To drive in France you must be over 18 years of age and hold a valid driving Licence. Younger drivers under the age of 18 cannot drive a car in France even if they have a full driving licence from another country. At present your current national driving licence will be accepted if you are from the UK or another EU country. Short-term visitors from other countries including USA, Canada and Australia must obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) or “notarized” (officially certified) translation of your driver’s license before coming to France.
If you are planning to become resident in France then your current, valid driving licence will be accepted for a period of one year from your official date of residence. After this one-year period has expired it is necessary to exchange your foreign driving licence for a French License. If you do not make this exchange within the time limit you will be required to take the French driving license test (theory and practical) where on passing you will be issued with a probationary license. It is important to remember that if you are caught driving with an invalid or expired licence then you risk a prison sentence, a fine and confiscation of your vehicle.
Further information relating to requirements for foreign drivers in France can be on the Service Public website.
Essential requirements for driving in France
When driving in France you must make sure that you carry the following items in your vehicle at all times
- Valid Driving License
- Passport/ID Card
- Insurance Documents
- Proof of Ownership: for UK vehicles this is the V5/Log Book (even though UK authorities don’t consider the V5 as absolute proof of ownership) registration document and for a French vehicle, the Carte Gris
- Warning Triangle
- Spare Bulbs
- Hi-Viz Vest
- Breathalyser (the breathalyser must be unused, show the French certification mark NF and be in date. Single-use breathalysers normally have a validity of twelve months)
In 2012 the French Government issued a law that all motor vehicles and motorcycles (excluding mopeds) must carry a self-test breathalyser. But at the moment the French Government have indefinitely postponed the implementation of sanctions for drivers not carrying a breathalyser, so theoretically you are still required to carry a self-test breathalyser when driving in France but there is no current legislation demanding a fine for non-compliance. Carrying two single-use breathalysers will ensure that if one is used or damaged, you will still have a spare to produce.
Be warned, your vehicle must be legally fit in the country of registration for you to use it on French roads. It must therefore have a current test certificate (MOT for UK registered vehicles), road tax, green card insurance and fitted with headlamp converters (for UK vehicles).
Children as passengers
Children under 10 years of age are not allowed to travel in the front seat of a car, unless there are no back seats. Any child under 10 must travel in the back of the vehicle using an appropriate car or booster seat. Babies are allowed to travel in the front passenger seat, but only when placed in an approved rear-facing baby seat and the airbag is turned off.
Seatbelts must be worn by both adults and children, both in the back and front seats. Rear passengers can only travel without seatbelts in the back of older cars that do not have seatbelts fitted. (Article R412-1 of the French Highway code).
- Motorways: 130km/hr (just over 80mph) reduced to 110km/hr in the rain
- Dual Carriageways: 110km/hr, reduced to 100km/hr in the rain
- Main Roads (outside built-up areas) 90km/hr reduced to 80km/hr in the rain
- Towns/Villages: 50 km/hr, unless otherwise indicated
There is not always a speed restriction sign at the entrance to a built-up area particularly when entering a small village, but if you remember that the name-board found at the beginning of a town or village automatically indicates a built-up area with a speed limit of 50 km/h. Police speed cameras are often set up in villages where traffic too often forgets to slow down.
Speed cameras in France
There are well over two thousand stationary speed cameras on France’s roads and motorways and the French government is at present busy installing around 400 new, unsigned cameras as well as taking down signs indicating the location of existing camera sites.
Since 3 January 2012 French laws have prohibited drivers from carrying any device capable of detecting speed cameras. This includes products or devices able to warn or inform the driver of the location of speed cameras e.g. satnav or GPS systems which are able to show speed camera sites as Points of Interest. If you have either a portable or in car satnav with this capability then you are required to have any warning system disabled.
It is not permitted to use or hold a mobile phone whilst driving and traffic police will issue on the spot fines if you are caught doing so. The use of hands-free phones is allowed.
Priorité à droite – Priority to the right
Priority roads are marked with a yellow diamond sign, these are usually main roads i.e. N roads and D roads. This means that you have priority over any joining road. This priority ends if there is a yellow diamond with a black strike through. Priority to the right or “Priorité à droite” is indicated by the following sign.
This means that you must give way to any traffic joining from the right. This priority is still common in villages and on rural roads. The safest assumption is that if a side road is not marked by ‘give-way’ or ‘Stop’ signage then cars coming from that direction have the right of way, so make sure you remain vigilant at all times.