Whether planning a road trip through mainland Europe or simply exploring the beautiful country itself, many British drivers will find themselves needing to drive to France from the UK at some point on their holiday.
When planning a trip in your car, it’s important to make sure you’re fully aware of the rules for driving in France and how they differ from the UK. It’s also a good idea to ensure that you prepare for any unexpected eventualities that could happen by purchasing AA European Breakdown Cover before you go.
Our comprehensive guide will take you through some of the laws for driving in France, covering everything you need to know, from required documents to general road rules and information about fuel, parking and fines.
Important information for driving in France
What documents and items do I need to drive in France?
There are certain documents that you need to carry with you in your car when driving in France. If you do not carry these documents (and follow other legal requirements listed below), you may receive heavy on-the-spot fines, and your vehicle may be confiscated.
- A valid UK driving licence. The legal age to drive in France is 18, and you must have a full, valid driving licence. If you’re hiring a car, you must be over 21 and have had your licence for at least one year. Drivers under 25 renting a car will also be charged a young drivers surcharge. You don’t need to carry an additional International Driving Permit (IDP).
- An up-to-date passport. Every occupant of the vehicle, including driver and passengers, must carry an up-to-date passport. Your passport must be:
- issued less than 10 years before the date you enter the country (check the ‘date of issue’)
- valid for at least 3 months after the day you plan to leave (check the ‘expiry date’). If your passport was issued before 1 October 2018, extra months may have been added to its expiry date.
You must check that your passport meets these requirements before you travel.
There are also other items you will need to have in your vehicle when driving in France. These are:
- A UK sticker. On 28th September 2021, the GB sticker requirement was changed to a UK sticker. This means that GB stickers are no longer valid. If your number plate has a Union Flag with ‘UK’ under it on a blue background (or green for EVs), then you can drive in Europe. If not, you will need a UK sticker.
- Reflective jackets for each occupant. These must be accessible without exiting the car.
- A warning triangle. This is compulsory for vehicles with four or more wheels. If you’re on a motorbike, you don’t need this.
- Headlamp beam deflectors. In the UK headlamps are aligned to the left, which is an issue when driving at night in France as this means they shine into oncoming traffic. Beam deflectors can correct this.
- Crit’Air sticker. Your car needs to display a Crit'Air sticker when driving in low emission zones. See below for more information on low emission zones.
- Winter tyres or snow chains. These are required during winter in certain regions of France. See our winter tyre requirements section below for more information.
If you’re on a motorbike, you’ll also need a safety helmet for you and any passengers, with reflective helmet stickers for driving at night.
Low emission zones and clean air stickers
Since January 2017, certain areas of France have required all vehicles to display a ‘clean air’ windscreen sticker – also called a Crit’Air vignette – to identify their emissions levels and potentially restrict access. Vehicles with lower emissions are given preferential parking and traffic conditions, whereas those with high emissions may be denied entry into the zone completely.
You can check which cities and regions require a Crit’Air vignette and order from the official website here. It costs just £3.60, and could save you an on-the-spot fine of up to €135.
- Green – Crit’Air E (electric and hydrogen vehicles, no emissions)
- Purple – Crit’Air 1 (gas and rechargeable hybrid vehicles)
- Yellow – Crit’Air 2 (Euro 5 and Euro 6 vehicles)
- Orange – Crit’Air 3 (Euro 4 vehicles)
- Burgundy – Crit’Air 4 (Euro 3 vehicles)
- Dark Grey – Crit’Air 5 (Euro 2 vehicles)
Some vehicles are ineligible for these stickers, including cars registered before January 1997 and motorbikes or scooters registered before June 2000. Ineligible vehicles can’t be driven at all in low emission zones.
Each zone sets its own minimum sticker requirement for entry. For example, from 2022, all cars driving in Paris need to display at least a Crit'Air 2 sticker. Older petrol and diesel cars are banned from central Paris between 8am and 8pm unless displaying at least a Crit'Air sticker 3.
