As of 14 August 2020, France has been added to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)'s list of countries where it's advising that no non-essential travel should take place in the country. This means that anyone returning from France will need to quarantine in the UK for 14 days.
With that in mind, we're advising against all travel to or through France. But if you are, the latest FCO foreign travel advice makes for essential reading. The backdrop of this is one where an increasing number of people have been turning away from airports and getting behind the wheel for their trips to and through France.
Once the travel alert is lifted, it's still worth noting the most up-to-date driving regulations in this country, and that means you need to be prepared. From the documents and equipment you need to carry with you to the new ‘clean air’ sticker required in some French cities, remember that driving in France isn’t as easy as just hopping on the ferry in your old reliable car.
Driving in France during the pandemic
For one, you shouldn't be driving in France unless it's absolutely necessary. Much of the advice on Coronavirus (COVID-19) stands, especially around sanitisation and reducing the spread of the virus. France has more stringent regulations around wearing face masks than the UK, too, so make sure you have a good supply, and default to always wearing them outdoors and in public places, unless you have explicit guidance stating otherwise.
Driving in France after Brexit
Depending on the outcome of Brexit (the finer details of which are still being discussed with EU states), you might need a different form of documentation to before when you drive there in 2021. But for now, and until the end of 2020, while we're in the ratification process, it's business as usual when driving in France.
Come 2021, you'll probably need an Insurance Green Card and an International Driving Permit. You will also need at least six months on your passport. Stay up to date with how Brexit might affect foreign driving by checking the latest government advice on driving in the EU after Brexit.
Latest regulations for driving in France
Alcohol limits: If you have less than three-years’ driving experience, the alcohol limit is 0.2g per litre. If you have more than three years' experience, the limit is 0.5g per litre. Both are lower than the UK limit of 0.8 grams per litre.
Wearing headsets and headphones while driving, be it for music purposes or for phone calls, is prohibited – for both car drivers and motorcycle riders. You could receive a €90 fine. However, this excludes motorcycle helmets that have integrated systems.
Motorcyclists are required to have reflective jackets to be worn in the event of a breakdown or an emergency.
The Low Emission Zone (LEZ) in Paris means that diesel and petrol lorries and buses made before 1997 are banned, and petrol and diesel cars registered before 1997 are banned from 8am to 8pm on weekdays. Only vehicles made in or after 2011 are allowed.
You cannot drive a car or ride a motorbike until the age of 18 in France, even if your own driving licence qualifies you at home.
You must display a ‘clean air’ sticker for driving through Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, Lille, Strasbourg and Toulouse.
Speed limits in France
What are the speed limits in France? Unlike the UK, they are variable, and also depend on the weather and road conditions. There are two sets of speed limits in France, one for dry weather, the other for wet. If it's less than two years since you passed your test, the lower wet weather limits apply at all times.
Dry Weather Limits:
Built-Up Areas: 31mph (50km/h)
Outside Built-Up Areas (two lane roads): 50mph (80km/h)
Dual Carriageways and Non-Toll Motorways: 68mph (110km/h)
Toll Motorways: 80mph (130km/h)
The Paris Ring Road (Peripherique) has its own limit of 49 mph (80km/h)
Wet Weather Limits (and drivers with less than two years since passing their test):
Built-Up Areas: 31mph (50km/h)
Outside Built-Up Areas: 43mph (70km/h)
Dual Carriageways and Non-Toll Motorways: 62mph (100km/h)
Toll Motorways: 68mph (110km/h)
What’s the French ‘clean air’ sticker?
If you’re planning on driving in France soon, make sure you check your routes as some cities require a ‘clean air’ sticker. Called the Crit’Air vignette, you need the sticker to drive through Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, Lille, Strasbourg and Toulouse.
Mayors of the areas concerned will have the power to ban the worst polluting vehicles from urban areas on days of high pollution. Although restrictions only apply on those days, your sticker must be displayed at all times.
This is a legal requirement, and failure to do so could result in a fine of €68 for light vehicles, and €135 for heavy goods vehicles.
How do I get a French ‘clean air’ sticker?
Visit the website certificat-air.gouv.fr/en - the site is all in English and easy to follow, including FAQs.
