A quick rundown of French driving laws, requirements and speed limits
Planning on making the long trek down to the Cote D’Azur, or you fancy tackling the traffic in Paris? Either way, it pays to know how French driving laws work before you're slapped with a fine or worse.
What do I need to drive in France?
Before you load up your car ready for your road trip, be aware that there are some legal requirements for driving in France that differ from the UK.
Here’s a quick kit checklist of what you’ll need:
UK driving licence (minimum age 18)
V5C vehicle registration document (log book)
MOT certificate (if your car is more than three years old)
car insurance certificate
GB sticker or Europlates
breathalyser (calibrated to French alcohol limit)
spare bulbs for lights
Speed camera detectors are illegal in France, so don’t even think about bringing one with you.
You can be fined up to €1500 for having a radar detector in your car, even if it’s part of your satnav and switched off. If in doubt, get in touch with your satnav manufacturer and ask about using the device on French roads.
If you need to wear glasses while driving: You’ll need to have a spare pair in the car while driving in France.
The new Crit'Air badge was introduced in 2017, which is necessary for accessing the changing environmental zones in France.
The badge is available in six colours. These distinguish older vehicles from newer ones, and will help identify a vehicles emissions.
In 2018, vehicles with a Crit’Air badge class 5 were banned from Paris and other cities are thought to follow in future.
Eventually cars with EURO emissions standards 0 to 5 will be excluded from cities like Paris, Strasbourg, Grenoble and Lyon to name a few.
You should also pay special attention to the ZPA zones (weather-depending environmental zones) which are put into place in bigger cities. These are usually active during an air pollution peak.
The status of these zones can change within 24 hours and can restrict the Crit'Air badges that would normally be authorised in this zone.
These differ to the permanent ZCR zones where traffic is permanently restricted.
If you ignore any of these restrictions you can receive a fine or the vehicle can be stopped and detained.
For more information visit the Crit'Air website.
French rules of the road
The French alcohol limit is 0.5 mg/ml of blood. If you have fewer than three years’ experience behind the wheel, this is reduced to 0.2 mg/ml of blood. This is considerably lower than the UK’s drink-drive limit, so it’s best to not touch any alcohol if you’re planning on driving.
If you see an unbroken yellow line, you can’t stop or park at the side of the road. If the yellow line is broken, you can stop there but can’t park. Go against this rule and you run the risk of being towed away.
Priorité à droite
Some French drivers may still use the archaic system of “priorité à droite” – right of way.
By this rule, all drivers should give way to traffic approaching from the right. These days, most roads have signs that indicate which drivers have priority, but country roads and smaller villages may still use priorité à droite.
If you have a French driver toot their horn angrily at you, chances are it’s because you didn’t follow this rule.
It’s worth remembering that traffic lights in France go from red to green without any amber phase in-between.
Common road signs in France
a. Give way / yield
b. 50 km/h speed limit applied while in this town
c-d. You have priority on this road
e-f. You don't have priority on this road
French toll roads
Most French motorways (autoroutes) have tolls along stretches of road.
All French motorways start with an A, so if you’re on one of these, be prepared to spend a few euros.
The exact amount you pay depends on what kind of vehicle you’re driving and how far you’re going. Different toll roads are owned by different companies, so rates are likely to change depending where you are.
You can pay these tolls by cash or card. And there’s also an automatic payment system called Telepéage that allows you to drive through tolls without stopping.
This also helps British drivers since the toll booths are to the left of the car. So you’d have to stretch over the passenger’s seat to pay the toll otherwise.
French speed limits
||If raining/inexperienced driver
|Outside built-up areas
|Urban motorways / dual carriageways
||130 km/h (minimum 80 km/h)