Permanent low-emission zones (ZCR)
Permanent low-emissions zones have permanent restrictions in place which limit access for certain vehicles depending on their Crit’Air vignette. All vehicles wanting to travel through these areas need to display a sticker.
Current ZCRs in France include Grenoble, Paris, Lyon, Strasbourg, Nice and Toulouse, but new cities can be added at any time so make sure to always check before you travel.
Emergency low emission zones (ZPA)
Emergency low emissions zones are temporary restrictions, activated in certain locations due to dangerous pollution levels.
These areas are generally larger than permanent zones, and all vehicles must display a vignette when passing through.
Road rules in France
What is the legal age to drive in France?
The legal driving age in France is 18 years old, and all drivers need a full and valid driving licence. If you’re under 18 you’re legally not allowed to drive in France, even if you have a valid licence.
What side of the road do I drive on in France?
All traffic in France drives on the right-hand side of the road, not on the left like the UK. If you hire a car, the driver’s seat will be on the left side of the car.
Who has priority?
When driving on a main road – N roads and D roads – you’ll have priority over all other traffic entering from side roads. Priority roads are marked with a yellow diamond sign.
When not on a priority road, for example if you’re driving on a smaller rural road, Priorité à Droite generally applies – this means you must give way to traffic approaching from your right, unless indicated by road signs.
At signed roundabouts bearing the words "Vous n'avez pas la priorité" or "Cédez le passage", traffic on the roundabout has priority. When these signs are not present, traffic entering the roundabout has priority.
Make sure you always give way to vehicles with sirens and flashing lights, like ambulances.
How do I overtake?
Generally, as vehicles drive on the right, they should overtake on the left. However, if traffic is in lanes, motorists may overtake on the right of slower moving lanes
When overtaking a bicycle, you must leave a distance of at least 1 metre in built-up areas and 1.5 metres outside of built-up areas between your vehicle and the bicycle.
Never overtake a stationary tram when passengers are boarding or getting off.
Speed limits in France
All speed limits (and distances) in France are in kilometres and metres, as France uses the metric system.
- Motorways: 130 km/h (around 80 mph); 110 km/h (around 68 mph) in rainy conditions.
- Dual carriageways: 110 km/h (around 68 mph); 100 km/h (around 62 mph) in rainy conditions.
- Main roads: 80 km/h (around 50 mph); 70 km/h (around 43 mph) in rainy conditions.
- Built-up areas, like towns and cities: 50 km/h (around 31 mph), unless otherwise indicated.
Speeding fines in France
The standard fine for breaking the speed limit in France is €135, though this amount can vary depending on how far over the limit you were driving.
If you’re caught speeding more than 50 km/h over the limit, you’ll have your licence and vehicle confiscated on the spot.
Since the UK's departure from the European Union, EU countries can no longer write to or send fines to UK drivers for offences caught on camera, such as speeding. However, exceeding the speed limit could still result in an on-the-spot fine and other serious repercussions, as well as endangering your safety and the safety of others.
Speed camera detectors
All devices capable of detecting speed cameras and alerting drivers of their location are illegal in France. This includes radar detectors and satellite navigation systems warning of the presence of speed cameras or radars. If you’re caught with one in your car, even if you’re not using it, you could face a fine of up to €1,500.
Additionally, road signs indicating the location of fixed speed cameras are largely being removed, and additional fixed speed cameras are being installed. It’s therefore even more important to pay attention to your speed and stay within the limits.
Traffic lights in France
France uses green, amber and red lights like the UK, however the meaning of the lights may differ slightly.
A red light means stop and a green light means go, however there is no amber light when transitioning from red to green.
A flashing amber light means slow down, or proceed but give way to vehicles on the right. A flashing red light means no entry, or indicates a level crossing or exit used by emergency vehicles.
If a red light is shown with a yellow arrow, then drivers may turn in the direction of the arrow but must give priority to vehicles travelling in that direction and pedestrians.
