thing to remember is to drive on the right. You should also bear in mind that French police can fine you up to 750 Euros on the spot if you break the law. They have also become increasingly keen on using fixed speed cameras.

Speed limits in France

These are determined by where you are, the vehicle you’re driving and the weather. They may be variable depending on traffic conditions.

In built up areas it’s 31mph (50km/h). Outside these it’s 50mph (80km/h). On urban motorways, or non-motorway dual carriageways, the speed limit is 68mph (110km/h). On motorways the legal maximum is 80mph (130km/h).

In wet weather, lower limits apply. These are 43mph (70km/h) in non-built up areas, 62mph (100km/h) on dual carriageways and 68mph (110km/h) on motorways.

Other laws that differ to the UK

Drivers aren’t allowed to use devices that can detect speed cameras. If your sat nav has this function, disable it before you land in France. If you’re caught using a speed camera detector you could get a hefty 1500 Euro fine.

It is also illegal to drive a car in France wearing headphones or earphones. You can use your mobile phone to make calls, listen to music and so on but while driving you can’t have any physical link to the handset.

In France, the law around child seats is also slightly different. Children up to the age of 10 must travel in an approved car seat. And children under 10 can’t travel in the front of vehicles without a special restraint, unless there’s no rear seat, the rear seat is already occupied by someone under 10, or there are no rear seatbelts.

Driving in France tips

French traffic lights don’t cycle through the red/orange phase when they go green. They turn straight from red to green.

It’s also worth remembering that unlike in the UK where roundabouts go clockwise, in France they’re anti-clockwise.

You used to have to give way to drivers on the right in French roundabouts. That meant vehicles on the roundabout had to defer to traffic approaching. That has changed and is the same as the UK. Now drivers approaching the roundabout must give way to drivers already on it.

See also: 

Best cars for family holidays

Best cars for comfort

Best family cars with large boots