Motoring in France

Driving on the right should present no difficulties. Obviously you drive anti-clockwise round a roundabout, and may find the front passenger useful when overtaking. Road signs are easy to understand conforming to international designs common in the UK, although often they are positioned lower down at a junction and can be hidden by a passing vehicle. They are often on the junction rather than just before.

Legal Requirements

  • All drivers must be over 18 years of age.
  • Seat belts must be worn by the driver and front and back seat passengers.
  • Under-10’s may not travel in the front.
  • A red-warning triangle is compulsory for all drivers in case of breakdown
  • Spare light bulbs and a medical kit are compulsory.
  • Beams must be adjusted for right hand drive, easily effected by sticking on black tape.
  • The vehicle registration document should be carried.
  • G.B. sticker or number plate with GB.
  • Don’t drink and drive.
  • Don’t overload your car, caravan or trailer.
  • Carrying a Reflective Jacket to put on in case of breakdown. The AA recommends that each vehicle has at least two jackets or vest one for the driver and one for a passenger who may have to assist changing a wheel.
    They must conform to EUstandard: BS EN 471:1994 class 1 or 2.
  • It is forbidden for the driver to use hand held mobile phones.
  • From 1st July 2012 EVERY vehicle must carry two approved Breathalyzer Kits or Digital
    Breathalyzers. www.frenchbreathalyzer.com.  The breathalyzers are available for purchase on the ferries and should not cost more than £3.00.

Legal Requirement for Caravans and Large Trailers

  • Any vehicle towing a caravan must be fitted with two clip on wing mirrors.
  • Maximum dimensions are 2.5m wide and 11m long (for vehicle and trailer max length is 18m)
  • No passengers may be carried in a moving van.
  • Outside built-up areas, the driver of the towing vehicle is required by law to keep a distance of 50m between him and the vehicle ahead.
  • Vehicles towing caravans are not allowed to drive in the centre of many large cities or the outer lane of 3-lane motorways. On narrow roads, you must enable vehicles to overtake by slowing down or pulling into the side where possible.
  • In case of breakdown, even if the caravan has hazard warning lights, you must display a red warning triangle at least 30 metres behind.
  • If the vehicle or caravan is borrowed you must have written authorisation from the owner.

Road Categories


Autoroute (Motorway)


Route Nationale (Major Trunk Road)


Route Départmentale – often less busy than N roads and of quite acceptable standard. Sometimes they ‘cut corners’ but be wary, distances on winding roads can be deceptively long.


Chemin Vicinal (Local by-road, not used by through traffic)

Reclassification of French Road Numbers

The French government is currently transferring the administration of approximately 18,000 kilometres of national roads to local authorities, resulting in the significant re-classification and re-numbering of French roads. This will take several years to complete and road numbers are likely to change slightly. For example the N404 will become the D1404. Be prepared for the road numbers not to correspond with your maps, even if they are new!


France has over 8,000 km of motorways. A toll system is in operation on most motorways, indicated by a péage sign before you go on. Most operate on a punched card system, which you take as you enter the toll booth by pushing the distributor button and which is handed in as you leave to assess payment. Credit cards can be used to pay tolls in the manned booths and unmanned turnstiles. There is 2m height restriction at these carte de crédit only exits. On shorter stretches, the toll may be paid in euro coins thrown into automatic machines. Short stretches of motorway round cities are usually free. There are several different companies running the motorway system so prices per km vary. www.autoroutes.fr provides both tariffs and route planning. A car and caravan count as Category 2 – you pay half as much again for the caravan as a rule.  There is no extra charge for low trailers.

You will find orange emergency telephones every 2km, parking and resting areas every 10km and 24-hour petrol stations approximately every 40km. Petrol stations have many amenities including good toilet facilities. The service areas and aires de repos often indicated by a P provide excellent spacious stopping points and picnic areas. Toilets and water are also available.

Other Tolls

A toll system is also in operation on some bridges including le Pont de Tancarville near Le Havre, Le Pont de Normandie and the Viaduc de Millau. The bridge from La Rochelle over to the Ile de Ré is subject to a toll.

Breakdown on the Motorway

Park on the hard shoulder and put out the warning triangle. Do not contact your own insurance company in the first instance. Use one of the orange emergency telephones. This puts you in touch with the police who will send a mechanic to assist you. The fee fixed by government for attendance is about £50. If the mechanic can repair your car within 30 minutes, you pay this fee plus parts; otherwise the car will be towed to the nearest garage where you should contact your vehicle recovery insurance company who will make further arrangements on your behalf. Ensure you get a receipt for any charges for insurance purposes. Motorway information on the radio is FM107.7

Traffic Congestion

If heading south, the worst traffic problems occur each weekend throughout July until the middle of the August and then returning each weekend from mid August until the first weekend September.  It is a good idea to avoid these days for travelling – Friday pm and Saturday outward and Saturday and Sundays on the return.