Driving through a red light in France can lead to a fine of up to €300 if you’re caught.
Seat belt rules in France
Seat belts must always be worn at all times when driving in France, by adults and children in both the front and back seats. It’s the driver’s responsibility to ensure that any passengers under the age of 18 are wearing their seat belt correctly.
In certain older cars that aren’t fitted with seat belts in the back seats, rear passengers may be exempt.
The standard fine for not wearing a seatbelt in France is €135.
Child seat regulations in France
Children below 10 years old can’t travel in the front seat of a vehicle in France, unless there are no rear seats or the rear seats are already occupied by another child under 10.
Babies travelling in the front seat must be placed in an approved rear-facing baby seat with the airbag turned off.
Children under 10 must also use a suitable, approved booster seat or restraint, depending on their age and weight. Child restraints are classified in five different groups by European regulations:
- Group 0 (under 10 kg): Rear-facing child seat placed in front passenger seat with airbag switched off or back seat. Babies may also be placed in a carry cot on the rear seat.
- Group 0+ (under 13 kg): Same as seats in Group 0, but bigger versions. The same installation rules apply.
- Group 1 (9-18 kg): Child seat with a 5-point harness or protection tray.
- Group 2 (15 - 25 kg): Booster seat or cushion with an adult seat belt.
- Group 3 (22 - 36 kg): Booster seat or cushion with an adult seat belt.
Drink-driving laws in France
The maximum legal blood alcohol level for drivers in France is 0.05%, which is just over half the 0.08% limit in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
For bus and coach drivers, as well as drivers with less than three years' experience, the limit is even lower at 0.02%.
If you’re caught with a blood alcohol level between 0.05% and 0.08%, you may face a fine of €135, losing your licence or having your car confiscated. If your blood alcohol level is higher than 0.08%, this is considered a criminal offence and can result in a fine of up to €4,500 and even a prison sentence of 2 years.
Police have the power to carry out random breath tests, and tests are compulsory after an injury-causing accident or when a driver has committed a serious motoring offence.
Mobile phones and headphones
It’s illegal to use a mobile phone while driving in France, however completely hands-free mobile phone units are allowed. It’s also illegal to use headphones or earbuds, including bluetooth devices.
Using a hand-held mobile phone or headphones while driving can lead to a fine of €135.
It’s recommended by the French government that all vehicles use dipped headlights at all times when driving in France.
Headlamp beam deflectors need to be used by UK drivers to adapt to driving on the right-hand side of the road. These stop headlights from dazzling other drivers. If you’re caught driving without beam deflectors, you may face a fine.
You may also be liable to pay an on-the-spot fine if you’re caught driving with a broken bulb, so it’s recommended that drivers carry a spare set of bulbs in their vehicle at all times.
Tyre requirements in France
When driving in France, all vehicles must have tyres with a minimum tread depth of 1.6mm. If this depth is less than 1.6 mm – even in one place – the tyre is too smooth and must be changed.
Winter tyre requirements
From 2021, every year during the winter period (from 1 November to 31 March), vehicles must be equipped with winter tyres or snow chains in certain mountainous areas of France. These areas include the Alps, the Massif Central, the Jura Mountains, the Pyrenees and the Vosges.
Road signs indicate entry to a zone where winter tyre regulations apply, as well as exit from the zone. There are also signs reminding motorists of the dates of the winter period when these rules apply.
Drivers have the choice of either:
- carrying at least two snow chains
- equipping their vehicle with at least 4 winter tyres, mounted on at least 2 wheels on each axle
Winter tyres must be ‘3PMSF’ (3 Peak Mountain Snow Flake) tyres, marked with the Alpine symbol and the letters ‘M+S’, ‘M.S’ or ‘M&S’.
Motor insurance in France
All vehicles driving in France must have a minimum of third-party insurance cover. You’ll need to have your insurance documents with you at all times.
