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Driving in France a few tips to get you on the road!

Posted the 28 May 2021
Culture & heritage

Driving in France can be quite an experience, especially if it is a first time! This guide offers numerous tips to help you on your way such as specific requirements, road signs, speed limits and fuel types…. Bonne route!

From the 1st January 2021, visitor’s travelling from the UK to France will no longer benefit from the border crossing facilities which are available to other citizens of the EU. Visitor’s will now be subject to migration, customs, health, and plant health controls. These formalities need to be considered when preparing your visit.

Specific requirements when driving in France

It is important that your vehicle complies with the European Motoring Requirements and equipped with essential items in the event of an emergency, accident, or breakdown.      

To drive in France you'll need the following:

  • Driving licence (At the moment the French Government has assured that a UK driving licence will remain valid for driving in France until the end of 2021, so legally you can drive in France using your current licence. This situation may change in the future). Do not forget you need to be 18 or over to legally drive on French roads.
  • Vehicle insurance
  • Vehicle registration document
  • A valid passport.
  • GB sticker or Euro-plates
  • Breathalyser (s) are required in the car, but there is no penalty for non-compliance.
  • A warning triangle
  • Reflective safety vests
  • A set of spare car headlight bulbs is required.
  • Car headlight adjustment tape if necessary
  • Seat belts are required in the front and rear of the vehicle (Minimum age for children in the front seat is 10 years)

Driving in France with mobile phones

It is illegal to drive in France while using a mobile phone, useless you have a hands-free kit - even if you have pulled over and turned off your engine. The exceptions are vehicle breakdown or stopping in a designated parking space.

How to use French road signs when driving in France

French sigh posts can be confusing at first, place names rather than road numbers being prominent. Therefore, when reading a map, you can assume that anything in bold capitals is meant to be seen from a distance.

Two very common French signposts are TOUTES DIRECTIONS (meaning all directions) where traffic is generally being diverted around a town or village, so unless this is your destination you will need to follow this sign. The sign AUTRES DIRECTIONS (other directions) suggests more specific places. For instance, if you see La Roche sur Yon and AUTRES DIRECTIONS, and La Roche sur Yon is not on your route then you will need to go the other way.

Other roads such as motorways or autoroutes signposts usually are blue with white lettering and have an "A" in front of the road number.  

A red sign with a road number indicates that it is a "Nationale" or main roads, where road signs will be in green.

Road signs that have "Bis" written on them, usually indicate an alternative route, more picturesque and with less traffic. Ideal for holiday makers who want to amble along and discover their surroundings. 

The notion of "Priorité à Droite" (where you need to give way to traffic coming from the right) still exists in certain places. Generally, a sign will tell you if this priority system is in place. However, if you see a yellow diamond shaped sign with a white border it means that "Priorité à droite" doesn’t apply to this particular stretch of the road.

How to understand French Toll roads and autoroutes when driving in France

When travelling through France, on your way to the Vendée, you will probably come across autoroutes and toll roads. These autoroutes are a network of well-maintained and high-speed roads that make driving in France a real pleasure. However, there will generally be a few Euro’s (toll) to pay!

French motorways (autoroutes) can be identified by the letter “A” and most of them are toll roads. The entrance to these roads is marked as “Péage”. All autoroutes signs are blue with white lettering, if it is a toll road it will be indicated too.

How do these toll roads and Péage work when driving in France?

The normal procedure will be to stop and collect a ticket from the booth (which is generally automatic) as you enter the autoroute. This ticket needs to be presented when you arrive at the exit toll, where you need to pay. Don’t forget that the ticket machine and toll booths will be on your left, so having a passenger makes this task a little easier!

When you arrive at a Péage you will come across five main signs.

  • A Red Cross which means that the lane is closed.
  • A Green Arrow means that the lane is open.
  • Blue coins indicate that cash is taken in this lane, but change will not be given.
  • A sign with a Blue Man means that the lane is staffed, and that change will be given.
  • A Blue rectangular sign with ‘CB” on it means that that lane only debit or credit cards.
  • An Orange T (for Télépéage) means that that lane is reserved for drivers who have a toll sensor, or transponder fitted in the vehicle. The drivers don’t need to stop, as an automatic payment will be levied by the sensor fitted on this lane.
  • Be aware that some Péages are equipped with gantries and are only accessible to vehicles with a maximum height of 2 metres. If you have bicycles or a roof box, make sure you choose the correct lane.
  • If you require assistance once you are in front of the barrier, do not reverse, there are intercom where you can request help.

Tolls prices are based on the category of your vehicle for example: if you have a trailer, a high vehicle, a motor bike, or a vans etc.

Speed limits while driving on French roads

 All speed limits are shown in kilometers therefore, it is important to know the difference between miles and kilometers.Toll motorway/autoroutes : 

  • 110kmh/68mph (Wet Weather)
  • 130kmh/80mph (Dry weather)

Dual carriageway/4 voies

  • 100kmh/62mph (Wet Weather)
  • 110kmh/68mph (Dry weather)

Other roads /N or D  

  • 80kmh/50mph (Wet Weather)
  • 80kmh/50mph (Dry weather)

Built-up areas

  • 50kmh/31mph (Wet Weather)
  • 50kmh/31mph (Dry weather)

Speed regulations usually start at the town name signpost and end when you leave the town where the sign usually has a diagonal red line through it.

Radar speed cameras are common, and fines can be heavy and are payable on the spot. These fines must be paid in cash as credit cards, debit cards and travellers’ cheques are not accepted. Furthermore, radar detectors are illegal in France whether in use or not. Such devices can be confiscated and a fine payable.

A Fuel guide to help you driving in France

France fuel pump labels have changed since 2018. “Unleaded 95” and “Unleaded 98” are now known by the letter “E” surrounded by a circular border, followed by a “5” (for 5 percent biofuel) or “10” for 10 percent.  Diesel or” gazole/gas-oil” is recognisable by a square containing the letter B followed by either 7 or 10 depending on the amount of biofuel it contains.

Many petrol stations display both labels.


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