Rules & Regulations on French Roads
- Drive on the RIGHT - it’s easy to forget, especially when doing something familiar such as leaving a petrol station or pulling out at a junction
- It is compulsory to wear seatbelts, both front and rear (if fitted) and children under the age of 10 are not permitted to travel in the front seat unless there are no seat belts in the rear.
- Driving licence and vehicle registration documents must be carried at all times when driving
- 3rd party insurance is the compulsory minimum
- Drink driving limits in most European countries are lower than in the UK and random testing for both is common. If the level of alcohol in the bloodstream exceeds 0.05% then severe penalties including fines, imprisonment and/or loss of licence will ensue. This means that just one pint of beer can take you up to the limit. In Switzerland and the UK the limit is 0.08%. The police also use saliva drug tests to detect people under the influence of drugs whilst behind the wheel.
- Mobile phones may not be used whilst driving unless with a hands-free kit
The speed limits on the roads also vary slightly to the UK and on the motorways they vary again depending on the weather. In built up areas stick to 50km/h (31mph) and 90 km/h (55mph) on the outskirts of town. Dual carriageways that are separated by a central reservation generally have a limit of 110km/h (68mph) unless indicated otherwise and motorways have a maximum speed of 130km/h (80mph). In wet weather these speed limits are reduced to 80km/h (49mph) outside built up areas, 100km/h (62mph) on dual carriageways and 110km/h (68mph) on the motorway. These reduced limits also apply to visiting drivers who have held a driving licence for less than 2 years. Speed limits are also reduced on stretches of motorways around built up areas and the minimum speed you can travel on the motorway is 80km/h (49mph).
If you are caught speeding by the French police, on-the-spot fines are expensive and will have to be paid there and then. If you don’t have sufficient money on you then you can expect to be escorted to the nearest cash point (complete with flashing lights in our experience!) so you can withdraw the necessary funds. The official is then obliged to issue you with a receipt as confirmation of payment. If you are caught exceeding the speed limit by more than 40km/h, you are at risk of having your licence confiscated on the spot. The use of radar detectors is also absolutely forbidden in France and failure to comply involves a fine of up to €1500 and the vehicle may be confiscated.
Since July 1st 2008, it became law in France that motorised vehicles must carry a warning triangle and a high-visibility security vest, intended to make stopping in cases of emergency, breakdown or accident safer for all road users. However, due to a deluge of motorists rushing out to purchase their triangles and gilets, stockists throughout the country have run out and the authorities have been forced to delay implementing the new regulations until the 1st October 2008. In the mean time, if you're stopped by police and don’t have these items in your car, you will still be given a verbal warning to comply. After the 1st October 2008 it's €135 fine, no quibbling! The law also applies to people driving in UK registered cars or hire cars in France, Spain and Italy.
The change in the law doesn't affect motorbikes, but those on bicycles will see another change in the law in the autumn. As of the 1st September 2008, anyone riding a bike outside of built up areas, must wear a high visibility vest at night, or during the day in the case of bad weather.
If you have passengers in your car then the wearing of seat belts is compulsory for both front and back seat passengers. Children under the age of 10 are not permitted to travel in the front seat unless there are no rear seats, they are already occupied by other under 10’s or they don’t have seat belts fitted. In this case, they must be strapped into an approved child seat or restraint, appropriate for their size. It is the driver’s responsibility to ensure that all passengers are appropriately restrained.
On roads in built up areas you generally give way to traffic coming from the right – “priorité a droite” and when approaching roundabouts, if you see a sign saying “Vous n’avez pas la priorité” or “Cedez le passage”, traffic on the roundabout has priority.
It is forbidden to use your horn in residential areas unless in immediate danger.
Pretty much all petrol stations sell both unleaded (95 and 98 “sans plomb” octane) and diesel (gazole) fuel but you are unlikely to be able to find leaded petrol. If your car runs on leaded then look for “supercarburant”, a lead replacement petrol. Credit cards are accepted in most filling stations.