Most trips to Europe by road involve some driving in France, and it’s easy to get confused about the rules for drivers in France and how they might differ from those at home.
Driving in the EU after Brexit
The UK stopped being a member of the EU on 31 January 2020. However, until the end of 2020 the previous rules on travel for the UK and the EU continue to apply.
New rules on travel in the EU may take effect on 1 January 2021, including the documents you'll need to carry when driving in Europe.
The latest rules:
- The drink drive limit for new drivers (less than 3 years) has gone down from 0.05% to 0.02%, the same as for bus and coach drivers.
- Drivers and riders mustn’t use headphones and headsets (any device attached to your ear). This covers devices used for phone calls as well as for listening to music, but you’re allowed to use a Bluetooth or integrated systems in a motorcycle helmet.
- Low Emission Zones in Paris, Lyon and Grenoble affect UK-registered vehicles too and ban access for older vehicles. (Full details)
- Speed limits on single carriageway roads without a separating guard rail were reduced from 90km/h to 80km/h (50 mph) across France in 2018.
Eating at the wheel
Stories in the press about a new law specifically prohibiting eating or applying make-up at the wheel are misleading. These have always been covered under the more general French equivalent of our 'Driving without due care and attention'.
In response to a big rise in the number of road deaths in France, speed limits on two-lane (single carriageway) highways were cut from 90km/h (56mph) to 80km/h (50mph) in July 2018.
This national speed limit change has since been reversed though the French Government has said that it is up to Mayors to decide whether or not to return to a 90km/h limit in their local area.
In July 2012 the French announced that drivers must carry a breathalyser or, from November 2012, be fined €11. You still have to carry the breathalyser but the fine has been postponed twice and was shelved in January 2013. The breathalyser must be unused and show the French certification mark NF. It has to be in date too. Single-use breathalysers normally only last 12 months so check yours if you bought it for a trip last year and didn’t use it.
Reflective clothing for motorcyclists
In 2012 the French said that riders would have to wear reflective clothing when riding and if they break down. This was to come in in 2013 but the law was scrapped in January 2013.
Since January 2016 though, riders on two or three wheels must carry reflective jackets and wear them in an emergency or break down.
Satnav and speed camera alerts
It’s long been the case that you’re not allowed to carry or use a speed camera detector in France.
- You could be fined up to €1,500 or even have your vehicle taken away.
- The law was extended to cover satnav and any other GPS-based system in 2012.
- If your satnav can show fixed speed cameras, then you’ll have to disable alerts before you drive in France.
- You may need to contact the satnav manufacturer for a software or database update to remove French camera data.
Low emission zones
Low emission zones – either full time or 'emergency' have already been introduced in Paris, Lyon, Lille and Grenoble, and more are expected in future.
If you're heading to France by car and there's even a small chance you could be driving in one of these restricted cities it's a good idea to be prepared and order the required 'sticker' well before you travel.
- Low emission zones affect all types of vehicle including passenger cars and motorcycles.
- Vehicles in restricted areas have to display a sticker – CRIT’Air, Air quality Certificate.
- If you've not purchased and displayed the vignette you could be fined between €68 and €135.
- There are six different types of sticker depending on the emissions of your vehicle.
- Get the sticker from the official source for the fee of €4.41 including postage.
- Restrictions will be tightened progressively between 2017 and 2020.
- 'Emergency' low emission zones operate when monitoring systems show that air pollution is high so could be in effect at any time.
- Read more about the Paris, Lyon, Lille and Grenoble LEZ