In recent years, travelling to the continent and driving in France has become increasingly easy for Brits. Both the Channel Tunnel and the various ferry companies offer numerous options. We live in Swindon and usually use the Portsmouth – Le Havre crossing. It offers the option of pet friendly cabins which suits us perfectly. However, there are also much quicker routes, such as the fast catamaran crossing Portsmouth – Cherbourg (3 hours) in the summer. What about a nice leisurely crossing from Portsmouth to Santander? It takes 24 – 32 hours: very convenient to access the Basque country and south-west France. There are also crossings from Plymouth and Poole, among others. In short, taking one’s car across to the continent is now incredibly easy.
Driving in France: top tips
How wonderful being one’s own boss, driving on the beautiful and usually much quieter and better quality, French country roads! But (and there is a but, of course), there are laws and regulations to bear in mind while driving abroad.
- First and foremost, while driving in France, remember to drive on the right handside! It sounds obvious, but it can be easy to forget when feeling tired or confused. Roundabouts are sometimes a bit tricky, especially the very small ones. Try to avoid driving around them in the wrong direction!
- Speed limits on French motorways differ in wet and dry conditions. In dry weather, the speed limit is 130km/h (80mph) and 110km/h in wet conditions (70mph). Similarly, dual-carriageways and other roads will often have two speed limits. Drivers must respect those in wet weather and poor driving conditions. For more info, you may find our post on French tolls (Péages) interesting
- Be mindful of changes in speed limits. Upon entering cities, the speed limit drops to 50km/h (30mph) unless the signs say otherwise. French authorities are very strict and will confiscate the licence of any driver found travelling 40km/h above the limit. There is also a real debate going on at the moment regarding the speed limit on Routes Nationales. 80 or 90 km/h? Be extra vigilant as the legal speed limit was always traditionally 90 km/h. It was changed by law to 80 km/h a while back, but not all speed limit signs were changed. After much uproar, the law changed back to 90 but the signs were not all updated, once again. In conclusion, nobody really knows!
- Give way to the right. This is really important when driving in busy cities. You must give priority to those coming from the right at unmarked intersections, unless otherwise stated.
What do I legally need to carry in my car when driving in France?
A full and valid UK driver’s licence will allow you to drive in France. French authorities also require UK drivers to provide proof of insurance and ownership (V5C) as well as a passport or national identification card.
In addition, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, you may also need to carry an International Driving Permit and a motor insurance green card. For travel in France, the International Driving Permit (IDP 1968) is valid for 3 years and can be bought from the Post Office. Right now, it costs £5.50 and can be issued there and then. You need to provide a valid photo driving licence or a valid passport if your licence is the old, pink type.
French law requires each car to carry warning triangles and high-vis jackets for all occupants (which must be easily accessible). It’s also mandatory to carry a breathalyser or alcohol detection test kit in your car, although this law has softened. They are still compulsary but if you are found without one, there is no longer a fine.
Drivers in right-hand drive cars also need to fit headlamp beam deflectors to avoid dazzling other drivers. Once again, in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal, your car will need either a number plate that includes the GB euro-symbol, or you will have to invest in a GB sign to attach to your car.
It is also useful to know that France has banned the use of all mobile phone hands-free and Bluetooth devices, in a bid to increase road safety. Breaking this law could incur a €135 fine.
A few rules about parking in France
Over the years, parking rules have become more strict in France, in particular in busy cities. Parking fees are getting increasingly expensive, and failing to pay can lead to a fine, or worse, having your car taken to the “fourrière” (the vehicle pound).
Here are a few common questions:
- The ticket on my windscreen has expired. How much is it going to cost me? Well, since January 2018, a new system called FPS (Forfait de Post-stationnement) has been put in place, replacing the old 17 euro fine. Each council can decide on the cost, which varies from 10 euros in a small town like Castres for example, to 60 euros in a large metropolis such as Lyon.
- If I haven’t paid to park in a paying parking space, I can get fined every 2 hours. Is this true? Yes, it is. Each town can decide how to handle this. They can choose to place the ticket under your windscreen wiper, in which case you can end up with several of those. They can also opt to send the details directly to the central agency for FPS, who will send the fine directly to your home address. In any case, drivers have 90 days to pay their fine. It is useful to know if your car causes an obstruction, such as on pedestrian crossings, pavements, reserved spaces or is double parked, you can only be fined once a day. We still highly recommend parking in a proper space!
And more questions….
- Can I park in a delivery space marked “Livraison”? Yes, you can. However, it is only permitted for a few minutes, otherwise you can face a 35 euro fine. It is always advisable to leave a note on your windscreen with the details of where you are.
- If I have a disabled badge, can I park anywhere I wish? The answer is yes. The disabled card gives your car the right to park for free in any parking space for at least 12 hours. Just place the card in full view on the dashboard, whether the car belongs to you or not.
- Can I leave my car in a parking space for 10 consecutive days? In short, no. The limit is 7 days only in any parking space. Failure to respect this rule can cost you a 35 euro fine, or worse, your car can be towed to the pound for what the French call “Stationnement Abusif”.
While driving in France remains a real pleasure, the above rules and regulations are worth bearing in mind. It would be a shame to spoil such a pleasant experience by ignoring one or several of them. On your travels, you may see many French drivers ignoring them, for instance driving over the speed limit, undertaking, driving while on the phone, etc… but at the end of the day they are breaking the law. Do not think that because you reside in another country the French will think twice about giving you a fine. In the past, we have made the mistake of thinking that the language barrier would stop the “gendarmes” from stopping our car. How wrong we were!