Let me say straight away that French roads are no more dangerous than those in the UK and your car has just as much chance of breaking down on your way to the local supermarket than it does in the South of France so don't let this section of the website put you off driving in France.
However if you are unlucky to be involved in an accident or breakdown then the fact that you are in France rather than two miles from home will give potentially give you some added problems to consider.
Protect, Alert, Rescue (PAR)
Protect, Alert, and Rescue are the three golden rules to be applied in case of accident.
French driving rules cover how to behave in the event of an accident. The deliberate failure to provide assistance in the event of an accident is a criminal offence in France. The Penal Code, Article 223-6 states that "it is punishable by a maximum of 5 years imprisonment up to € 75,000 in fines” if you fail to help anyone though you are not expected to if helping is likely to put you in danger. So be sensible don't needlessly put yourself in harms way to try and help.
The P part of the PAR is protection to help those who may be injured and warn other drivers so they don't run into the back of the cars that may be blocking the carriageway.
Turn on your hazard lights, turn off the ignition and apply the handbrake; put on your Hi Viz Reflective Vest and get yourself and the passengers out of the car on the right hand side (hard shoulder side), make sure your car is over to the side as far as possible (if it's moveable) and then get yourself and all of the passengers behind the guardrail, if there is one.
Place a warning triangle at least 30 meters from the accident site to be clearly visible. (It's a legal requirement to carry a warning triangle while driving in France).
If your car is likely to be an obstruction then you should get 150 meters behind the accident (again behind the guardrail if possible) and wave to slow down oncoming vehicles. You can use a spare Hi Viz Vest or a torch/flash-light if you have one.
After a quick analysis of the situation make a note of as many details as possible such as; Type and number of damaged vehicles, the circumstances of the accident; number of injured and state apparent injuries. (conscious / unconscious etc.)
Ring the emergency services ASAP, the motorways have emergency phones you can use or use your mobile phone. Dial 112 on your mobile phone. The emergency phones are best if you can use one as the operator will immediately know the exact location of the phone.
If using your mobile, describe the exact location of the accident as best you can, giving street names or road numbers.
Do not under any circumstances cross the central reservation, wait till the emergency services arrive before attempting to cross the carriageway if it is necessary and even then don’t do it unless the police say it is safe to do so.
Rescue sounds a bit dramatic in essence it means “help”. So if there are any people who are wounded, most importantly try and keep your cool. You are no help to anybody if you are in a blind panic.
Talk positively to anyone hurt, even if they are unconscious they may be able to still hear you and it reassures them to know that help is on its way.
Try and cover the injured in something to warm them as anyone who might be in shock will feel cold.
Do not give a drink to anyone who is injured. If a motorcycle rider or pillion passenger is involved do not remove their helmet.
As a general rule it is best not to move anyone who is injured, let the paramedics do it when they arrive, unless they are somewhere that is so dangerous that not moving them would be exposing them to the likelihood of further injury or worse.
Mechanical Breakdown in France
Even if you have breakdown cover in the UK via someone like the AA, RAC or Green Flag there is a chance you will not be covered while driving in France.
You really MUST check with them before leaving for the continent to see what if anything you are covered for while on the continent.
Specific additional European breakdown cover may not be needed if your normal UK cover offers an “up to” type cover within the policy you have. By that I mean your policy may be a normal UK one which allows for you to drive it abroad for “up to” two weeks a year for example. Though please do check.
For additional peace of mind it might be that specific European Breakdown cover is money well spent as getting towed to a garage and getting a car fixed in France might blow a big hole in your holiday spending money!
Prevention is better than cure
What can you do to try and avoid or at least reduce the chance of breakdowns? Well making sure the car has been serviced recently will help reliability and fuel economy. Check your tyres before you go as tyre pressures can also save fuel and having below the required tread depth is dangerous and will increase the chances of getting a puncture.
Check all your lights are working in your car (you should be carrying spare bulbs and fuses as part of your Driving in France Kit) to save the hassle of having to get one changed while abroad. The French police are far stricter on this type of thing if they see a car with UK number plates.
Another cause of accidents involving UK drivers is the fact that they don't understand the signs so make sure you learn all about French Road Signs.
What to do if you do breakdown?
Well a lot of what is above regarding the accident scenario applies. Pull over in a safe place (if possible) and activate your hazard warning and side lights.
You MUST use your warning Triangle (part of your Driving in France Kit) and stand safely away from the vehicle in your Hi Viz vests and behind the barrier if there is one. Preferably stand back about 50 - 100 metres back from your car so that other drivers have some warning and time to slow down.
Make sure that your passengers get safely away from your vehicle once the road clears.
If you don’t have breakdown cover of any type then you are pretty much on your own as you will need to arrange a tow truck etc. and if your French isn't great that may not be as easy as you think.
With Euro breakdown cover the operator you phone will speak English and they can relay the messages for you.
The other option would be to arrange European breakdown cover whilst you are at the roadside but they will almost certainly charge an additional premium for this.
Also please ring your car insurance company and make sure that they cover you to drive the car abroad as well. Most will for a normal family holiday but you really don’t want to find out after the event of a breakdown, accident or someone stealing your car in Paris that you have no insurance!
Also always take your insurance documents with you and their phone number so you can contact them if you need to.
I must stress I'm not trying to put you off driving in France it really is a wonderful experience, but I think that you should try and be prepared for the worst case scenario. This in itself will give you the peace of mind to enable you to relax and enjoy the drive.