Fines in France
If you’re caught violating French traffic laws, the authorities are authorised to issue and collect fines on the spot.
Standard fines range from €11 to €750, depending on the severity of the offence. They may be reduced if payment is made within 15 days (or 3 days if paid in person) or increased if payment is not made within 45 days following the offence.
If a serious offence is committed that is likely to result in the loss of the driver’s licence or a prison sentence, then visiting motorists must pay a guarantee.
Payment for on-the-spot fines can be made in euros, by cheque from a French bank or by travellers' cheques.
Illegally parked vehicles, including those belonging to visiting motorists from outside of France, may be towed and impounded. The vehicle’s owner must then pay for the cost of impounding, which increases every 24 hours the vehicle is kept.
Illegally parked vehicles may also be clamped. If this occurs, the driver must pay a fine for illegal parking, and another fine to have the vehicle released from the wheel clamps.
Parking regulations in France
On roads with two side-by-side lanes, parking is only allowed on the right-hand side. On one-way streets, parking is allowed on both sides as long as the street is wide enough.
Continuous yellow lines on the road or kerb indicate that both stopping and parking are prohibited in this location. Broken yellow lines indicate that parking is prohibited.
If payment is required for parking, this will be indicated by road signs.
Disabled parking in France
Public parking will have spaces reserved for disabled access only, which can only be occupied by vehicles with a disabled badge. This badge allows the vehicle to park in disabled parking spaces, but doesn’t usually exempt them from any parking fees.
If parking is free but controlled by time limits, disabled badge holders are generally allowed to park without time limits.
Negotiations are taking place about the recognition and use of UK Blue Badges in some European countries since Brexit. In France, it’s currently undecided whether UK Blue Badges are recognised. Check with the French Embassy before travelling.
Fuel in France
Availability of fuel
Unleaded petrol, diesel fuel and LPG are widely available throughout the whole of France, at petrol stations, supermarket petrol stations and motorway filling stations.
The following fuel types are common:
- Sans plomb 95 – Higher octane petrol
- Sans plomb 98 – Standard octane petrol
- Gazole – Diesel
SP95-E10 (sans plomb (unleaded) 95 Octane + 10% Ethanol) is widely available but is not suitable for use in all cars. Make sure to check with your vehicle manufacturer before using it. If you aren’t sure, use the standard SP95 or SP98 unleaded fuel.
You might also come across diesel fuel containing 8% biodiesel. This ‘B8’ isn’t suitable for use in all cars, and you should again check with your vehicle manufacturer before using it.
Fuel prices in France
Fuel prices in France, as with everywhere else, may vary. You can use a website to check current prices before you travel.
How do I pay for fuel in France?
Credit and debit cards are accepted at petrol stations. There are also many automatic petrol pumps that can be operated by credit or debit cards, though they do not always accept foreign cards.
Cash is generally only accepted at petrol stations with manned kiosks, which can be difficult to find. Motorists wanting to pay in cash will have to work harder to find a manned kiosk.
Electric cars in France
Where can I charge my electric car in France?
France is a very well-developed country when it comes to electric cars, with plenty of charging stations available. The majority are in cities and large towns, close to hotels, shopping centres, supermarkets, large car parks and service stations.
You can use an online map like Chargemap to locate electric vehicle charging points in France.
How do I pay for electric car charging?
Most electric car charging stations in France are self-service, and paid for using either a credit or debit card, or an app which you can top up with money as required. Make sure to do your research on which method works best for you, and if using an app make sure to always keep it topped up with money so you don’t encounter any problems with charging.
In many large service stations and supermarkets, such as Auchan and Leclerc, you can also borrow a ‘badge de recharge’, which is a swipe card to use for EV charging.
They may ask to see the registration certificate for the vehicle and may also ask for a small deposit for the card.
Tips for driving an electric car in France
- Plan out your routes in advance using a map of charging stations, so you can recharge as needed.
