It’s difficult to believe when you have sampled French attitudes towards driving which can kindly be described as cavalier or not so kindly as chaotic, but in fact France has very strict motoring laws.
Regardless of whether or not the French take much notice of their driving regulations it’s important that you are aware of as many of them as possible as the French police may not be very lenient when it comes to a British tourist breaking them. So you will need to know your legal requirements for driving in France.
If you are in need of a simple solution then you can just pick up one of our “All in One Travel Kits” which you can see on the right-hand side of this page. The kit contains all the essentials for driving in France.
More Detailed Information.
It is fair to say though that France has made an awful lot of road safety improvements in recent years and their increasing use of speed cameras and a real crack down on drink driving is beginning to have a positive effect. You should be aware that they use an awful lot of hidden cameras and some of the newer ones are “Average Speed Cameras”.
Rules of the Road
Having radar detection aids in your car to warn you of speed cameras is a definite thing to avoid. In fact only the UK and Hungary allow the use of such devices.
France can fine you up to 1,500 Euros and confiscate the device which is bad news if it is fitted in the dashboard of your car as they can impound the vehicle!
Actually Italy is the scariest country for Radar detection fines as they have fined UK drivers in excess of £2,500 recently.
The good news is that “Tom Tom” and other major Sat Nav suppliers have made adaptations to their newer devices so they are road legal in France.
If you have an old device then as a minimum you should try and turn off the “Point of Interest” feature for speed cameras. If you are unsure I’d check with your manufacturer.
As you’d expect everyone has to wear them, front and back seats. Children under the age of 10 must sit in the backseat unless they are in a rear facing child seat.
Talking on a mobile, even when hands free, is illegal. (I personally think the UK should follow this rule.)
If you are driving a non-French car you must display a GB sticker showing the country of origin, even if this is indicated on the registration plate. (Though it’s unlikely you will get fined if you have a number plate with the EU GB badge on it.
It is illegal to use your horn in a French city except in case of an imminent crash. (Again I wish people in the UK would get fined for doing this. Lazy taxi drivers who think it’s acceptable to honk early in the morning and late at night in my street annoy the hell out of me. Also when my neighbours friends are leaving why do they find it necessary to blow the horn loudly so we all know they are going?)
If you get caught with a faulty light bulb you will be liable for an on the spot fine, but this is usually waived if you have a spare bulb set in the car to show the police. Then they should just ask you to get it replaced ASAP. (They realise that changing a bulb yourself is not always possible)
These have to be placed on the road to warn other drivers of any incidents you are involved in.
Hi Viz Vest
These are a strict rule for France and most other mainland European countries. They should be stored inside the car not in the boot or in a roof box or in something you are towing. The driver has to able to put it on before getting out of the car on the hard shoulder. Everyone standing on the hard shoulder in the event of accident or breakdown should be wearing one.
Headlamp Beam Glare
As your UK car will have its normal dipped beam pointing forwards and to the left it will be shining the wrong way for France as you will be dazzling oncoming vehicles. So you need headlamp converters fitted. They are cheap to buy (about £7 a pair) and easy to fit and remove when you return to the UK.
These are recommended and still part of the French driving laws but the French Government has done a U-turn on this legislation and is not now going to impose fines on motorists for not having them.
Regarding the drink drive rules though France is much stricter than the UK and the legal blood alcohol limit is much less. The only way to be sure is to not even have 1 drink as 1 is often too much in France. The legal limit in France is 50mg per 100ml of blood in the UK it is 80mg)
Road Traffic Accidents
If you are unlucky enough to have an accident, there is a risk that you will be blamed even if you feel the other driver is totally at fault.
My tip is NEVER admit liability, or even apologise, in serious incidents call the police and try to take the names and addresses of as many witnesses as possible. Get registration numbers and, take photographs or video the scene if possible.
One good thing about mobile phones is that almost everyone has a camera with them these days.
It is wise but maybe not essential to have breakdown cover when driving in the UK but if you are travelling throughout Europe I would suggest you get some cover.
Take a Break
Long drives on boring motorways, more so during the hours of darkness are particularly dangerous.
Prepare Your Route
I wouldn't dream of driving through France without a good road map and my Sat Nav, but even with these I still spend some time planning my route before starting out.
Breaking the Rules
In the event of prosecution for failing to abide by the legal requirements the police/courts in France have wide powers to impose some pretty hefty punishments. The "on the spot fines" can really put a dent in your holiday spending money.
For more details on what you need to take and the cost of the on the spot fines see our check list page here.