Rules of the Road in France

Rules of the Road (Just a guide, not exhaustive):

  • The legal age to drive in France is 18 yrs. UK full licence holders under the age of 18 may not drive in France. New drivers in France are restricted to 90km/h for 2 years after qualifying.
  • All passengers must wear seat-belts. Children under the age of 10 are not allowed in front seats.
  • Headlights must of course be used at night, but also in fog, mist or poor visibility during the day.
  • You must stop at Zebra crossings – this is now enforced by law. But be careful as a pedestrian, it is not widely obeyed!
  • Speed limits applicable at the time of writing are normally:
      • 50km/h in towns (31mph)
      • 90km/h on main roads (56 mph), 80km/h on the Paris péripherique (51 mph)
      • 110 km/h on dual carriage ways (68 mph)
      • 130 km/h on motorways (81mph)

Speed limits are reduced in poor weather eg. in rain the limit is 110 km/h on autoroutes, in fog where visibility is less than 50m it is reduced to 50km/h.

  • If you are stopped for speeding you can be fined on the spot. Fines can be expensive and you must pay in cash. If you are travelling more than 25 km/h above the speed limit your car can be impounded (it DOES happen!), you can lose your licence and you could be subject to a hefty fine.
  • Be warned – the French police have been known to check your toll ticket when leaving a toll road. This can be used to calculate your speed over a long distance and can be incriminating!
  • Drink and driving – Blood alcohol levels are stricter than in the UK – 0.5 mg/ml rather than 0.8 mg/ml. The standard advice as always is – if driving, don’t drink. The French police are cracking down on drink driving so you have been warned!
  • You should never use a mobile phone whilst driving.
  •  If you come across an accident, you should stop to help if you are first on the scene.
  • The fitting of radar detectors is illegal, whether they are in use or not, and you could be fined €750 for having one in your car. Mind you, the French government publishes info on where the radar traps are!

Priorité à Droite:

This famous feature of French driving etiquette still causes confusion today despite it being less common than in days gone by. The problem is this: If you are driving along a road, anyone joining that road from your right hand side has priority over you. They don’t have to stop, you do…..even if you are travelling at speed!
Things have improved these days because officially the rule no longer applies unless clearly signposted. On the right here you see the critical sign – if you see this sign, it means that the road you are on has priority, until you see the cancellation sign – the same, but with a black line through it. However the reality is that not every Frenchman (or woman!) follows the new legislation!

There are at least two places where you need to be extremely careful:   Paris. In central Paris you will find that the rule is very much still practiced on roundabouts. You can be halfway round a roundabout and suddenly get carved up by a car joining the roundabout. Our advice: keep your eyes wide open, take Paris roundabouts slowly and cautiously – better to have people on your tail honking their horns than to have a car embedded in the side of yours!

Small villages and in the country. You will often find that on minor roads priorité à droite is still assumed. So again, slow down, keep your eyes wide open and be ready to be courteous (but don’t expect any thanks!).

On main N roads you don’t usually need to worry. However we still recommend that if you see someone approaching a road junction from your right, take your foot of the gas a bit and be ready…..just in case.

Getting around this Section:

Practical Advice: This section is for the first timer with helpful hints on how to make your first drive in France a relaxing experience, even driving on the right hand side! For example making sure that you always have some cash ready for the autoroute tolls.

Preparing your car: There are things you need to remember before you leave, some are legal requirements, some just good advice.

French Roads + Law: We explain to you about the types of roads in France, major road signs and basic highway code.

Priorité à Droite: This famous feature of French driving etiquette still causes confusion today! Priorité a Droite info here.

Route Planning: Advice on route planning with the best maps, traffic advice and the best rest areas on the main autoroutes

Read more travel in France: