Driving rules and customs

Driving in France can be very relaxing, but make sure you know the rules and regulations before you set off. Traffic patrols are very common, and it is not unknown for them to lie in wait! If you are caught breaking the law, many fines are hefty and payable on the spot - and if you don't have the cash then your vehicle could be impounded.

Roadside enforcement cameras are also very common, often supplemented by portable units which aren't necessarily manned. If you are caught, you will still receive an penalty ticket due to cross-border co-operation.

Also make sure you bring the correct documentation - find out more here.

 

First things first - as with the rest of Europe, the French drive on the right!

 

Some critical rules...

  Minimum driving age
Motorists must be aged 18 or over and possess a valid full license.
Riders of motorcycles up to 125cc must be aged 16 +. 
 
       
  Mobile phones
It is against the law to use a handheld mobile phone whilst driving.
Hands-free use is allowed, but the use of headphones or earpieces when driving is not. 
 
  Alcohol
The drink drive limit is 50mg.
For professional drivers and those with less than 3 years' experience, the limit is reduced to 20mg. 
 
       
  Food and drink
It is recommended that you don't eat or drink whilst behind the wheel.
Police could prosecute if they determine that you are "not in full control" of your vehicle. 
 
       
  Smoking
It is illegal to smoke in a vehicle carrying a child aged under 12.
You can be prosecuted if police determine that you are "not in full control" of your vehicle.
These rules apply to both traditional and electronic cigarettes.
 
       

In car safety...

  Seatbelts
You must wear a seatbelt if one is provided, as must all passengers. 
 
       
  Child seats
All children aged 10 or below, and less than 36kg weight / 135cm height, must travel in a car seat.
The only exception is if there is no space due to other child seats (e.g. three children in the back of a car). 
 
  Children and front seats
Children aged 10 or below are not permitted to travel in the front seat, unless all rear seats are occupied by other children, or the rear seats do not have seatbelts fitted (or there are no rear seats).
 
       

Lights, horns and gadgets...

  Speed camera detectors
It is against the law to have a device that warns or detects the presence of speed cameras.
If your sat-nav has a camera warning function, it must be turned off before entering the country. 
 
       
  Headlights
Lights must be illuminated when visibility is poor (e.g. fog, heavy rain), or when driving through tunnels.
Your lights must be illumiated at all times when riding a motorbike or moped.
The French flash their lights to warn of danger or to say "I'm coming through", not to let someone turn! 
 
  Horns
Horns must not be used in urban areas, or between sunrise and sunset, except in an emergency.
Novelty horns, sirens and whistles are not permitted.
 
       

Important rules when driving...

  Priorité à droite
An archaic rule that still applies in some areas, this means you're required to give way to traffic emerging from some side roads to your right.
>>> find out more >>>
 
       
  Overtaking
Keep in the right lane and move to the left in order to overtake a slower vehicle.
It is customary to leave the indicator on until you have completed an overtake and moved back over.
Beware of vehicles that may overtake to the right if the road ahead is congested. 
 
  Steep hills
Vehicles travelling downhill on a steep road must give way to those heading uphill. 
 
       
  Pedestrian priority
Motorists must give way to pedestrians wishing to use a non-signalised crossing.
If the speed limit is 20km/h or less, pedestrians always have priority over vehicles. 
 
       
  Trams
You must not overtake a tram if it has stopped to allow passengers to board or alight.
Only overtake on the right, unless you are on a one-way street and there's only room to pass on the left. 
 
       
  Motorway safety corridor
If a mobile works vehicle is stationary on the hard shoulder, the nearside lane must be kept clear in order to provide a safe working area. It may be protecting a stranded vehicle, or workmen at the roadside.
Motorists must change lane well in advance, and must not move back until they have passed the hazard.
 
       

Know your speed limits...

These are the default  maximum speed limits that apply, unless signage indicates a lower speed limit is in force.

One feature of French roads is two different speed limits may be signposted, the lower limit applying to specific categories of vehicles which are indicated on supplementary plates beneath the main sign.

As with all other European countries, speed limits in France are posted in kilometres per hour.

 

urban rural expressway
motorway
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 raining, the speed limit for cars and motorcycles automatically reduces to 110 km/h on motorways, 90 km/h on expressways and 70 km/h on rural roads.

A blanket speed limit of 50km/h applies when visibility is reduced to less than 50m, due to conditions such as fog, smoke or blizzards.