Essential information and helpful tips and advice for driving on the continent
Read our tips and advice on driving in France, Spain and Portugal which explain all the essential facts you need to know, including advice on roads and public transport systems.
Find out about road signs, speed limits, different road types, drink driving limits and more in France, Spain and Portugal. There is also a handy continental driving checklist so that you can make sure you have everything you need to be safe and legal on the roads during your holiday. You'll also find some links to useful sites for more information about continental road safety laws, on the spot fines and toll prices.
Reading up on a little bit of road knowledge now will make sure your holiday goes as smoothly as possible!
Before you go
CONTINENTAL MOTORING CHECKLIST
Ensure you comply with European Motoring Requirements by carrying the following essential items of accident, emergency and breakdown equipment.
To drive in France you'll need the following:
Vehicle registration document
GB sticker or plates / UK sticker or plates (depending on when you travel)
Minimum age at which UK driving Licence accepted
National Driving Licence required
International Driving Permit required
Vehicle Registration document required
Motor Vehicle Insurance required
Bail Bond required
GB sticker or GB plates (up to 27 Sep 2021) / UK sticker or UK plates (from 28 Sep 2021)
Warning Triangle required
Reflective jacket/ waistcoast
Spare Headlamp bulbs required
Headlamp adjustment needed
Seatbelts required front and rear
Minimum age of children allowed in front seat
Wide acceptance of credit cards for petrol
Wide availability of unleaded petrol
Motorway Tolls payable
Maximum Motorway Speed Limit
On the spot fines
Safety camera warning devices allowed
R = Recommended. C = Compulsory.
All compulsory items are available from the onboard shop (subject to availability).
For more information about about UK stickers and plates, visit our FAQ.
CRIT'AIR VIGNETTE ENVIRONMENTAL BADGE
The French government set up the Crit'Air scheme to categorise vehicles according to how polluting they are to the environment by using a system of colour-coded stickers. The scheme is operating in Paris, Grenoble and Lyon and is expected to roll out to other cities in the future.
Foreign vehicles must adhere to the scheme so, if you plan to travel in these cities, you will need to order the correct sticker for your vehicle in advance. You can find more information about the scheme and how to get a sticker for your vehicle at www.certificat-air.gouv.fr/en
If you travel in an area where the scheme applies and you do not have a sticker then you may face an on-the-spot fine of up to £117. The RAC has some very thorough advice about what British drivers need to do to comply with the scheme at www.rac.co.uk
On the road
MINIMUM DRIVING AGE AND INSURANCE
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.
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.
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 road
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.
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
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.
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 www.gov.uk
MOBILE PHONE USE
Use of a mobile phone whilst on the road in France, without a hands-free kit, is illegal; even if you have pulled over and switched off the engine. The only exception is if you’re vehicle has broken down or you are in a designated parking space.