Holidaying in France is a popular choice for many foreign travelers, whether they drive through the Channel Tunnel from the UK or are visiting Europe from as far away as the USA. The romance of Paris is a great draw, as is the chance to step back in time with a rustic journey through the South of France. The country has a relatively good road system which passes through some fantastic scenery; making driving holidays a fashionable choice. However, there are a few things that you should be aware of before driving in France.
In many countries speed camera signs are placed around the roads with the intention of making drivers reduce their speed, even though there is not a camera present. However, in France if you see a sign there will always be a camera; so if necessary adjust your speed accordingly. Those caught speeding can face on the spot fines of up to €375. If you are more than 25km/h over the speed limit you may lose your licence. Anyone caught doing more than 50kn/h can have their license confiscated there and then.
It is illegal to own or use a radar detector in France. However, satellite navigational systems that give warning of speed traps are permitted.
Whilst there may not always be signs to indicate, all towns, villages and built up areas have a speed limit of 50km/h irrespective of weather. On all other roads the speed limit is reduced when driving conditions are poor:
Rural areas: 90km/h down to 80km/h
Dual carriageway: 110km/h down to 100kn/h
Auto route: 130km/h down to 110km/h
One problem that often causes much confusion for those driving in France is the lack of arrows informing you when you should proceed straight on. Arrows that mean you should go straight ahead instead point to the left, but are situated on the right hand side of the road. If you are supposed to turn left then the arrow will be situated on the left of the road and point left.
Penalties for drink driving in France are very severe and the limit is 0.05mg/ml, which is lower than many other countries. It is easy to slip over the limit without realizing it and it is advisable to not drink any alcohol at all when driving.
Be aware that it is illegal for children under the age of 10 to travel in the front seat of any vehicle.
It is always a good idea to make yourself aware of the French words for each type of petrol to avoid an embarrassing and possibly costly mistake:
Diesel = Gazole
Petrol = Essence
Unleaded Petrol = Sans Plomb
Purchasing petrol on the Autoroute is very expensive and it can be wise to either pull off to quieter areas or fill up at supermarkets where prices are lower.
Paying toll charges
Using the Auturoute does not come for free, with French toll costs averaging about €1 for every 10km of usage. Payment is made at the regular toll booths, with either cash or bank card. You can also purchase a transponder prior to traveling which is positioned behind your rear view mirror. As your approach the barrier in specially designated Télépéage lane the barrier will automatically open. The toll payment will be deducted from the bank account that you have specified. The system avoids the need queue and removes the situations where you find yourself scrabbling around for change. In the past the system was only available to the French, but some companies are now offering transponders to foreign travelers.
Stay or go?
If you are approaching a narrow piece of road and an oncoming car flashes you then apply your brakes. The driving is not indicating that they are letting you through, but is instead warning you that they are not stopping.
There is an old rule that is that gradually being phased out, but that still exists in some areas. This rule states that whether there is a junction you must give way to vehicles approaching from the right hand side. This applies even if they are on minor road and you on a major one. The rule is not strictly enforced and is only in place where white and yellow X markings are present on the road.
As a regular traveler in France, Steve Richmond uses Sanef’s Liber-t tag to take the hassle out of paying French toll costs.