5 things you need to know before driving in France

Driving in France for the first time can be a daunting prospect for even the most experienced drivers.

Signposts are in a language you may not understand, distances and speeds are shown in kilometres instead of miles, and to top it off nobody seems to know how to drive properly!

This is made even worse if you’re from the UK and not used to driving on the right-hand side of the road.

Here’s my list of five things to know before cruising the French highways.

Driving in France

1/ Right priority

driving in France right priority

You know how everyone says the French are crazy drivers? Well it’s for good reason. It’s mostly due to the fact that cars will just pull out on you without warning. This is because of the right priority rule.

The standard practice is that if a vehicle joins the road from the right then this vehicle has priority. This is the case in all situations unless otherwise indicated.

2/ You must carry your papers

driving in France police stop

In the UK it’s not the end of the world if you get pulled over by the police and you don’t have your licence, insurance certificate, or MOT certificate on you. As long as you present yourself with your missing document at a police station within the next seven days you’ll be fine.

This is not the case in France. When you’re pulled over by the police in France if you don’t have your licence or car registration with you you’ll receive an on the spot fine of €11. Your fine will be increased to €135 if you don’t present yourself at a police station with the document within five days.

On the other hand, if you don’t have your insurance certificate you’ll be fined up to €75 on the spot and have five days to take it to a police station or your fine will go up to €135.

Finally, if you don’t have your MOT certificate then you can be fined €90 which must be paid within fifteen days or it will be increased to €135.

3/ Tailgating is very common

driving in France tailgating

One thing you will notice happen very frequently on French roads is tailgating. Obviously not every driver does it but it is not generally seen as out of line by most people.

This is mostly seen on the motorway in particular in the outside lane. Most drivers in the outside lane show little to no patience with any car going less quickly than they are. They will almost immediately close up behind you and if you don’t pull over within a couple of seconds they will likely begin to flash their high beams at you.

For some reason that I can’t even begin to understand, general consensus is that this is acceptable behaviour despite the danger it causes.

4/ The speed limit

driving in France speed limit

Back home in the UK the speed limit is the speed limit. It is set in stone and clearly indicated by the side of the road. In France it’s not quite as simple as that.

Most of the time the limits stay the same and are similar to in the UK. However on the motorway there are often two speed limits indicated on the same sign. One showing 110 with a rain cloud symbol and one saying 130 with a sun symbol. This means that when the weather conditions are poor you may only drive at a maximum of 110km/h. On the other hand you  are permitted to drive at up to 130km/h when the weather is good.

5/ Emergency kit

driving in France car breakdown

If you break-down or have an accident while driving in France it’s not enough to simply put on your hazards. You must also have a number of safety items.

Firstly you are required to have a high visibility vest because moving around your vehicle in the dark can be dangerous.

Additionally you must have a triangular emergency light to put on the road behind your vehicle. This is used to warn other motorists of your presence.

Failure to have these items with you is punishable by a fine of up to €135.

If you are unable to find them back home they can be bought at almost all service stations in France.

What do you think? Let me know if I missed anything in the comments section below!

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Please also check out the #AllAboutFrance linkup to find loads of other great stories from or about France!

Lou Messugo

10 Comments Add yours

  1. Lisa says:

    I did some white-knuckled driving in the South of France when I first arrived here, especially in Nice, until I realised that, in general, the other drivers really know what they’re doing, After that, I relaxed and now I drive like the others, except for the tailgating part. I hate that and can never get used to it!

    1. Dave says:

      It really does feel like another world at first when you’re on the road in France, but it doesn’t take long to get used to it and like you said, everyone seems to know what they’re doing, even if it all appears dangerously random at times!

  2. Diane says:

    That damn priorite a droite used to get me but now I’m used to it. I still think it’s kind of pointless but at least I now stop and give way to the right. Speaking of driving, I got a 90-euro fine the other day from one of the two cameras (great luck, eh?) in my town. I guess I was turning right JUST as the light turned from yellow to red. Got the little surprise in the mail the day we get back from vacation. Welcome home. #allaboutfrance

    1. Dave says:

      Ouch, so far been lucky enough to avoid anything other than a parking fine so far! Not the best welcome home you could hope for :/

  3. The priority t the right is the one that I hate and can’t understand at all, it’s just so stupid! As for the tailgating I do kind of get it, because it’s so annoying how many slow drivers sit in the middle or fast lane when they should get over to the slow lane. OK it’s not a very courteous way to deal with it, but it’s usually effective! Thanks for linking to #AllAboutFrance

    1. Dave says:

      Yep, really can’t get my head around the logic for right priority, but oh well. You get people hogging the middle lane everywhere I’ve ever driven, but what I find to be more common in France than the UK for example, is tailgating on single lane roads or even in the “slow” lane on the motorway. Drives me nuts!

  4. Kimberly says:

    I didn’t know these rules when we were driving around Provence. Glad we didn’t get pulled over. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Nadine says:

    I wish I’d read this before moving to France. I’ve had to learn some of these things the hard way. The tailgating here drives me insane though!

    1. Dave says:

      It is a bit of a pain when thrown in at the deep end and no one really tells you much before you do it except that they drive on the wrong side of the road! Also, glad to see so many people agree about the tailgating. It really is a danger and makes me really angry.

      Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

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