Accidentally breaking the local rules of the road and getting fined is the most common worry among drivers heading across the channel. The rules of the road including basics like speed and drink drive limits can be different from home so get to know the local rules before you go to help you keep out of trouble.
Our general advice for motoring in Europe covers the basics like documents, personal safety and vehicle preparation.
In this article:
You must be at least 18 years old to drive a temporarily imported car or motorcycle (over 80cc) and at least 16 years old to ride a motorcycle up to 80cc.
You must have a minimum of third-party insurance cover.
Unleaded petrol (95 & 98 octane), diesel (Gazole) and LPG are available.
Leaded petrol isn’t available but you may see lead replacement petrol 'Super carburant' or can buy lead substitute additive
You may carry spare petrol in a can once in France but not on a ferry.
SP95-E10 (Sans Plomb (unleaded) 95 Octane + 10% Ethanol) is widely available but is not suitable for use in all cars - check with your vehicle manufacturer before using it. If you’re not sure, use the standard SP95 or SP98 unleaded fuel which continues to be widely available.
B8 biodiesel - you might come across diesel fuel containing 8% biodiesel. This ‘B8’ isn’t suitable for use in all cars and you should check with your vehicle manufacturer before using it.
Most filling stations accept credit cards but check with your card issuer for usage in France & Monaco before you travel. Cards issued in the UK aren’t always accepted at automatic pumps operated by credit/debit card.
If your card is accepted, automatic or unmanned petrol stations operate by authorising a transaction of between 100 and 150 Euros. If the amount authorised is higher than the cost of the fuel, the difference is usually refunded straight away, but in some cases this ‘overpayment’ stays on hold and the funds remain unavailable for up to a week.
Most electric vehicle charging stations in France work with swipe cards (badges de recharge).
In Leclerc, Auchan and other major service stations and supermarkets you can borrow a ‘badges de recharge’ from their shop during opening hours. They may ask to see the registration certificate for the vehicle and may also ask for a small deposit for the card.
Speed limits in France are determined by place, vehicle and by the weather.
Standard legal limits which may be varied by signs, for private vehicles without trailers:
- Built-up areas 31 mph (50 km/h)
- Outside built-up areas* 50mph (80km/h)
- Urban motorways and dual carriageways separated by a central reservation 68 mph (110 km/h)
- Motorways 80 mph (130 km/h) (lower in built-up areas. Minimum 49mph (80km/h))
- Outside built-up areas 43 mph (70km/h)
- Dual carriageways 62 mph (100 km/h)
- Motorways 68 mph (110 km/h)
*Responding to a large rise in the number of road deaths, speed limits on two-lane (single carriageway) roads in France were cut from 90km/h (56mph) to 80km/h (50mph) in July 2018.
This national speed limit change has since been reversed, but the French Government has said that it is up to local Mayors to decide whether or not to return to a 90km/h limit in their area.
Front and rear seat occupants must wear seat belts, if fitted.
Passengers/children in cars
It’s the driver’s responsibility to make sure that all passengers under 18 are appropriately restrained.
- Children up to the age of 10 must travel in an approved child seat or restraint suitable for their age and size.
- Children under the age of 10 aren’t allowed to travel in the front seat unless there’s no rear seat, or the rear seat is already occupied by children under 10, or there are no seat belts in the rear.
- The French Highway Code doesn’t specify a minimum height for children to use an adult seat belt so we recommend that you apply the minimum height of 150cm set by the appropriate European Directive.
- Children don’t have to wear restraints in a taxi, but you could be fined if a child isn’t correctly restrained in other vehicles.
The French Government recommends that all vehicles use dipped headlights day and night.
You must use your dipped headlight during the day.
Riders on any two-wheeled vehicle must wear a crash helmet.
- 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 40mm diameter or, a rectangle at least 12.5cm2 in surface area and at least 20mm in width.
- Helmets worn in the UK have to comply either with BS6658 or with UNECE Regulation 22. If you’ve got a ‘Regulation 22’ helmet it may be supplied with suitable stickers for you to apply.
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. [This doesn’t apply to vehicles fitted with seatbelts and doors i.e. city cars classed as heavy quadricycles].
Drinking and driving
The French police can carry out random breath tests.
- The legal limit is 49 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, or 19 milligrams for bus/coach drivers and new drivers with less than three years’ experience.