Bison-Futé or Itinéraire Bis is the term used for the road system recommended to guide traffic round congested areas on to more relaxing, scenic routes, and they are indicated by green or yellow arrows. Bison Futé maps, showing recommended routes are readily available free of charge at roadside offices marked Bison Futé. They may also be available at the channel ports. There are 59 Bison Futé centres open during the peak period giving free information on traffic conditions and recommended itineraries.
Other traffic information

Traffic Lights

These are often positioned well to the side of the road or are suspended overhead in the middle of the road. Care is needed as they are not always repeated on the other side of the junction. They also change from red straight to green. At many junctions during off peak times, the traffic lights may only show one flashing orange light, which indicates that nobody has priority, although giving way to the right usually applies.

Emergencies and Accidents

In the event of an accident, keep calm, do not move your car initially. If somebody is injured, call the emergency services. If you have taken out a Car Breakdown and Recovery Insurance, telephone the emergency number stated in your insurance details to get advice. On a motorway, you are obliged to use their own services unless told otherwise. The police need only be called if someone is injured or your vehicle represents a dangerous hazard. Get receipts for everything to be able to make an insurance claim.

Cars Towing a Caravan

If the weight of the trailer exceeds that of the car, the speed limits are lower: 65kph if the excess is less than 30% and 45kph if the excess is more than 30%.

Travelling with a Motorhome

A Motorhome Charter issued by a motorhome builders’ committee in conjunction with the French Government issues certain guidelines to motorhome owners. The most important point is to be considerate about parking, not to impede the view of shops or any other businesses in a town, to avoid upsetting the flow of traffic and to park where possible in an area which is not heavily populated. Overnight parking of motorhomes is controlled in certain towns and cities, but where allowed, public areas should not be monopolised and they should not create any sort of problem for local residents. Evacuation of water etc. must be done in the appropriate places provided and not in any drains or rivers.

Vehicle Weight in France

Motorcaravans, caravans and trailers must not exceed the maximum authorised laden weight written on the vehicles registration certificate. Police can weigh any vehicle thay they suspect is overladen and issue a fine up to 1,500 euros.

Parking Your Caravan or Motorhome

Overnight parking in a lay-by is not permitted on any road in France. However, in cases of driving fatigue, you can and should pull off the road for a while. Motorways are well-equipped with rest areas but should not be regarded as alternative campsites. On some roads and motorway parking areas, you will find facilities for caravans to take on fresh water, empty toilets and make extended stops. Similarly some towns allow caravans to park on the road. However, you will also find towns forbidding caravans to park: these will have places where you may stop for provisions. The local tourist office will always provide important information.

Foreign Office advice recommends that you spend the night on a designated campsite as there has been a number of mugging incidents at the more isolated rest areas, those without petrol stations and cafés. There have also been several incidents even in well-lit service areas where ether has been pumped into the van to allow the perpetrators to carry out an easy burglary in caravans and motorhomes.

Take the middle lane in towns as there is often a filter on the right. When negotiating your way round towns, if there is any doubt follow the signs for all directions Toutes Directions which usually guide the driver round the town rather than straight through it. Caravans and large motorhomes are often banned from town centres as the roads may be too narrow. Follow signs for HGVs.

Petrol & Diesel

Unleaded and diesel are available throughout France. LPG is widely available at over 1,700 filling stations in France, particularly in motorway service areas. Please note that on the main roads there are fewer petrol stations per distance covered in France than in Great Britain and they rarely open after 20:00 hours except on Autoroutes and near hypermarkets, so be wary of letting your tank run too low.

Useful Translation of Road Signs

éteignez vos phares – switch off headlights
travaux/chantier – road works
chaussée déformée – bad road surface
route bombée – bad road surface
route mauvaise – bad road surface
nids de poules – potholes
gravillons – loose gravel
déviation – deviation
route déviée – deviation
route barrée – road closed
voie sans issue – no through road
sens unique – one way street
hauteur limitée – height restriction
cedez le passage – give way
serrez à droite – keep to the right
tenez votre file – keep in your lane
avertissez – sound your horn
rappel – remember
toutes directions – all routes
virages sur x km – bends for x km
entrée – entrance
sortie – exit
sortie d’usine – factory exit
véhicules lents – slow vehicles
vent violent – strong wind
stationnement interdit – parking forbidden

Planning your Journey

Many drivers undertake long journeys in, or through, France. Care should be taken to plan journeys and take sufficient breaks, approximately 15 minutes for every two hours driving. Roads in France particularly motorways are an excellent standard.

Speed Limits

Although speed limits are higher than in UK, the accident rate is also higher. Speed cameras are now much more common in France particularly on motorways and roads round large towns. Procedures are being put in place for the DVLA in the UK to chase up fines. Severe penalties for road traffic infringements have recently been introduced in France. These include a sentence of up to 10 yrs imprisonment and a fine of 150,000 euros for causing death whilst over the alcohol limit; a sentence of 7 yrs and fine of 100,000 euros for causing death by dangerous or negligent driving; a sentence of up to 2 years, a fine of 30,000 euros and seizure of vehicle and device for using any radar detecting device, even if the device is switched off. Please note that on the spot fines (as much as 1,500 euros) for speeding and drinking and driving are very common in France. Drivers who break French driving laws can also have their driving licences confiscated by French police. The drink driving limit is 50mg alcohol per 100ml of blood, equivalent of one glass of beer.

Flashing Headlights

Remember that if an oncoming driver flashes their headlights it is to indicate that he/she has priority and not the other way around.