5 Top Tips for driving in France

I’m delighted to be able to introduce a guest post from Michael Smith from Sanef Tolling UK.  Since 2008 Sanef UK have provided télépéage tags for UK residents planning on driving in France, as well as any more information you may need about driving abroad.

Apart from driving on the right hand side of the road, driving in France is largely the same as driving in the UK. In fact, most Brits enjoy driving in France! The roads are looked after privately which tends to mean that they’re not as hard-going on your suspension as their British counterparts!

Once you have acclimatised to being on the wrong side of the road, there are still a few road customs and laws that you should be aware of. Here are five of our most popular tips.

1. Coming through!

In the UK, a flash of the lights normally signals that you’re giving way or saying thank you. In France, however, a flash of the lights means something completely different: it means ‘I’m coming through!’ In the event that any oncoming vehicle flashes their lights as you approach a narrow stretch of road, it is a warning to get out of the way or stay exactly where you are.

Whilst on the subject of lights, it is worth mentioning that you’ll need to adapt your headlights so that they don’t dazzle French drivers (your headlights are designed for driving on the left-hand side of the road, not the right!). Most dip beams on UK cars don’t just dip; they also have asymmetric beams that light up the left hand side of the road. This is easily solved with inexpensive beam benders that stick on to the all models, and can be easily picked up from Halfords or the ferry terminal.

2. Don’t get stuck at the toll barrier!

Using the French Autoroute (motorway) can save significant time on your journey (and so more time to enjoy your holiday!).  That said, all motorists are charged for using the Autoroute.  Whilst tolls vary depending upon the stretch of road, the average cost is about €1 for every 10km of road used.  Payment is made by cash or bank card at regularly spaced barriers (péage).

Be aware that at each set of barriers there will be at least one Télépéage (t) lane.  These lanes can only be used by motorists that have an electronic transponder fitted which prompts the barrier to open automatically. Visit our website for more details on how you can avoid queuing at the tolls by passing through the Télépéage lane.

3. Child passengers.

In France, it is against the law for children under ten years of age to travel in the front passenger seat of a vehicle. This means that if it is just you and your child travelling, they will have to sit in the back. There are exceptions to the rule however; it does not apply where the vehicle does not have any back seats or where there are no seatbelts in the back. In the event that the back seats are already filled by children, then the oldest may sit in the front passenger seat.  Babies can also be positioned in the front passenger seat, but only if in an approved rear facing baby seat with the airbag deactivated.

4. Portable breathalysers, warning triangles and reflective jackets

From 1st July 2012, all drivers in France will be required to carry a portable breathalyser test in their cars. The logic is that it removes any excuses drivers may have for driving over the limit. If you do decide to have a drink, you have a breathalyser on hand to test yourself.

A portable breathalyser is not the only piece of kit that you will have to take on your trip. It is also a requirement to carry:

  • A warning triangle – it is compulsory to display this if you break down.
  • A reflective jacket – again, you should wear this if you break down and have to exit the vehicle.  It makes it easier for other road users to identify you and ensure your safety should you break down in reduced visibility.
  • A complete set of replacement light bulbs.

If you are found without any of these items whilst you are driving, then you can be hit with an on-the-spot fine, so it is definitely better to be safe than sorry here.

5. Priorité a droite.

Our final tip centres around an archaic law  known as priorité a droite (priority to the right). As you have probably worked out, priorité a droite states that you must give priority to traffic from the right. The law dates back to the time when horse and cart ruled the road and, for some unfathomable reason, it has never been repealed. Luckily though, the law is now only rarely enforced in certain areas and never on the Autoroute.  In fact, you will be hard pressed to find any main roads where the law is still in place.

The only places you are likely to come into contact with priorité a droite is if you venture off the beaten track and travel the country roads.  If the law is in operation in such environments then it will be shown by way of a yellow diamond sign, displayed as you enter the town or village. 
A yellow diamond sign with a black line will indicate when the zone has ended.  If for any reason you are unsure if the law is in place then err on the side of caution and give way to other motorists.

So ends our 5 tips for driving in France, but remember that there is nothing really to worry about. Just like home, if you have any doubt, then simply slow down and apply common sense. Enjoy your holidays!

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