Driving in France: top tips
Our guide to driving in France has advice, tips and a car checklist to keep you safe and legal
The rules and regulations around driving in France were changed slightly in the wake of Brexit, but crossing the channel in your car still needn’t be anything to worry about. Our guide will help you familiarise yourself with your French road trip essentials; such as French road laws, what equipment you need to carry, and the documentation you’ll require – including the rules around driving licences and green cards.
Knowing this information before setting off will cut out a great deal of stress, meaning you can simply spend your trip enjoying France’s fine food, stunning scenery and of course, the excellent driving roads.
Which documents do I need to drive in France?
A full and valid UK driver’s licence will still allow you to drive in all European Union countries, including France. In terms of documents, UK drivers will also need proof of insurance and ownership (V5C) as well as a passport or national identification card to satisfy the French authorities.
Now Brexit has been and gone, uncertainty around extra documentation you might need for a road trip to France has settled down. You do not need to carry an International Driving Permit to drive in France and, as of August 2021, you do not require an insurance Green Card, either.
What do I legally need to carry in my car when driving in France?
French law requires each car to carry warning triangles and high-vis jackets for all occupants (which must be easily accessible). While it was also mandatory to carry a French government certified breathalyser or alcohol detection test kit in your car, this law has now been repealed and no longer applies.
Drivers in right-hand drive cars will also need to fit headlamp beam deflectors to avoid dazzling other road users.
Your car must also be fitted with a UK sticker or UK signifier on your number plate - these UK badges have replaced the previous GB lettering. If you have a GB sticker it must be removed and replaced or completely covered by the new UK sticker. If you have a GB-branded number plate, this must also be accompanied by a UK sticker.
No hands-free and Bluetooth devices
In a further effort to increase road safety, France has also banned the use of all mobile phone hands-free and Bluetooth devices when driving. This is something all UK drivers must remember, as a fine or even a licence confiscation awaits those who are chatting away.
No speed camera detectors
Those looking to get to their destination a little faster will have to do so without speed camera detectors, which are also illegal in France. If your navigation system comes with them, you are by law required to disable the alerts. Failure to do so can result in a €1,500 fine.
Don’t forget a clean-air sticker
An increasing number of French cities are now adopting clean-air zones known as Crit'Air - similar to London’s ULEZ. In order to drive in these areas, you must buy a pollution sticker for your car.
This clean air sticker needs to be purchased online by entering your vehicle’s details, the system will place your car into a numbered category depending on the level of pollution, then the sticker makes this number visible to the French authorities.
The categories of vehicle that can enter French clean-air zones varies between cities, so it is important to check beforehand. Some categories are now banned from certain cities entirely.
The price for these stickers including shipping outside of France is €4.51. It is advisable to order this as far ahead of your journey as possible to allow for shipping delays. Failure to display this sticker could land you a fine of 68 euros. You can find out more on the French government website.
What is the legal age for driving in France?
As a visitor to France, if you're over 18 and hold a full driving licence that's recognised by the French authorities, like a UK driving licence, you are legally able to drive in France. To ride a motorcycle or moped up to 125cc you must be aged 16 or over.
Driving in France: insurance and breakdown cover
Most UK insurance companies allow for 90 days of cover in EU countries – but the majority will only provide third party cover. Confirm the type of insurance cover you will have in France before you leave.
Unlike insurance, breakdown cover is not a mandatory requirement in France. It is nevertheless a welcome addition to any long journey. The bigger breakdown providers will offer Europe wide coverage, but this is often an added policy. Check with your provider the type of cover you have, and if necessary you can purchase single trip covers online.
French Autoroute tolls, petrol prices and road signs
The motorway can be an expensive way to travel, with many of them being privately managed - in a similar way to the M6 Toll in the UK. French motorways are split by tolling stations that charge a hefty fee for passage, these will be clearly marked 'Péage' on the blue and white signs, and the payment can be made by cash or card.
When filling up in France, remember that gazole means diesel, otherwise this could result in an expensive fuelling mishap.
French road sign colours
Make sure you're au fait with French road signs, many of which will be familiar to UK drivers, with a few notable exceptions. For example, if you're hoping to make your way across the country, you'll need to follow the main road signs. Green indicates a main road, while blue is used for the Autoroute (motorway) network.
Driving in France: top tips
Drive on the right-hand-side. It may seem obvious, but remember France drives on the right side of the road.
Watch for different speed limits in the wet and dry. On the French motorways the speed limit is 130km/h (80mph), and 110km/h in the wet (70mph), unless otherwise indicated. Like the motorways, dual-carriageways and other roads will often have two speed limits; the lower of the two is to be obeyed in wet and poor driving conditions.
Pay careful attention to changes in speed limits. Once you reach cities, the speed limit drops to 50km/h (30mph) unless the signs say otherwise. Be careful with your speed, as any UK/EU driver found driving 40km/h above the limit will have their licence confiscated by the French authorities.
Give way to the right. Most important when driving in busy cities, at unmarked intersections priority is given to those coming from the right, unless otherwise stated. This is why a second look to the right is always a good thing to remember.
Back roads are a great alternative. An alternative to the Autoroute motorways (A-signed roads) is the French equivalent to A and B-roads – route nationale (N-signed roads) or the routes départementales (D-signed roads). These roads will add a few hours to the journey, but will swing you by the more scenic parts, small villages and the vineyards. Better still, they're free from tolls.
Driving in France checklist
Here’s everything you need to carry with you when driving in France and a couple of things to leave at home:
- Full and valid driver’s licence
- V5C (or a VE103 document for rental vehicles)
- Proof of Insurance
- Passport/national ID
- Reflective jackets for all passengers
- Warning triangles
- Headlamp beam deflectors
- Spare light bulbs
- UK sticker or UK signifier number plate
- No speed camera detectors or sat-navs with camera locations
Now read our top tips for driving in Italy...