5 vital things to consider when driving in France
Keep on the right side of the road and the law when motoring on French roads
It’s not just the channel which divides the UK and France – the two nations have quite different rules regarding driving.
This point was illustrated by news that from July 2012 motorists travelling on a French road will have to journey with a breathalyser kit.
The law has been introduced so that motorists can test themselves to determine whether they comply with the nation’s drink-driving limit.
Buying single-use breathalyser kits (they normally retail at £2 each) should be a sensible investment since if you are caught while driving without one you could face a fine of 11 euros (£9).
And there are lots of other things to consider before you next drive through the beautiful French countryside…
1. Driving on the right
This is the most obvious point in the list but probably the most important. You should also take care when you are on the left-hand side of the road and are about to pull out of service stations.
David Williams of UK road safety association GEM Motoring Assist said: “A great tip is to put a post-it note on the centre of the steering wheel saying KEEP RIGHT. This acts as a gentle reminder and can stop complacency from setting in after a few days on the French roads. “
The rules regarding giving priority to traffic coming from the right (priorité à droite) can also be a little confusing to a British motorist so familiarise yourself with French road signs before your first journey.
According to the European Traffic Police Network: “If a French driver flashes his headlights, beware! He’s likely to be telling you HE has right of way.”
2. Pack well
Travelling light is the aim of every experienced holidaymaker but it pays to pack your car with essential equipment. You are legally required to have a warning triangle and a fluorescent safety vest with you at all times in case of emergency and you must have headlight beam deflectors too.
Where you store your safety paraphernalia is also vital – if you thoughtlessly chuck your safety vest in the boot, rather than the main section of the car, you could rack up a fine. It is also a good idea to have a fire extinguisher and first aid kit on-board so that you can’t be charged with failing to assist in the event of an accident.
Some of the road rules in France can seem a little idiosyncratic – while fire extinguishers aren’t compulsory, spare spectacles are.
3. Satnav systems
While there are lots of things you must take with you to France, there is one thing which you really should leave at home: a satellite navigation system which identifies the location of speed cameras. If a gendarme finds one of these in your cars, even if the device is disabled, you can be fined 1,500 euros (£1,265).
4. Speed limits
According to TISPOL (the European Traffic Police Network), the ordinary speed limits on French roads are:
• 130 km/h on motorways (110 km/h on express highways)
• 90 km/h on most secondary rural roads
• 50 km/h in town (reduced to 20-30 km/h in specific areas)
However, these limits can be reduced in bad weather conditions and for drivers of certain vehicles (including lorries and two-wheeled vehicles). Novice drivers also face stricter driving limits.
5. Drink-drive limits
No wonder the French authorities are keen for UK motorists to carry their own breathalyser kit – their drink-drive limits are so much tougher than ours. While the limit in the UK is 80mg of alcohol in 100ml of blood, the French have a 50mg-of-alcohol limit. Bear in mind that alcohol can take a while to seep into the blood stream – always err on the side of caution when taking a reading.
And finally… don’t let these points put you off taking to the roads in France. Driving along in an open-topped car past meadows, vineyards, bustling market towns, alpine mountains and stretches of Mediterranean coast really is an experience not to be missed!
James Christie writes for breakdown cover company GEM Motoring Assist, a road safety association which has a section dedicated to driving in Europe on its website.