One could dedicate an entire Web site to driving in France but let’s start with the basic rules of the road. In future posts, we’ll cover obtaining a French drivers’ license and more road signs.
Respect Speed Limits
Autoroute: 130 km/h in dry weather; 110 km/h when it’s raining
Major divided highways: 110 km/h in dry weather; 90 km/h when it’s raining
Other roads: 90 km/h in dry weather; 80 km/h when it’s raining
Within city limits: 50 km/h
In central business districts: 30 km/h
Note: The speed limit on the Périphérique (the ring road around the city of Paris) is always 80 km /h.
Be aware that city speed limits begin at the town or city sign (not always where the first 50 km/h sign is situated), usually denoted by a white name panel with a red border, and the limit ends where the name panel has a diagonal black bar through it.
Fixed speeding cameras are usually preceded by a warning sign advising motorists that that there is a speeding camera ahead.
Radar traps are frequent in France. It is entirely possible to receive a citation through the mail because of a violation caught remotely on camera. In France, anyone caught traveling at more than 25km/h above the speed limit can have their license confiscated on the spot.
Priorité à Droite
Unless otherwise marked, cars entering a roadway from the right have priority over the traffic already on the road or in the circle. That is, the driver entering from the right does not have to stop; rather, other drivers are required to slow down and yield the joining vehicle. Be alert for traffic entering from the right particularly while navigating large intersections and places in Paris. In the countryside and in small villages, you will encounter situations where countryside lanes entering major routes have the priority over the main roadway. Proper roundabouts will be marked with a sign “cedez le passage” which means entering traffic yields to the traffic in the circle. Bottom line: be alert to the traffic around you.
French laws require mandatory use of seatbelts for both front and rear seat occupants. A driver is subject to receive penalty if he/she or the front or rear seat passengers are not buckled with a seatbelt while the car is in motion.
Keep the Kids Safe
Children under 10 are not allowed to travel in the front seat. In the rear they must use a proper restraint system appropriate to their weight, either a car seat or a booster seat as appropriate. Drivers failing to comply are subject to being cited.
Motorcyclists: Wear a Helmet
Wear a safety helmet while driving a motorcycle. Motorcyclists not wearing approved safety helmets are subject to both fines and impoundment of the vehicle at the scene. is subject to be fined.
Don’t Use Your Mobile Phone While Driving
It is illegal to use a handheld mobile phone while driving in France. Drivers caught using a handled device such as cell phone or PDA are subject to a fine. French law says that “the driver must be able to do any emergency operation at all time with his two hands.”
Don’t Drink and Drive
France has strict drunk driving laws. Driving while intoxicated — whether by alcohol, drugs, hallucinogens, sedatives or other controlled substances — is a serious violation. The limit for alcohol is 0.50 g/ liter of blood. Drivers shown to be intoxicated by a blood alcohol or other test can be fined, a fine, have their vehicle impounded at the scene, their driving license subject to immediate suspension, and face possible jail time for 24 hours.
Carry a Warning Triangle and Vest
Drivers in France are required to have a warning triangle and a reflective vest in their cars at all times; in fact the vest should be in the car rather than in the trunk so keep it in your glove box or under a seat. The idea is that if your car breaks down, you should put on the vest before exiting your vehicle. This is a relatively recent requirement and police may be conducting random checks to ensure that you have the proper safety equipment with you.
Respect Red Lights
There is no “right on red” in France. Drivers who run red lights at intersections controlled by traffic lights are subject to citation.
Carry a Valid Drivers’ License
Carry your driving license and registration card at all times. Drivers found not to be carrying their driver’s license, registration and insurance cards while operating a car or motorcycle will be ticketed. The French police regularly set up checkpoints to screen drivers for their license and registration documents.
In Case of Breakdown, Accident or Emergency
If you are involved in or witness to an accident, keep calm and move your car to a safe place out of the way of the traffic and turn off the engine. Keep yourself safe.
The key numbers to remember are:
Police — dial 17
Fire — dial 18
Ambulance — dial 15
If you do not have a working cell phone, bear in mind that expressways and main highways have roadside emergency telephones every 2 kilometers.
If there are any injuries, inform authorities of the exact location of the accident, the number of injured persons, and the extent of their injuries. The first responders will then give you instructions. Until the first responders (including ambulances) arrive, give first aid to the best of your ability. Do not leave the scene of the accident until police officers arrive.
Aire de repos: rest stop
Allumez vos feux: Turn on your lights
Attention au feu: Beware of traffic signal
Attention travaux: Beware roadwork
Autre directions: Other directions
Barrière de dégel: Trucks not allowed
Chaussée déformée: Bumpy road
Cédez le passage: Give priority to the other road
Centre ville: Town center
Chambres d’hôtes: Bed and Breakfast
Col: Mountain passes
Gendarmerie: Police station
Gîte: Simple bed and breakfast
Gratuit: Free of charge
Gravillons: Loose chippings
Haute tension: High voltage power line
Hors gabarit: Road, bridge, or tunnel closed to vehicles exceeding certain dimensions
Interdit aux Piétons: No pedestrians
Nids de poules: Potholes
Péage: Toll road
Route barrée: Road closed
Sens unique: One-way
Serrez à droite: Keep to the right
Toutes directions: All directions
Vitesse adaptée sécurité: Adapt your speed for safety
Voie unique: One-lane road