- Penalties include a fine, imprisonment and/or confiscation of your driving licence and/or your vehicle.
If you're involved in an accident or commit a traffic offence such as speeding, or not wearing a seatbelt or helmet you will have to take a drugs test.
If you don’t comply with parking regulations your vehicle may be towed away and impounded.
What do you have to carry?
- Warning triangle (not required on motorcycles)
- Snow chains - you must fit snow chains when driving on snow-covered roads in accordance with local road signs. A maximum speed limit of 31 mph (50km/h) applies.
- Reflective jackets (EN471)
- You must carry at least one reflective jacket within the passenger compartment of your vehicle and must put it on before you get out in an emergency or breakdown situation.
- Riders of motorcycles must also wear a reflective jacket in the event of an emergency or breakdown.
Low Emission Zone (LEZ) Crit’Air Vignette
Low emission zones – either full time or ‘emergency’ – are being introduced across France and so far affect Paris, Lyon, Lille, Grenoble, Strasbourg, Toulouse, Marseille, and Chambéry.
The zones restrict access to all types of vehicles including passenger cars and motorcycles. To drive in one of these restricted areas without a penalty, you’ll have to display the appropriate ‘Vignette’ (sticker) in your windscreen.
- If you've not bought and displayed the vignette when driving in a restricted area you could be fined between €68 and €135.
- There are six different types of sticker depending on the emissions standard of your vehicle and each zone sets it's own minimum 'sticker' requirement for entry
- for example from 4 July2019 older petrol and diesel cars are banned from central Paris between 8am and 8pm unless displaying at least a Crit'Air sticker 3 (at least Euro 4 for diesel and at least Euro 2 for petrol)
- From 2022 cars in Paris will have to display at least a Crit'Air 2 sticker
- To get the Crit’Air sticker you’ll need to provide some of the information on your V5c registration document.
We've heard of some websites who are not related to the French government authorities offering the vignette at a vastly inflated price.
Apply for the Crit'Air sticker from the official source for the fee of €4.41 including postage.
Restrictions will be tightened progressively between 2017 and 2020.
Sanef France has extended the Liber-t automated French tolls payment service to UK motorists through Sanef Tolling. With a Sanef Tollings telepeage tag you can use the automatic telepeage/tag lanes, previously reserved for French residents only.
Other rules/requirements in France and Monaco
- You mustn't use headphones and headsets (any device that is attached to the ear) when driving.
- This applies to all drivers and riders for phone calls and also listening to music/radio etc.
- Bluetooth or integrated systems in a motorcycle helmet are still permitted.
- Carrying a spare set of bulbs is recommended.
- Snow tyres (marked M&S) are recommended on roads covered with ice or snow. These must have minimum tread depth of 3.5mm.
- The sign “priorité a droite” (often seen in built-up areas) means give way to traffic coming from the right.
- At signed roundabouts bearing the words "Vous n'avez pas la priorité" or "Cédez le passage" traffic on the roundabout has priority; where no such sign exists, traffic entering the roundabout has priority.
- You must not overtake a stationary tram when passengers are boarding or getting off.
- You can get parking discs for ‘blue zone’ parking areas from police stations, tourist offices and some shops.
- When overtaking a bicycle, you must leave a distance of at least 1m in builtup areas and 1.50m outside built-up areas between your vehicle and the bicycle.
- You must not use your horn in built up areas except in cases of immediate danger.
- A device with a screen which can distract a driver (such as television, video or DVD equipment) must be positioned so that the driver is unable to see it.
- You must not touch or program any device unless parked in a safe place.
- It’s forbidden to carry, transport or use radar detectors. You could be fined up to 1500 Euros and have your vehicle and/or the device confiscated.
- Road signs indicating the location of fixed speed cameras are being removed and additional fixed speed cameras are being installed.
- If you’ve got a GPS-based navigation system (Sat Nav) with maps that can show the location of fixed speed cameras, you must have the ‘fixed speed camera PoI (Points of Interest)’ function deactivated and ideally removed.
- A trailer must have two red lights, two triangular reflectors and a light illuminating the registration plate at the rear and orange reflectors on each side. If the trailer is more than 1.6m wide or is wider than your vehicle by more than 20cm there must be two white reflectors and two white side lights at the front of the trailer.
5 July 2019