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Driving in France – The Basics


Driving in France: Don’t forget that you drive on the right in France! So it is compulsory to place converters on your headlights to ensure that your dipped beams won’t dazzle oncoming traffic.

Headlight converters are available at most car accessory stores.

You must also display a GB sticker (oval, with GB in black letters on a white background – at least 6.9in by 4.5in) at the rear of your vehicle/caravan or trailer if applicable, unless you already have modern plates with the European sign. The GB stickers are available from most Ferry Companies or any general car accessory shop.

What is compulsory?

  • A warning triangle – it is compulsory to use one after an accident or breakdown in France.
  • A Yellow High Visibility Jacket in your vehicle.  One per vehicle is the requirement, however, the French Government recommend two – one for the driver and one for the passenger.
  • A spare set of vehicle bulbs is also recommended – you could face a roadside fine if you are stopped and any of your vehicle lights are not working.
  • Breathalyzer – one per vehicle

Motorway Networks

Currently there are eight different networks:

SAPN – Autoroute Paris – Normandie
SANEF – Autoroutes du Nord et de l’Est de Ia France
SAPRR – Autoroutes Paris – Rhine – Rhône
COFIROUTE – Compagnie Financière et Industrielle des Autoroutes
ASF – Autoroutes du Sud de Ia France
ESCOTA – Autoroute Esterel – Côte d’Azur
AREA – Autoroutes Rhône – Alpes
STMB – Tunnel Routier sous le Mont Blanc.

Toll Booths

You’ll come across two toll booths on the motorway:

PAY PER NETWORK – In this case you take a ticket from the machine when you enter a particular network and then pay when leaving it. You can pay in either Euros or by credit card.

PAY PER SECTION – Tolls are calculated for each section of the network you’re driving on and you pay regular amounts along the way (it’s useful to have small change ready). The tariffs vary depending on the type of vehicle, but cars are all charged at the same rate.

Emergency Phones

You’ll find the orange SOS phones every 2 kms along motorways and in many of the larger aires.

Patrol and Driving Safety

There are regular security patrols day and night on all the networks. Speeding can result in large fines, payable on the spot. Remember to always keep your distance and take regular breaks – share the driving if you can. Never overtake on the right. If you’re driving at night and want to take a rest, try one of the “aires”. You’ll find that most “aires” are lit up at night.

High Visibility Vests are compulsory in France since July 1st 2008, and in Austria, Belgium, Italy, Norway, Portugal and Spain (and likely to become compulsory throughout the EU). The rules vary from country to country concerning number of vests required and whether they should be carried in the car or boot. Common sense suggests that there should be a vest for every occupant, and that the vests should be carried in the car, and put on before getting out. Do this and you will not have a problem.

Speed Limits

Motorways: 80mph (130 kph).
On urban stretches 68mph (110kph) and 49mph (80kph) on the Paris ring Road.
Dual carriageways: 68mph (110kph).
Outside built-up areas: 55mph (90kph).
Built-up areas: 31mph (50kph).

In wet weather, lower limits apply –
Motorways: 68 mph (110 kph).
On urban stretches 68mph (110kph) and 49mph (80kph) on the Paris ring Road.
Dual carriageways: 62mph (100kph).
Outside built-up areas: 49mph (80kph).
Built-up areas: 31mph (50kph).

These lower limits apply at all times to drivers who have held a licence for less than 2 years.

Electronic Display Panels

Appearing about 2 kms before an exit, these panels give you information about the local road and traffic conditions, such as traffic hold-ups or roadworks.


Try and stop on the hard shoulder as far to the right as possible. Put your hazard lights on and find the nearest emergency phone (there should be one every 2 kms). The calls are free and go straight through to the police who will send an approved mechanic who will try to fix the problem or arrange to tow you to a garage.

If you’re at all unsure about the reliability of your car consider taking out RAC breakdown cover. It’s not that expensive for a week and can be a real lifesaver.Click here: to read the experiences of one of our field testers, Jim Kelly… he was certainly glad he had RAC cover!

Filling Up

As in Britain service stations vary their fuel prices on the motorway, so it’s best to check before you fill up. Most stations have shops offering a variety of products, such as snacks and drinks, and services including fax and telephone.


Mini-buses adapted for the disabled pay the same toll as private cars. It’s also worth noting that telephones do not have wheelchair access. However, the majority of “aires” (especially the more sizeable ones) offer good access and facilities.

More information:

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