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Everything you need to know about driving in France

Carlton Boyce / 01 April 2016 ( 22 May 2018 )

If you are planning to drive in France, our guide will help you keep up-to-date with the laws and get the most out of your trip.

An old car drives through the streets in Montmartre in Paris, France

While you may have driven in France before, there have been some new laws passed recently that might have escaped you, as well as some that you might have forgotten!

Driving licence

The French authorities are aware that the paper counterpart of the driving licence has been scrapped, so they should not ask to see it if you are stopped.

Forgotten fact: Did you know that you need to be 18 or over to drive a car in France, rather than 17, as is the case in the UK?

Six tips for driving long distances

Essential items

French law requires you to keep an unused and in-date breathalyzer in your car (the authorities recommend carrying two breathalysers, so that you still have one even if one gets broken or used).

Plans to enforce a fine for non-compliance have been scrapped, so although you are required to carry a breathalyzer, there is no penalty for not complying with the legislation.

You must also carry a warning triangle and reflective jacket in the car, something the police will check for if they stop you. The reflective jacket must be accessible without having to exit the car – so you can’t just sling it in the boot. If you don’t, you risk a fine of up to €90.

Forgotten fact: France has stricter drink driving laws than England and Wales, with blood alcohol levels of 0.5 mg/ml rather than 0.8 mg/ml. However, for those with less than 2 years driving experience the limit is even lower at 0.2 mg/ml.

Five steps to planning the perfect road trip

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The 10 things you need

Here is a handy list of the ten essential items you need:

• Valid passport

• UK driving licence

• Car registration document (V5)

• Valid UK vehicle tax (road tax)

• Insurance documents for the car• 

• Headlamp converters on the car’s headlights, to dip the beam to the right, rather than the left

• GB or EU sticker on the back of your car

• Breathalyser(s)

• Warning triangle for use if you breakdown

• Reflective jacket or vest

• Spare bulbs for all the lights on your car

Forgotten fact: You’ll also need to carry snow chains if you travel in a mountainous region in the winter, and if you wear prescription glasses you'll need to carry a spare pair.  

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Seat belts

Everyone in the car must wear a seat belt and children weighing less than 15kgs must use a child seat; older children can use a booster seat and seat belt.

Forgotten fact: In France, children aged under 10 cannot travel in the front of the car.

Priorité à Droite 

Priorité à Droite (the old French rule that states you must give priority to traffic coming from the right) is falling out of favour but may still apply at some junctions. If you see the yellow diamond sign with a white border then Priorité à Droite does not apply to that stretch of road.

Forgotten fact: Road signs that start Bis show an alternative route that is more picturesque than the direct route, and will normally have less traffic on it, making them ideal for the holidaymaker who is happy to amble along and explore quieter roads.

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Speed limits

Speed limits vary, according to location, type of vehicle, weather conditions, and the experience of the driver.

Forgotten fact: EU drivers who are caught travelling at more than 40km/h over the speed limit will probably have their driving licence confiscated on the spot.

We’re taking our annual holiday in France this summer. Has anything changed relating to driving laws since visiting last year?

There are two significant changes to France’s rules of the road.

First, the speed limit on two-lane highways (not a motorway or dual carriageway) drops from 90kmh (56mph) to 80kph (50mph).

The new limit comes into force from 1 July 2018 and is intended to curb the rising number of road accident fatalities in recent years.

Second, using a mobile phone while driving is already an offence subject to an on-the-spot ¤135 fine. But now, you can have your driving licence suspended immediately if you are caught using your mobile behind the wheel in a moving vehicle.

This applies even to those using a hands-free headset and the rules extend to drivers of all nationalities. You shouldn’t be doing it anyway, so stick your mobile in the glove compartment out of temptation’s way.

Extract taken from Saga Magazine, March 2018. For more travel tips, subscribe to the magazine today!


A new law has just been introduced that bans the use of headphones by drivers in cars and riders of motorcycles, whether to listen to music or take phone calls. However, this does not extend to the built-in systems that some motorcyclists use to communicate between rider and pillion passenger.

Forgotten fact: Eating at the wheel is enforced more strictly in France than in the UK, despite being illegal in both countries.

Read our tips for driving abroad

Satellite navigation

French law prohibits the use of any device that warns of the presence of speed traps, so if your sat-nav shows the location of fixed speed cameras you must disable that feature before driving in France.

Forgotten fact: The use of a radar detector is illegal, so leave yours at home!

Low emission zones

Low emission zones, which apply to cars and motorcycles, are already in place in Paris and Grenoble with Lyon, Lille, Strasbourg, and Toulouse having emergency zones that come into effect when the air monitoring system detects unusually high levels of air pollution. More cities are likely to be added in the near future.

Full details of the scheme can be found in English, but the main bullet points are:

• All cars and motorcycles entering a low emission zones must display a Crit’ Air air quality sticker, which shows how poluting the vehicle is. There are six levels from Green, which is the cleanest through to Grey, which is the most polluting.

• The fine for not displaying the appropriate sticker is between €68 and €135. The stickers cost just €3.11 (plus postage) so it’s worth applying for yours if there is even the slightest chance you’ll be travelling through any of these cities.

Driving in France: Advice from Saga readers

If towing a trailer / caravan / boat you are required to carry:
a)  An additional emergency triangle for the trailer; based on the idea that if you had to park the trailer in a dodgy position, you need a triangle for the parked trailer and a separate triangle for the car which you are driving.
b) A separate spare bulb kit just for the trailer in addition to the spare bulb kit for your car.
- Philip, via email

Do you have a favourite forgotten fact, or piece of advice for anyone planning to drive through France? We’d love to hear from you - email

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.