Top Tips for Driving in France

Driving in a different country can be quite daunting, especially if you are not used to driving on that side of the road! In the summer of 2021, I did a 2.5 month road trip around Europe and I also lived in France for 3 years. I was nervous driving my first time in France, but I have got used to it and have my best tips for driving in France with you!

Driving lingo in France

So, when driving, it’s a bit obvious but understanding road signs are a solid place to start. Here are some basic things to commit to memory:

  • Cedez le passage: give way
  • STOP (spoiler alert – you won’t get this one!) yes, its STOP
  • Priorite a droit: priority to the right – more on this later
  • Peage (pronounced pay-ahhhje): toll road
  • Aires: service station on a motorway
  • Radar: speed camera
Coast road overlooking Monaco
Costal Road in France overlooking Monaco

What to Carry with you to Drive in France

When driving in France you need to take some extra items with you by law, here they are:

  • Hi Vis Jacket – One for each person that is in the car
  • Warning triangle 
  • Headlamp beam deflectors – I used stickers but some modern cars you can adjust them yourself
  • Breathalyser/alcohol test 

I bought all of this from the RAC in a kit. I found it really useful as there was a checklist for each country possible and what you need to buy.

Documents needed to drive in France

  • Full, valid UK driving licence
  • Proof of ID (passport)
  • Motor insurance certificate (Also called a Green card for driving in Europe)
  • V5 registration document
Back street in Aix en Provence
Roads can sometimes be quite small in the old towns. Location: Aix-En-Provence.

Tips for Driving in France on the Motorway

Motorway in French is Autoroute therefore any road that starts with an A (eg A8), it’s a motorway. The majority of French motorways are also toll roads (sad face cry). So, this makes driving in France more expensive as you need to think of other costs other than just fuel. There are lots of toll road predictors you can use to make an assessment if you want to avoid these roads.

Paying for the Peage

You can choose to pay using cash, card (the French call card CB short for carte blue) including at some places contactless and also automatic telepeage. The telepeage is highlighted by an orange t. Do not go into a telepeage lane if you do not have it! You will have to reverse and certainly annoy the person behind you. Always aim for the green arrow lane as this

So as French cars drive on the right, the toll booths are made for left hand drives. If you are driving a british car in France, this is the point where having a copilot is really useful. If, like me, you did a French road trip solo, you will have to jump out the car walk round to the booth and run once you have paid. Here is my technique I have honed:

Empty french motorway
On a ‘busy’ French motorway

Technique for the Paege as a Solo Brit

As a brit approaching the paege, to alert anyone behind me to the fact that I will be slower than normal, I put on my hazards. If they put 2 and 2 together they will avoid following you behind. And also, if they do follow, they cant get that mad cause you tried to warn them – get it??

Try and have a card at an easily reachable spot so you can grab it quickly. Not all machines have been updated to use contactless so you will need to insert your card using the magnetic strip. So make sure that this function hasn’t been disabled (yes I have learnt this the hard way…)

Once you have paid or taken your ticket, the barrier will go up. This is your moment to show your Olympic level running standards to run back to the drivers seat. If all has gone to plan, your door will be left open and waiting and your seatbelt in the perfect position so that you don’t sit on it nor do you shut it in the door.

This is the best bit- be a rebel and don’t put your seatbelt on until you have passed the barrier. Then you are good to go! I have never taken so long between paying that the barrier has closed again, but I am not suggesting that you try this and see what happens…

Road to Mont Saint Michel
Some roads have some beautiful endings. Location: Mont-Saint-Michel

Aires

Aires are the French word for service station on the motorway. But they are different to British service stops, they have varying levels! In the UK, you would expect a fuel station at each service station, this is not the same in France. The most basic aires will have a parking spot and a toilet and nothing else (maybe a nice tree?). So make sure you look at the symbols below the aire sign as it will tell you if there is fuel/food/etc.

Petrol in France

No one wants to make the mistake of filling up your tank and realising that it’s the wrong fuel…make sure you know which is which:

  • Sans-Plombe : Unleaded
  • Diesel: Deisel – no changes there!

Sometimes unleaded can be referred to as E10. E10 is the percentage (10%) of renewable ethanol. This may not be ok for older cars so make sure to check before hand.

Street of Colmar
The streets of Colmar

Speed limits in France

Speed limits are not necessarily always stated, it is rather ‘national speed limit applies’. If you are in a town the maximum limit is 50km/h. So, if you are driving on a country road and see a sign saying “name of town” that automictically means the speed limit is reduced too. On the ‘autoroute’ (motorway) the limit is 130km/h (approx. 80mph woop) when it is dry, when it is raining the limit is reduced to 110km/h. Do the speed cameras know? No clue! But better to be safe than sorry. On the topic of speed cameras….

GPS and speed cameras Rules

So having GPS devices that tell you that a speed camera is there is illegal. However, an average speed check notification is allowed. I often use Waze when driving. You can also notice when a speed camera is coming because it will say ‘average speed check zone ahead’ paired with a ‘police reported ahead’ and sometimes along with a ‘hazard reported ahead’, so you are often warned. If you are curious, most speed cameras are grey with yellow and black hazard tape on the side, they are sometimes tall and thin, others hidden in a prism type structure.

Road sign to grande-brtagne
Direction UK from Calais!

Driving on the Wrong side of the road

As a brit in a brit car, this can be very scary. I was really really nervous the first time I did this. But actually, it’s surprising how quickly you get used to it. One thing that you need to be aware of is your blind spot and where they are different. I actually learnt this by letting people overtake me on the motorway, noticing when they disappeared from each of my mirrors and using that to learn where my blind spots are. If checking that extra time or 2 helps your confidence, definitely do it.

Something else I do is remind myself to drive on the right side of the road. I tell myself in my head ‘ride on the right’. This is particularly important on empty roads or in carparks.

Tips for Driving in France with Phones and Headphones

Using your phone while driving is a no no. Although you will see many drivers doing it, if you are caught it, is an instant fine. Speaking to someone on your cars handsfree is fine. Something that is actually completely banned is the use of headphones. This also applies to bicycles. If the police catch you, they have the right to fine you (rare, but true).

La Rochelle main square
La Rochelle

Tips for Driving in France with a The Drink Drive limit

The drink drive limit in France is half of that in England. Even with this, I think that culturally drink driving is more acceptable – this doesn’t mean you should do it!! As part of the French rules, you should have breathalysers in your car so very easy to get caught out on this.

Priorite a droit

This means ‘priority to the right’, which you guessed it means the vehicle on the right-hand side has priority. This also applies in small residential areas! So, the cars on the smaller roads to have priority pulling onto a main road. Unless there is a give way sign and a line on the road you should always give way to someone pulling onto a larger road in a residential area – a recipe for disaster if you forget this! Also be warned that some roundabout also uses this rule. This will be marked by give way lines on the floor and also signs. So, you should give way to people entering the roundabout not the other way round.

Hill in Provence France
Roadside View in Provence

Tips for Driving in France and their different Traffic lights

So I don’t think I need to explain what red amber and green mean….otherwise we have big problems. However, there are a couple of things to be wary of. If the amber light alone is flashing, this means proceed with caution or give way to the right. You might also assume that if a traffic light is green, pedestrians can’t cross – wrong! If you are turning at a junction, even though the light is green, pedestrians are still allowed to cross. There is a warning light, and you must give way to them.

Merci et a Bientot !

Thats all the tips for driving in France you need to make your journey simple and safe.

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