Essential rules of the road in Europe – Part 1: France

Essential rules of the road in Europe – Part 1: France

Historically thousands of holiday makers troop across the channel to the UKs top European destinations – France, Spain and Italy. And many of those make their way in their cars too – 4.1 million of you, according to recent figures.

But our research shows that may all change, with over a quarter of all Brits admitting they may think twice before driving on the continent, if the UK leaves the EU. And 16 per cent expressing a worry that they may be more likely to be prosecuted for little-known road rules if we leave.

This problem is made even worse by the fact that four in ten that we asked don’t even bother to find out the road laws of the country they’re travelling to before they depart. This has led to one in twenty admitting to being stopped for a law they didn’t even know about, and a further four per cent being involved in an accident.

Hopefully, the jitters the driving public are experiencing, are just that, and they’ll pass once the vote is over. Until then, we’ll assume that our continental love affair will carry on, so to help you avoid being caught out, this three-part series details the main rules of the road for France, Spain and Italy. Today’s instalment is France.

What you need to know about driving in France

There are a number of things that are different about driving in France. So before you're rolling off the ferry to the smell of freshly baked croissants and hot coffee, you should take the time to top up your knowledge of the French rules of the road.

If you get caught out you could end up with a hefty fine (the police have the authority to fine you up to 375 euros on the spot for traffic violations) and, in some more serious circumstances, confiscation of your car.

Important documents for driving in France:

You need to carry your:

• Driving licence – your UK driving licence is legal, there’s no need for an international driving licence. However, the minimum age to drive in France is 18, so even if you’ve passed your test in the UK, and have your full licence, if you’re not yet 18, you will not be able to drive in France.

• Proof of insurance – you must have a minimum of third-party insurance, which most UK policies include automatically, for travelling into the EU. However, we’d advise you call your insurer to ask how many days this lasts for, if it’s not clearly stated in your policy. You may also have the option of requesting a higher level of cover for an additional fee too. It’s also worth letting your insurer know you’ll be in Europe, even if you do have cover and you’ll be within the maximum number of days included, just so they know.

• Proof of ID – your passport should do.

• V5 certificate – in case you're asked to prove you own the car.

• Your hire documents – if you’re hiring in the UK, take all of your car hire documents with you, and don’t forget to get continental cover for your hire car too

Important Kit for driving in France:

You need to carry the following items in your car at all times while travelling in France. Failing to do so could leave you digesting a heavy on-the-spot fine:

• A warning triangle – this is compulsory for all cars with four wheels and should be placed in the road to warn other drivers if you have to stop.

• Reflective jackets – there must be one for each person in the car and you have to keep them where they can be easily reached.

• Breathalyser – you’ll need to get hold of a breathalyser and keep it in your car. Whilst some people say don’t bother because there’s no penalty for not having one – the fine of 11 euros has been suspended for now – it’s still the law to carry them. And it’s worth noting that you can be stopped by the police for a breath test at any time.

• Headlight deflectors – in France they drive on the right, so headlights on cars from the UK will dazzle drivers at night. Check your cars handbook to find out if you can use stick on deflectors, adjust the lights manually, or you have to visit the garage to have them changed.

• GB sticker – most UK cars have Euro plates on them, which have an integrated GB symbol on them. However, if you don’t have one of these, you’ll have to get a stick on one for the back of your car.

Rules of the Road

There are a number of things that might catch UK drivers out in France. However, this is not a complete list and, as we’ve already said, we’d advise you read through the rules of the road and brush-up on French road signs thoroughly before travelling:

• Unless there’s a sign to say otherwise, drivers must give way to cars coming from the right at intersections.

• You must have your headlights on dipped in the daytime if there’s poor visibility. In fact, the government advice having them on dipped all the time, but this is not law yet.

• You are not allowed to use anything that sits in your ear whilst you are driving, this includes headphones and Bluetooth devices. This is not just for taking phone calls, but for listening to music too.

• The use of radar equipment that can detect speed cameras, including on your SATNAV, is strictly prohibited, so switch this function off before you go. You could get a fine of up to 1,500 euros and possible confiscation of your SATNAV and car if you’re caught out.

• The maximum legal limit for drink driving is 0.5 grams per litre, which is about a small beer. But, if you’ve been driving for less than three years, that drops to 0.2 grams per litre, which basically means drink nothing!

• Any device that has a screen you can watch, must be out of the view of the driver. And you’re also not allowed to fiddle with screens, choosing music for example, unless you are stopped in a safe place.

• If you’re taking the family with you and you have children under the age of 10, they must sit in the back seats, if you have them. And children under the height of 150cm must use a booster cushion or child seat.

• You can only use your horn to give warning to other drivers. Between the hours of sunset and sunrise, you should use your lights to warn people and only use you horn if you risk an accident. In built-up areas you can only use your horn if there is an immediate danger, no matter what time it is.

• Parking can be another way to get caught out, with stopping and parking on roads with only two lanes only allowed on the right-hand side.

• The speed limits are different to the UK and they’ll change depending on whether it’s wet or dry, and how long you’ve had your licence for too.

Speed limits in the dry

Speed limits in the wet/held licence under three years

Okay, that’s part one done with – there’s a lot to take in! Part two will be the rules of the road for Spain.


The research for Zuto was carried out by Opinion Matters between: 26th May, 2016 and 02nd June, 2016. Sample: 1,455 UK Adults with a Full Driving Licence

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