Advice and Information about Driving in France
Originally posted on & updated on 19th November, 2023
Driving in France is a delightful way to explore the country's stunning landscapes and historic sites. However, there are some important facts to know to ensure a pleasant French holiday and amazing driving experience on France's extensive road network.
If you’re considering a new life in France, then it pays to know ahead what you’ll need to bear in mind when it comes to driving as an expat on French roads. It may well be that you’ve driven in France plenty of times during your holidays, but making sure you stay on the right side of the law as a resident is arguably even more important.
Your Driving Licence
As a UK resident moving to France, in order to drive on the right side of the law in France, you need to have a valid and current UK drivers licence and you must be over the minimum driving age in France which is 18 years old. If there are any medical notes outlined on your drivers licence, you need to comply with them, even when driving in France.
Under normal circumstances, there will be no requirement to change your licence to a French licence unless it expires or is lost or stolen. That said there are various incidences where French police have put pressure on drivers with UK licences who have committed offences (speeding, ...) to change their licences to French ones so that points can be withdrawn. In France, your driving licence starts with 12 points and offence penalties are withdrawn. When you have no points left, you lose the legal right to drive.
Make sure you have all the necessary documents while you travel, including a valid driver's license, vehicle registration, proof of insurance, and a valid passport or ID card. Consider travel insurance and always keep your documents in the vehicle.
Your Car or Vehicle
Whether or not you need to import your car into France when you become resident is a point of much discussion. There are various sources of information online that will suggest loopholes but if you want to do things correctly it’s better to import your car and equip it with French number plates. Doing this is relatively straightforward and involves a visit to the Préfecture where they will provide you with all the paperwork you need. Once this paperwork has been completed, you’ll be provided with Certificat d’Immatriculation, which is the official document for your car in France that you’ll need to provide for insurance, repairs and if you’re stopped by the police.
Your car needs to be roadworthy and needs to have insurance and (depending on its age) a valid Control Technique, equivalent of an MOT, as well as a spare wheel that’s fit for purpose, reflective jackets, a breathalyser and a warning triangle/kit. You must wear a reflective jacket if you need to exit your vehicle on the roadside.
Driving Safely on French roads
Driving Speed Limits in France
France has numerous speed cameras, many of which are unmarked. Be aware of speed limits and drive accordingly to avoid fines. The driving speed limits depend on which road you’re driving on as well as the weather conditions and they are as follows:
- Autoroute (divided motorway): 130 km/h (110 km/h for new drivers or in wet weather)
- Two-lane divided road: 110 km/h - approx 68 mph (100 km/h for new drivers)
- Roads with two lanes in the same direction with no separation: 90 km/h (80 km/h for new drivers)
- Rural and two-way roads : 80 km/h, or approx 50 mph
- Roads within city limits: 50 km/h (50 km/h for new drivers) - approx 31 mph
Drink Driving Rules
The rules associated with drink driving in France are in fact strict. France has a strict blood alcohol limit of 0.05%. It's best to avoid any alcohol if you plan to drive, save it for that special occasion of dinner you have planned in a few hours, or days. Anything over the limit will give rise to a fine and the possibility of penalty points and the suspension of your licence.
Carry a Breathalyser
It's a legal requirement to carry a breathalyzer kit in your vehicle, although the law is not consistently enforced. Make sure the kit is certified and up to date.
Mobile Phones and Seat Belts
Rules regarding mobile phones and seatbelts in France are again as strict as they are in the UK. Seat belts are mandatory for all passengers in the vehicle, including those in the back seats. The use of handheld mobile phones while driving is prohibited. Use a hands-free kit if you need to make calls. Make sure you don’t get caught out.
Extra Driving Advice in France
French Autoroute Tolls
Many motorways in France are tolled. Keep some cash or a credit card handy to pay tolls. Some toll booths also accept electronic payment methods.
In France, people drive on the right-hand side of the road, and the steering wheel is on the left side of the car. This may be different from what you're used to, so take extra care when turning and changing lanes, it will take a few days to adjust and be comfortable.
Right Right of Way - Priorité à Droite
In some villages and junctions, the rule of "priorité à droite" (yield to the right) applies, meaning vehicles coming from your right have the right of way. If you are not familiar with this or haven't driven in Europe for some time, be cautious and watch for yield signs.
France has many roundabouts, they used to be called "rond-points Anglais" when they first appeared in the mid 1980's. Vehicles already on the roundabout have the right of way. Always yield to traffic already on the roundabout and be prepared to indicate before taking the desired exit.
French Road Signs
Familiarise yourself with French road signs and signals, especially those indicating prohibited actions, such as no parking or no entry. For those driving in mountainous areas during the winter months, there are specific rules, especially about compulsory equipement at certain times of the year.
In Case of an Emergency
On the French motorways, you will notice emergency phone stations regularly distanced on the roadside, they are easily recognisable with their orange markings and their specific signage. They are placed on the emergency lane and are found every 2 kilometers. These stations allow emergency services to easily and quickly locate the drivers in trouble and provide assistance promptly. See our blog about emergency telephone numbers in France, including from your mobile phone.
Driving in France will be different from what you're accustomed to in your home country, so please drive cautiously and adhere to local rules. Seek advice on your usual favorite websites, as well as Bison Futé and Michelin, for maps, distances, traffic information, hotels and more.
Finally, be aware of French driving etiquette, which often includes using indicators when exiting roundabouts and allowing faster cars to pass on the motorway. If you have questions about car/motor Insurance, travel insurance, or are looking for a competitive quote, simply get in touch.