Are there any special requirements for driving or hiring a car in France?
If you are not from the USA or one of the other countries which drive on the right, driving in France can be quite tricky. Driving is on the right and overtaking is on the left. Importantly you should give way to the right unless a sign with a yellow diagonal indicated that it is your right of way. Right of way is given to all official vehicles such as police (cars and bikes), ambulances, fire trucks and public utility vehicles including those bearing the words Service de Nettoiement and Generale des Eaux.
Instead of using an upward pointing arrow to mean straight on there is an arrow pointing right on the left hand side of the road or vice versa.
Seat Belt Laws
Seat belts are compulsory for all car occupants in France. The driver is responsible for everyone up to the age of 18, above that, it's the individual who is responsible and can be fined.
Drinking and Driving
The legal limit for blood alcohol in France is 50mg per 100ml of blood – less than that in the UK. If the police stop you, you will be asked to take a breath test and also a drugs test.the penalty depends on how far over the limit you are. Drivers must carry a breathalyser test kit in their car although the fine for not doing so has been postponed indefinitely. You are meant to use the kit if you are concerned about your ability to drive.
Must Have Documents
You will need to have your full driving licence; paper and card, the vehicle registration document and a green card or motor insurance certificate from your insurers to state you have the legal minimum of insurance and your passport.
Speed limits vary with the weather conditions
Motorways have a maximum of 130km/h, dropping to 110km/h in rain and 50km/h in fog. Major extra urban roads are 90km/h dropping to 50km/h in fog and in town it's 50km/h whatever the weather.
Read more about speeding in France
and abroad here.
Minimum Driving Age
France sets the minimum age for drivers at 18 but car hire companies may expect you to be a lot older, usually a minimum of 21 and even then you're likely to pay a young drivers' excess.
Safety Camera Warning Devices
Safety camera warning devices are illegal in France and you can be fined up to 1,500 euros if caught using one.
On the Spot Fines
On the spot fines are very common in France for offences whose fines are up to 375 euros. If the offence is unlikely to result in a loss of licence, you can choose to pay a reduced fine within three days. If the offence is more serious, the police can ask for a guarantee if you live abroad and may impound your car in lieu of it.
Child Safety Rules
In France, the determining factor for child safety restraints is weight. Up to 10kg they must be fitted in a rear facing seat in the front or rear of the vehicle. If in the front, the airbag must be switched off on that side. Up to 13kg, a larger version of the previous category is required. Between 13kg and 18kg they should be in an approved safety seat with a harness or safety tray. Up to 36kg they must have a booster seat with an adult seat belt. Any child under 10 cannot sit in the front of the car without an appropriate restraint system.
A minimum of third party insurance is compulsory in France.
Rules of the Road
Standard European driving laws apply with one or two exceptions.
You must use a warning triangle and have your hazard warning lights lit if involved in an accident or if you break down.
You must have a reflective jacket in your car for use in an emergency.
You must use headlamp deflectors if using a UK car.
You need to carry a breathalyser kit with you.
You must give way to the right at intersections.
The police can impound you car for several major traffic violations. and immediately it becomes the property of the French government.
You are only allowed to tow for short distances and certainly not on a motorway. Whilst seeming obvious, the law states the only circumstance when towing is allowed is when a vehicle has broken down.
There are many speed cameras, both fixed and mobile used in France. For fixed ones, you will be sent a fine in the post or through your car hire company. If you are caught at more that 40km/h over the speed limit your licence will be confiscated by the police.
Using Mobile Phones when driving
You cannot use a mobile phone without a hands free kit in France.
You must not stop or park next to kerbs painted with yellow lines. If it is a broken yellow line you can stop there but not park. Time and other restriction are marked on signs nearby. You can only park on the right hand side of the road unless there is a sign which says otherwise. In some cities, some roads have alternate side parking. Look at what everyone else is doing to be sure.
Most city centre roadside parking is payable at a machine or parking meter. Some take credit cards as well as cash. There are also municipal and commrcial parking garages where machines or attendants will take your money.
It’s possible to buy an International Blue Parking Disc from many shops and kiosks or police stations, these enable you to park in designated blue zones.
Enforcement of parking is done by the police and may involve a fine or your car being towed. In paris, clamping operates. You should follow the instructions on the notice to get your car unclamped.
France follows EU guidelines on parking for holders of an EU Disabled Parking Permit but check details carefully where you intend to park for any local conditions.
Motor Way Signs
You can recognise national roads when they start with the letter N, while motorways have A before the identifying number. Minor roads have a D. Motorway signs have white letters on a blue background.
Driving licence- Permis de Conduite
Insurance certificate – Carte Verte
Services (rest stops) - Aire de repos
Bailiff (for accidents) - Huissier
Pay-and-display machine – Horodateur
End of no parking zone - Fin d'interdiction de stationer
Beware roadworks - Attention travaux
Petrol - Essence
Unleaded - Sans plomb
Diesel – Gazole
Town centre – Centre Ville
I have broken down - J'ai décomposé
Where is the police station? - Où est le poste de police?
I have a flat tyre - J'ai un pneu à plat
I have been in an accident - J'ai été dans un accident
Where is? - Où est?
Where can I buy petrol? – Où puis-je acheter de l'essence?
No pedestrians - Interdit aux pietons
Exit – Sortie
One lane road - Voie unique
Turn on your lights - Allumez vos feux (lanterns)
Closed - Ferme
French traffic lights have some unusual systems including red with amber that means you can travel in the direction indicated by an arrow. Flashing amber means watch out for a possible hazard including pedestrians. Flashing red can mean a level crossing ahead and is sometimes used to indicate a closed road.
There are many toll roads in France and all of them are popular as ways of getting quickly across a surprisingly big country. Tolls can be paid in cash or by credit and debit card. France doesn't yet have a system for automatic deduction of tolls. Depending on the route and the length of the journey, tolls can seem quite expensive but they are worth it in terms of time and fuel saved.
Read our full guide to toll roads in France
The emergency number in France is 112 for the police, fire and ambulance
What to do in an emergency
If you break down on a motorway, you are not allowed to call your breakdown company for help. You must use the orange phones on the side of the motorway and you will then be towed to a designated bay where you can meet your emergency organisation. If you are involved in an accident you should call the police on 112 and await their arrival. In both circumstances you'll need to place a warning triangle advising of the incident 30m away. Don't move any of the vehicles unless causing an obstruction or danger and photograph the scene, taking witness details where possible. You'll need a copy of the accident report from the police for your insurance company or hire car company.
As of April 2014, the price of 95 octane unleaded petrol in France is £1.27 whilst diesel is £1.31.
However, prices vary a lot across different parts of France. Visit http://www.prix-carburants.gouv.fr/ for more information on the price of unleaded and diesel. Filling up at service stations on motorways is more expensive than at the supermarket stations.