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Driving in France: what do I need to know?

Driving in France means complying with a wide range of rules and regulation requirements that are changing all the time.

Breathalysers required by law

New rules introduced in 2012 made it a legal requirement for drivers to carry a breathalyser when travelling in France. What’s more, this must be certified by the French authorities and carry the mark NF. Failure to carry a breathalyser results in an on the spot fine of 11 Euros.

Be seen

Since 1st Jan 2013, all motorcycle riders in France are required to incorporate at least 150 sq cm of reflective material into the main body of their clothing, as either one piece or a series of pieces. Riders who do not comply could lose their licence or even their vehicle.

Alcohol limits

Penalties for drink driving in France are severe, and the limit is very low, so it is best to avoid alcohol altogether. If you are caught drink-driving, you could lose your licence and your car, and possibly even face prison. Drugs tests also take place regularly.

Speed limits

You should also make sure you are aware of the speed limit when driving in France. While these are generally in line with UK speed limits, they do drop considerably in wet conditions, not just as a sensible precaution, but as law. If you are caught driving in France at more than 40 km/h over the speed limit, French police can confiscate your licence on the spot.

Going round in circles

Roundabouts can be rather confusing, especially since the rules vary from roundabout to roundabout. Unless signed otherwise, traffic entering a roundabout has priority, which is the exact opposite of the UK system and can take a while to get used to. Where the roundabout is signed ‘vous n’avez pas la priorité’ or ‘cédez le passage’ then the traffic on the roundabout has priority, as it does in the UK.


Another quirky law in France is that it is illegal to overtake a stationary tram when passengers are getting on or off. You should also give cyclists at least 1 m of space when passing in towns, and at least 1.5 metres when overtaking in the country.

Speed Camera detectors

Finally, you must avoid carrying any maps or satnav systems that pin point traffic speed cameras when driving in France. If this is a feature of your satnav, it must be switched off. Carrying camera maps, detectors or radar detectors can result in fines of up to 1500 Euros.

Checklist and reminders

  • Replacement bulbs
  • breathalyser
  • Reflective jackets
  • Snow chains if traveling in winter
  • Give way to the right in built up areas
  • Obtain parking discs from police stations, tourist offices and some shops for ‘blue zone’ parking
  • Don’t use your horn in built up areas unless in immediate danager
  • Don’t carry or use radar detectors
  • Carry cash and change for toll payments and on the spot fines
  • Remember to use dipped headlights during the day if visibility is poor

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