Website URL: http://www.brittany-ferries.co.uk/guides/driving/france

Driving in France

Guide to driving in France

Driving in France is generally very easy but you do need to be aware of certain travel requirements and basic information, particularly when driving.

The information on this page will provide tips and explain all the essential facts you need to know, including information on French law and driving regulations.

The minimum age for driving in France is eighteen, and your UK insurance should give automatic third party cover. We would recommend you contact your insurers to check you have adequate cover. However, be aware that French law requires all car occupants to wear a seat belt - also that no child under ten years old is allowed to travel in the front of a vehicle unless it is in a specially adapted rear-facing seat.

Leaded petrol is usually sold as super/super 97, and unleaded as sans plomb 98 & 95 or Eurosuper 95. Diesel is known as gas-oil. The cheapest fuel is usually found at the large hypermarkets. It pays to remember that few rural garages are open 24 hours, also that they are liable to be closed for up to two hours at lunchtime, and all day on Sunday. Sometimes you can drive for many miles in rural France without seeing a garage, so don't let your tank get low.

Road Signs

If you have never driven on the right before, don't worry. French signposting is very good once you understand it, with place names rather than road numbers being prominent. If reading a road map of France, you can assume that anything shown in bold capitals will be signposted from a great distance.

A common sign is TOUTES DIRECTIONS (literally meaning 'all directions'). It is frequently used for diverting traffic around a particular town or village, so unless this is your destination, follow the sign. A variation is AUTRES DIRECTIONS (other directions). This will always appear in conjunction with a second sign indicating a specific place. So for instance, if you see RENNES plus AUTRES DIRECTIONS, unless Rennes is on your route, go the other way. Further along you will find signs to wherever it is you are heading for.

Positioning of signposts can sometimes confuse - the sign that means go straight on is often tucked very close to the junction, on either side of the road, pointing across rather than straight ahead. Unless on main highways, priority can be given to traffic joining a road from the right, so keep an eye open for the warning sign PRIORITÉ À DROITE.

Speed Limits

Radar speed traps are very common, and fines (which must be paid on the spot) are heavy. If oncoming vehicles flash their headlights at you it often means that there is a speed trap ahead. However, flashing headlights can also mean the driver is warning you that it is his right of way, the complete opposite of its accepted meaning in the UK.

Radar detectors are illegal in France whether in use or not. If you are caught with such equipment in your vehicle, you are liable to a fine, confiscation of the device and the vehicle. You should therefore ensure radar detectors are removed from your vehicle before commencing any journey to France.

Speed regulations start at the town name sign and end when you pass the same sign crossed with a diagonal red line on leaving the town

Speed limits by weather conditions
Type of roadDry weatherWet weather
Toll Motorway130kmh/ 80mph110kmh/ 68mph
Dual Carriageway110kmh/ 68mph100kmh/ 62mph
Other Roads90kmh/ 56mph80kmh/ 50mph
Built-up Areas50kmh/ 31mph50kmh/ 31mph

Breathalysers in Vehicles

The enforcement of the law making it compulsory to carry breathalysers whilst driving in France has been postponed indefinitely. Whilst the law itself is still in place the authorities have recognised problems with the supply of suitable breathalysers and will not issue fines until further notice. We continue to recommend that you still carry breathalysers and we will inform passengers as soon as we know of a date for the re-introduction of the fines.

Autoroutes and other roads

France's network of autoroutes, and unlike motorways in the UK, congestion is rarely a problem. However, this comes at a price, and there is a charge for using these roads, payable by cash or credit card at the frequent tollgates (péages). This may seem expensive, but if you are intent on covering large distances as quickly as possible, it is the only realistic way.

That said, the older main roads (prefixed with N or RN), and even the smaller roads (prefixed with a D), are often as wide and well maintained as Britain's major highways. It is frequently possible to travel on these for mile after mile in extremely light traffic, so don't ignore them, particularly if you are not in a big hurry. An excellent guide to these alternative routes, (often referred to as itinéraire Bis and indicated with large green arrows) is the Bison Futé map, which is available free from most petrol stations.

Driving through France's beautiful countryside can be a genuine pleasure, so why rush if you don't have to?

For motoring abroad, the Direct Gov website is a useful source of additional information http://www.gov.uk

Continental motoring checklist

Ensure you comply with European Motoring Requirements by carrying the following essential items of accident, emergency and breakdown equipment.

Motoring in France summary
Minimum age at which UK driving Licence accepted 18
National Driving Licence required YES
International Driving Permit required NO
Vehicle Registration document required YES
Motor Vehicle Insurance required YES
Bail Bond required NO
GB Sticker/ Europlates C
Warning Triangle required C
Reflectorised jacket/ waistcoast C
Spare Headlamp bulbs required R
Headlamp adjustment needed C
Seatbelts required front and rear C
Breathalysers specifically calibrated to the French alcohol limit (0.05%) and NF approved)C*
Minimum age of children allowed in front seat 10
Wide acceptance of credit cards for petrol YES
Wide availability of unleaded petrol YES
Motorway Tolls payable YES
Maximum Motorway Speed Limit 130kph/ 81mph
On the spot Fines YES
Safety camera warning devices allowedNO
R = Recommended. C = Compulsory.
*although compulsory, the proposal of an instant fine for not carrying a breathalyser has been postponed indefinitely

All compulsory items are available from the onboard shop (subject to availability) check our list of Motoring Equipment for more information and prices.

Failure to Comply

In the event of prosecution and conviction for failure to comply with the legal requirements, the courts in all EEC countries have wide powers to impose stringent penalties, and the arresting officers have extensive powers to impose "on the spot fines".

On the Spot Fines

The moment these are demanded, they have to be paid in cash, in the local currency, to the arresting officer. Credit cards or travellers cheques are not accepted.

Radar detectors are illegal in France whether in use or not. If you are caught with such equipment in your vehicle, you are liable to a fine, confiscation of the device and the vehicle.

For motoring abroad, the Direct Gov website is a useful source of additional information http://www.gov.uk

Safety Camera Warnings

It is now illegal to use safety camera warning devices when travelling in France even if this is in-built within your Sat-Nav. The advice is to disable safety camera alerts before driving in France. Fines may be heavy if you are caught.

Additional Information

For further facts about the French motorway network, traffic updates and toll prices please visit www.autoroutes.fr