To apply for a sticker, you will need to scan and upload your car’s registration document (V5C). The file must be in .pdf, .png or .jpeg format and must not exceed 400kB.
The process can take up to six weeks, so order well in advance of travel.
How much does a French ‘clean air’ sticker cost?
The stickers cost €3.11 plus postage, and will last for the lifetime of the car.
What vehicles need a French ‘clean air’ sticker?
All vehicles, including cars, heavy goods vehicles, buses, coaches, and motorbikes require a sticker; there are six different types of sticker, depending on the vehicle’s class, based on its emissions.
The sticker must be placed on the front of the vehicle.
Other French towns are considering implementing the use of ‘clean air’ stickers as well.
In case of an emergency while driving in France
Motorways are privately managed, so you cannot phone your own breakdown company. Instead, you must use one of the orange emergency telephones to call the police or local breakdown service. If no orange phone is available, call the emergency services on 112.
The cost for recovery, as of 1 April 2017, is:
€123.90 for vehicles 1.8 tonnes or under or €185.85 between the hours of 18:00 and 08:00, weekends and bank holidays
€153.21 for vehicles 3.5t or under or €229.82 between the hours of 18:00 and 08:00, weekends and bank holidays
For vehicles over 3.5t, the cost is at the towing service’s discretion
What’s your priority when driving in France - Priorité à droite
When driving in France, pay attention to all the road signs - there is an old tradition of giving way to cars emerging from junctions on the right. This is taken for granted by many French drivers, even though new road signs dictate this isn’t the case on many roads.
Pay attention to all road signs, which should tell you whose priority it is - but as a general rule of thumb, slow down and be prepared to give way to cars turning into the road from the right, especially in Paris.
Your driving in France kit
If you're off on holiday and will be driving in France, what do you need? Here's a checklist of what kit you'll need:
Full, valid driving licence
Proof of insurance
Proof of ID
Proof of ownership (original V5C document, not a photocopy)
Reflective jackets, one for each occupant of the vehicle
Headlamp beam deflectors
A GB sticker
Parkers - Best driving kits for France
1. AA euro travel kit
This kit covers all the basics for driving in France. The kit will cover a single person travelling through France with additional high vis vests required for more people. Still, this smart product cannot be beaten for covering the basics in one easy and well-priced product.
2. AlcoSense French NF Certified Breathalysers
These breathalysers are a must-buy for driving in France. France is unique from other EU countries because it requires every car to be fitted with a breathalyser. If you already have an EU compliant driving kit but intend to drive in France, you'll need to add one of these breathalysers.
3. Gadlane car travel kit
A basic but good kit, the Gadlane kit may lack a warning triangle and high vis vests but does come with the other legally required content. A budget option it may be, but it still offers properly approved products to keep you driving legally.
4. Sailnovo car emergency kiy
This kit offers all you could need in the event of a breakdown. You'll still need to buy yourself a GB sticker, headlight conversion kit and breathalyser to be legal in France but then you'll be as prepared as a scout for any eventuality.
5. AA high visibility vest
These high vis vests could save a life. It is also a legal requirement in France to have one high vis vest per occupant in case of a breakdown so having extras will always come in handy.
Driving on the right in France
Whether you arrive in France via a ferry or the Channel Tunnel, you won’t get a chance to practise driving on the right. Be confident, keep up with the traffic flow, and remain alert to making manoeuvres the opposite way round to usual.
Pay particular attention when overtaking, which will be on the left, especially on single carriageway roads where it might prove difficult to see around a slow-moving truck in your right-hand drive car. A front-seat passenger might be able to assist, but remember responsibility always remains with the driver.
Roundabouts can prove tricky the first few times you encounter them but before long it feels second nature. Remember to give way to traffic already on the roundabout - apart from at l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris, where it’s still every man and woman for themselves.
Penalties and on-the-spot fines
What are the rules when you're driving in France? Some French police authorities are authorised to impose and collect on-the-spot fines of up to €750.
Cross-Border Enforcement means if you commit a speeding offence in France, or a number of EU countries, your licence details are available to the authorities in the country the offence was committed. So don’t assume that because you’re abroad, the authorities can’t access your details and chase you for a fine.