France : driving rules and customs

If you're heading abroad for your holidays, or just popping over for a shopping or business trip, driving in another country can be a great experience. But you need to make sure that you are familiar with local rules and regulations, and that you have everything you need.

Speed limits in km/h

 
motorcycles 50 80 or 90 110 130
cars 50 80 or 90 110 130
towing vehicles 50 80 90 90
vans over 3.5t 50 80 80 90
trucks over 7.5t 50 60 80 90
buses 50 80 90 90
 
When it is raining, the speed limit for cars and motorcycles is automatically reduced to 130 km/h on motorways, 110 km/h on expressways and 70 km/h on rural roads. These limits also apply to drivers who have held their license for less than two years.

During foggy conditions causing visibility to fall below 50m, a blanket 50 km/h speed limit for all vechicles is imposed,
regardless of the type of road.
   
   

Driving age

The minimum permitted age for driving a vehicle is 18 years; this increases to 21 years for rental cars.

   
   

Mobile phones

It is illegal to use a handheld mobile phone.
The use of hands free equipment is permitted, however must not involve the use of headsets / earpieces as their use whilst driving is illegal.

   
   

Alcohol limit

The blood alcohol content limit is 0.5, reducing to 0.2 for new drivers and bus drivers.

   
   

Food and drink

It is advised that you don't eat or drink whilst at the wheel.
Whilst it is not illegal, you may be deemed to not be in full control of your vehicle, which is a punishable offence.

   
   

Smoking

It is illegal to smoke in any vehicle carrying a child under the age of 12.

   
   

Speed camera detection

Devices that can detect or interfere with speed cameras are illegal - if you are caught with one, you will face a large fine and the device will be confiscated.
If your satnav features speed camera warnings, this feature must be turned off before travel.

   
   
 

Seat belts

All occupants must wear a seat belt if one is provided in the vehicle.

   
   

Child restraints

Any child weighing below 36kg must be in a suitable car or booster seat.
If you have three children in the back seat, then the child in the middle seat doesn't require a car or booster seat, as long as they can use a standard three-point seatbelt.
Children under 10 are not permitted to travel in the front seat, unless the vehicle has no belted rear seats or they are all occupied by other young children.

   
   

Headlights

The use of headlights is mandatory whenever visibility is reduced by heavy rain, snow or fog.
The use of headlights is recommended at all times where a car is not fitted with daytime running lights.
Motorcyclists must use their headlights at all times.

   
   

Winter weather

The use of winter tyres (marked M&S) is recommended in wintery conditions.
Snow chains must be used where conditions or signs dictate their use; do not exceed 50 km/h.
Spiked tyres are permitted between November and March; do not exceed 90 km/h, a decal with this speed limit is mandatory.

   
   

Trams

You must not overtake a tram that has stopped to let passengers board or alight.

   
   

Motorway tolls

Tolls are charged on the majority of motorways, which are identified on signs by the icon. The price you pay will normally vary according to both the distance travelled and the type of vehicle you are driving.

Most tolls will take cash or card, although the accepted payment methods are signed with these symbols:

 

Take ticket at toll booth

Manned booths available

Pay by cash

Pay by card

Electronic tag accepted

  You can find out how much you are likely to pay at the ASFA website. Long distance or regular travellers may find it advantageous to get a télépéage toll tag, instead of constantly ensuring you have enough cash to hand!
   
   
 

Motorway breakdowns

If you should be unfortunate enough to suffer a breakdown or accident on the motorway, you'll need to use the nearest emergency telephone to alert the police.

Telephones are located every 2km, with frequent markers pointing towards the nearest one. Do not contact your breakdown company until you have contacted the police. If you cannot get to a telephone, call 112 from your mobile phone.

You'll also need to make sure everyone has exited the vehicle, standing behind the barrier, and wearing a high visability vest. A warning triangle needs to be placed 30m behind your vehicle, and make sure the hazard lights are turned on.

Bear in mind that in France, it is the emergency operator that will dispatch a recovery truck, as only their designated contractors are allowed to attend motorway breakdowns and recover your vehicle. Be advised that recovery fees are very high, however your breakdown company will refund this (or if you have an AA or RAC policy, they will pay the recovery company there and then).

 

Motorway ameneties

Aires de repos are small rest areas located 20-30km apart and designed to offer a quiet respite away from the road, providing parking, toilets and picnic tables. Some sites also offer other limited features, such as telephones, snack bar, tuck shop or somewhere to go for a walk. They are unmanned, so remember to keep some toilet roll and hand soap to hand!

Aires de service are service areas located around 50 to 70km apart, and offer fuel and food in addition to the basic facilities of a rest area. Smaller sites are based on a basic petrol station, so the food offering is usually limited to sandwiches and pastries, and parking can be more limited.

However, full service areas offer eat-in restaurants and/or fast food and a shop; some sites offer tourism offices and gift outlets selling local produce. During the summer, additional services may be offered, such as children's entertainment and the Croq'Malin programme, which offers healthy meal deals for less than five Euros.

Signage provided before you reach the services will advise of what is available on-site, and the distance to the next amenety offering the same facilities. Here's what the symbols mean:

Emergency telephone Public telephone Tourist information Picnic area Toilets

Disabled facilities

Petrol station

Petrol station
also providing LPG

Restaurant

Hotel

Cafeteria

Viewpoint

Children's play area

Motorhome waste drop

Cashpoint

   

Tyre inflation point
free to useh

24-hour repair point

Shop selling local or regional products

   

All sign graphics on this page by Roulex45 and are used under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.