Small red car parked by the Eiffel Tower in Paris

A practical guide to driving your car in France, including top tips

Ah, the open road. Sometimes there’s no greater pleasure than exploring a city from the comfort of your own car. From the craggy coastlines of Brittany to the snowy peaks of the Alps, France in particular offers endless road trip opportunities. If you’re thinking of driving in France though, you’ll find that some of their regulations may differ to those in the UK. This guide explains everything you need to know to stay within the law, so you can enjoy your trip with peace of mind.

Driving regulations in France

From Low Emission Zones to the legal drink drive limit in France, familiarise yourself with these driving regulations to avoid an on-the-spot fine.

French Road Signs In Provence

Speed camera alerts

A long-standing rule in France is that drivers aren’t allowed to use or carry speed camera detectors in their vehicle. In 2012, this law was extended to cover sat navs, as well as any other GPS system which may alert the driver to approaching speed limits. If your system displays fixed speed cameras, you’ll have to disable these alerts to travel. Failure to do so could result in either your vehicle being taken away or a €1500 fine.

Reflective jackets and warning triangle

In case of emergency or breakdown, drivers must carry one high-visibility, reflective safety vest for each occupant. These must be easy to access from the passenger compartment, say, in the glove compartment or on the back seat. You must always put on a reflective vest before leaving your vehicle for any emergency or breakdown situation. Warning triangles are also required – any driver found to not have both safety measures is liable for a fine of up to €750.

Motorcyclists with two or three wheels must also carry both vest and triangle in their storage compartment, to be used in the event of an emergency stop. This law may be upgraded for riders to wear reflective vests at all times, so do check before you travel.

Reflective jacket and warning triangle

Driving in the city – diesel ban and Crit’Air sticker

With air quality an issue in urban areas, Paris, Lyon, Lille and Grenoble have all introduced Low Emission Zones, with some vehicles either banned from entering the city or subject to access fees. Diesel and petrol cars first registered before 1997 and diesels prior to 2001 are banned in the Low Emission Zone from 8am-8pm on weekdays. By 2020, it’s expected that only vehicles registered after 2011 will have access. This initiative may be extended to other French cities, so do check before you travel.

As well as banning certain vehicles, every vehicle (motorcycles included) that travels in a low emissions zone will have to display a Crit’Air sticker to prove it meets economical standards. These can be purchased online for around £3.60, and are valid for as long as the life of the vehicle. Drivers travelling without a Crit’Air sticker face an on-the-spot fine of around £120.

Drink drive limit and breathalysers

The legal blood alcohol limit in France is 0.5 grams per litre. Depending on your weight, this is equivalent to around one small beer. If you’ve been driving for less than three years, the limit is even lower at 0.2 grams per litre.

To travel in France, drivers must carry at least one single-use breathalyser in their vehicle. These must be unused, and certified with the French NF mark. Often this type of equipment only lasts for up to 12 months, so if you still have some from a former trip, be sure to check their expiry date.

Remember, if you’re testing yourself before setting off after a drink, remember that alcohol levels can still rise as well as fall after drinking.

Toll Roads in France

Autoroutes in France

Motorways in France are called Autoroutes – you’ll be able to distinguish these from other French roads as their names often start with an ‘A’. As many of these roads are privately owned, they’ll likely have tolls – look out for blue road signs which display the word ‘télépéage’ or a bold ‘t’ as an indicator.

Paying for tolls varies depending on which route you take. For most Autoroutes, you will be given a card or ticket to pay for at a toll gate when you exit. If you’re paying by credit card, be sure to exit using the lane marked with ‘CB’. If in doubt, always follow the green arrow, which means all types of payment are accepted. Lanes marked with a ‘t’ are for those who pay a toll subscription– typically reserved for residents.

Things to take with you when driving around France

To stay within the law while driving in France, check off this list of things to take with you before you depart. You could be fined up to €750 if you’re found travelling without the following:

Packing your car for a holiday in France

Documents – A full and valid driving licence, additional proof of ID (such as a passport), insurance documents (3rd party or above), Vehicle Registration document (V5C Certificate).

Reflective jackets –You must carry one reflective vest or jacket for each occupant. These should be kept inside the passenger compartment within easy reach.

Warning triangle – To be kept within easy reach.

Crit’Air sticker – To be displayed on your car when travelling through Low Emission Zones in some cities, including Paris.

Headlamp beam deflectors – As UK vehicles are designed for driving on the left-hand side of the road, headlamps may dazzle oncoming vehicles when driving at night. Depending on your car’s set-up, you can either adjust the beam manually, or purchase deflector stickers.

Breathalysers – At least one single-use version with an NF certification mark. Make sure to check its expiry date.

GB sticker – Or registration plates which feature GB initials

Spare bulbs – On the grounds of safety, French enforcements deem it necessary to replace any blown car bulb as soon as possible. For the small price of a spare bulb kit, you’ll avoid an unwanted fine.

Snow chains – If you’ll be driving on winter roads.

All set to visit France? Take a look at our Dover to Calais crossing.