- Plan to charge your electric car overnight if possible.
- Download and register with apps to use and pay for charging points to make the process smoother.
- Avoid periods of high congestion, especially in built-up areas, as sitting in traffic for long periods can drain your electric car battery.
Riding a motorcycle in France
- All motorcyclists must use dipped headlights during the day and at night.
- Riders on any two-wheeled vehicle, including motorcycles, must wear a crash helmet. This also applies to any passengers.
- All helmets must display reflective stickers on the front, rear and sides in accordance with the requirements of Regulation 22. A sticker of minimum surface area 18cm2 must be visible from the front, rear, left and right, and within each sticker it must be possible to mark either a circle of 40 millimetres in diameter or a rectangle at least 12.5cm2 in surface area, and at least 20 millimetres in width.
- The driver and passengers of mopeds, motorcycles, motor tricycles and motor quadricycles must wear a pair of CE-certified gloves while riding. This applies all year round whatever the weather, and you could be fined for not doing so.
Driving with a caravan or trailer in France
With a standard driving licence, motorists are allowed to tow a trailer with a maximum mass of 750 kilograms, including both the trailer and its load.
It’s forbidden in France to carry passengers in a moving caravan.
Speed limits for cars towing a caravan or trailer
The maximum speed limit for a car towing a caravan or trailer depends on their total weight.
- Under 3.5t: 130 km/h on motorways, 110 km/h on dual carriageways, 80 km/h on other roads, 50 km/h in built-up areas.
- 3.5 to 12t: 90 km/h on motorways, 80 km/h on dual carriageways, 60 km/h on other roads, 50 km/h in built-up areas.
- Over 12t: 90 km/h on motorways, 80 km/h on dual carriageways, 60 km/h on other roads, 50 km/h in built-up areas.
Tolls in France
French motorways are marked by the letter A for Autoroute, followed by numbers. Most French autoroutes are operated by private companies and are therefore toll motorways. Entrances to them are marked with the word "Péage".
When entering an autoroute with a toll, you’ll pick up a ticket as you enter. Tolls are then paid either as you leave the autoroute, or when the toll area comes to an end. In certain places there are fixed toll points, usually in urban areas or toll bridges.
You can calculate how much you’ll have to pay at tolls by planning your route and looking at a map of tolls and corresponding fee information. You can find a map of French autoroutes with key rates here.
Paying for tolls
There are multiple methods for paying tolls in France. You can either pay in cash or with a Visa or Mastercard card.
There’s also the option of using an electronic toll tag, which allows you to avoid queues by driving in a specified toll tag lane without having to physically stop and pay. You’ll have to pay to purchase the tag, as well as an annual fee to use it, but it may be worth it if you travel in France regularly or are planning a long journey and want to save as much time as possible.
Toll booths in France are designed for left-hand drive cars, so right-hand drive cars may find them hard to navigate without the help of a passenger.
If you want to avoid spending any money on tolls, there are some toll-free routes through France. Though most motorways are privately-owned and tolled, there are a few free motorways, as well as some long-distance dual carriageways.
It’s possible to drive through the whole of France while avoiding any tolls, though this is not necessarily the best nor the most economical solution.
Roadside assistance in France
As the majority of French motorways are privately managed, it’s against the law to call for your own assistance company to aid you if you break down.
In the event of a break down on a motorway or main road, there are orange emergency telephones situated every 2km which you should use to call the police or an official break down service. If no orange telephone is available, you can dial 112 on your own phone to contact the emergency services, who should be able to assist you.
What to expect
Once you have contacted the police or break down service, your vehicle will be towed to a safe area where you can then be met by your chosen breakdown provider.
If you are planning a driving trip through France, check out our European breakdown cover page for a quote. Our cover ensures driving in France is never a worry – if your vehicle breaks down, we'll help.
We offer alternative accommodation and travel arrangements, recovery of your vehicle back to the UK, and up to £50,000 in legal costs
24 June 2022