Driving in France

If you are driving in France for the first time the following information will hopefully be invaluable.

Make sure you have all your documents with you at all times – if you have a photo driving licence you will also need to have the paper counterpart with you. You will also need to have your V5 document (or the equivalent if you are not a UK National) and insurance details. If your car is a company car or on any kind of lease or contract hire you should ensure you have a document from the finance company authorising you to take the vehicle out of the UK. You should ensure that these documents are always to hand when driving in France.

For peace of mind arrange some kind of breakdown and recovery cover in case you suffer an accident or breakdown.  We hope this never happens to you but this webpage published by The Local Fr explains what to do if you have problems when driving in France.

Do you realise that putting a roof-rack on your car could invalidate your insurance – be sure to notify your insurers of this “modification” before you travel. 

Check our separate page covering Petrol Stations in France. Who would have thought this topic could warrant an entire page of its own?

Also check our separate page on speeding in France and why it is really not worth it!

It is also worth reading this article on new Speed Limits and Road Signs introduced in 2015.

Essential Kit for your car

Deflectors for your headlamps should be fitted to avoid blinding vehicles coming in the opposite direction – the French do tend to get very excited by people who don’t observe this requirement. Make sure you purchase them before you head for the ports as the price quayside is significantly higher than when purchased in advance. We have selected a range of items available from Amazon which you may wish to consider purchasing.

GOOD SAMARITAN LAW: European Law requires every driver to stop and assist if they encounter an accident if it is safe to do so. Therefore it is vital that you carry essential items, such as a fire extinguisher and first aid kit.

You must have both a Warning Triangle and High Visibility Jacket/Waistcoat in your vehicle – the High Visibility Jacket and Warning Triangle should both be in the passenger compartment, not the boot (trunk for any of our American cousins).

Drinking and driving: Don’t do it. Over 0.05 per cent blood alcohol level and you could face anything up to imprisonment. Starting in 2012 you need to have TWO Breathalyzer kits with you in your car at all times, they need to be NF approved. A fine of €11 for non-compliance is in effect from November 1st 2012. As with deflectors these are a lot cheaper when brought in advance. We recommend that you have 2 packs because if you have to use one you are then illegal. Also note that they need to be “in date” – they normally have a valid “life” of 12 months, this is normally marked on the packaging.


UPDATE – January 2013 – Drivers in France have been required to carry a self-test breathalyser since July 2012 with enforcement by fines originally planned for 1 November but subsequently postponed to 1 March 2013.  Now the French government has announced that the implementation of the sanction (fine) for drivers not carrying a breathalyser – a fine of €11 – has been postponed indefinitely.

So theoretically you are still required to carry a self-test breathalyser when driving in France but there is no current legislation demanding a fine for non-compliance.

You must also carry spare light-bulbs for your headlamps and taillights. Spare fuses are also recommended but not mandatory.

If your number plates do not have have an indication of country of origin you will also need to have a GB plate or equivalent if you live in Scotland or Wales.

It is also recommended but not mandatory that you have both a First Aid Kit and a Fire Extinguisher in your car.

Drive with caution and obey the speed limits, the French police can sometimes regard British motorists as sport and relish issuing on-the-spot speeding fines, if you are fined make sure you get an official receipt.

Seat belts front and rear are obligatory everywhere. 

Children in cars: Children under the age of 10 are only allowed in the front seats if there are no rear seats or the rear seats are already fully occupied with children under the age of 10, or there are no seat belts. If a child must travel in the front under the above circumstances then they cannot be placed in the front seats with their back to the direction of travel if the vehicle is fitted with a passenger airbag, unless it is deactivated. They must travel in an approved child seat or restraint adapted to their size. In the rear they must use a proper restraint system appropriate to their weight, which means a child seat if they weigh between 9 and 15 kg. Over this weight they can use seat belts with a booster cushion.

The French still find the concept of Roundabouts confusing – please be patient and cautious when negotiating them as the behaviour of the natives can be unpredictable, indicating intentions is optional and rarely observed.

On dual carriageways keep to the right unless over-taking, the French are red hot on lane discipline to the extent that they leave the right hand lane as late as possible and return to it as swiftly as possible which can be a bit disconcerting at first.

Motorcycle riders were to be required to wear reflective clothing in France from 1 January 2013 but the French law making reflective equipment compulsory for motorcycle riders and passengers has been abolished.

112 The European Emergency Number – If you need an ambulance, the fire brigade or the police whilst you’re away, would you know which emergency number to call? Fortunately, there is no need to look up and remember the emergency numbers for each EU country you are visiting. Just remember 112! It’s the European emergency number, reachable from fixed and mobile phones, free of charge, throughout the European Union.

Liber-T Tag –  If you’re likely to be a regular visitor or planning a longer journey through France you might be interested in the latest offering from the French road tolling authority. Sanef France has extended the Liber-t automated French tolls payment service to UK motorists through Emovis Tolling. The tag enables UK motorists to use the automatic telepeage/tag lanes, which have previously been reserved for French residents.

Finally, if in doubt shrug.