If you're planning a road trip in France, the most important things you'll need to know are the rules of the road. Here's a complete guide to getting your va va zoom on when driving in France, including a list of the items you're required to carry by law, how to use toll roads, what to expect at a fuel station and a few words to help you along the way.
You must use dipped headlights during the day if visibility is poor, and at night. Although not compulsory, it is recommended by the French government that you have dipped headlights on at all times.
Vehicles already on the roundabout have right of way, not those entering. Note that traffic flows anti-clockwise.
In certain areas of France it's also compulsory to carry snow chains during the winter, which are to be fitted when using snow-covered roads - practice at home before you go.
It's always useful to carry change for toll roads, gloves to stop your hands freezing while fitting those snow chains and a head torch.
France enforces variable speed limits, depending on weather conditions and the size of the road; on motorways, for example, the speed limit is 130 kmph but drops to 110 kmph if it is wet or snowy. Watch out for any changes during your journey.
Speed limit signs are red and white circular signs, with the kmph number inside in black writing.
You'll need third-party or above insurance to drive in France. Check your home car insurance policy to check if it covers you to drive in the EU - if not, most insurers will allow you to extend it for a fee.
Parking on the street is limited in built-up urban areas. In most cities there is some metered parking, which is marked by white lines and the word "Payant," with tickets usually purchased for time periods between 15 minutes and two hours from on-street machines. Your ticket must be visible on the driver's side of the dashboard.
France complies with the European Model Parking Card, although this is applied in different ways in different areas. In general, it allows cardholders to park in spaces marked disabled, so long as they pay and display their ticket, and stick to the time limits. In Paris, and in some other cities, it actually means that parking is free and maximum time may be exceeded.
Toll roads are known as autoroutes in France and are almost unavoidable if travelling over long distances. Autoroutes are marked with blue signs displaying the word "Péage."
They work out to about €1 for every ten miles.
On most routes you collect a ticket when you enter the toll section, then pay as you leave. Generally, different lanes will accept different forms of payment; while autoroutes do accept credit and debit card, it's probably best to pay in cash as not all foreign cards are accepted. Note that any lane with blue coins will accept cash, but that change will not be given.
Alternatively, if you are going to be driving in France frequently you may wish to order a Telepeage transponder for your car, which allows you to make automatic payments as you approach the gate. This is particularly useful as it avoids the awkwardness of handing over cash from a right-side drive car on a gate set up for left-side drive vehicles.
At the time of writing, both unleaded and diesel were hovering at around the €1.50 a litre and had been for some time; expect to pay more on autoroutes than in towns.
Fuel stations will accept cash, debit and credit cards, although not all foreign cards are accepted. Unmanned stations (more common during the night) will only accept card.
Unless otherwise indicated, you fill up your vehicle yourself and pay afterwards.
Fuel stations in France do tend to be spread further apart, so if you pass one it's worth having a quick look at how you're doing for juice and stopping if necessary. If you do run out on the road, call 112 for help - it will be brought to you, but you'll be charged an extremely inflated price.
In 2017, in a bid to improve air quality in heavily polluted areas, France introduced new rules requiring cars to carry a clean air sticker - a Crit'Air vignette - when driving through certain cities. These colour-coded stickers, which span six levels, indicate how heavily polluting a vehicle is.
Clean air stickers are currently used in both permanent low emission zones (ZCRs) and temporary emergency low emission zones (ZPAs). ZCRs will not let certain sticker colours in at any time, and other vehicles face a fine if they do not have their sticker on display. ZPAs also require you to have your sticker on display at all times, but will only bar access during certain times.
More are expected to be added in the future, so always check before your trip.
You can buy a vignette online before you travel via the Crit'Air website - do not purchase it through third-party vendors. You will need to know your car's European Emissions Standard, which can be found here and it's best to check with your vehicle manufacturer if you are unsure.
For foreign vehicles, Clean Air stickers cost €3.11 + postage if ordered from abroad. Note that fines in excess of €68 are in place for vehicles that don't display a sticker. If your vehicle is too old to qualify for a sticker (usually cars registered before 1997), then you will not be able to drive in certain areas and will be fined for doing so.
If you break down on a motorway, you can only be rescued by designated authorities and not by private companies - this service will set you back at least €120 or more depending on the time of day.
You request assistance by using the orange emergency telephones, which are located every 2km along the motorways and will allow you to reach the police or the area's official breakdown recovery service. If you can't get to one of these phones, call 112.
Until help has arrived you must sit outside of the vehicle, with the driver and all passengers wearing high-vis jackets.
See the best of France - including all the top places for wine and food - on our ultimate 10 day France road trip, which starts in Paris and winds its way south to the Riviera, Montpellier, Toulouse and Bordeaux.