Driving in France: Key requirements and important road rules

By , 17 April 2024

8 mins read

Driving in France: Key requirements and important road rules

Famed for its vibrant cities, majestic landmarks, and rich cultural heritage, it is safe to say that a holiday to France is always a good idea.

Whether you are planning a road trip through Europe or exploring France itself, it is important to thoroughly research the country’s driving rules and requirements well in advance of your trip.

You can also eliminate any potential worry or stress by taking out a standalone excess insurance policy.

Our car hire excess insurance policy will cover the cost of any accidental damage caused to your vehicle, so you can continue to focus on your holiday and making memories.

To make sure you feel well-equipped and have a safe trip, we have put together a handy checklist that covers everything you need to know about the laws and requirements for driving in France.

Preparing for driving in France

Just like driving in Italy or Spain , it is important to never assume that you will have the same experience as driving in the UK, as some of the road rules can differ greatly from what you are used to.

It is estimated that, despite eight million Brits driving abroad each year, 69% do not check the local driving laws .

Failing to check the road rules of your destination country can put yourself and other road users at significant risk, with GOV.UK stating that 18% of Brits have had a near miss when driving abroad.

To avoid this, ensure you take action and thoroughly research the local road rules and requirements for driving in France ahead of your trip.

Much like other European countries, it is your responsibility to make sure you are carrying the required documents and equipment; otherwise, you may be issued an on-the-spot fine.

Can I drive in France with a UK license?

Yes, you can legally drive in France with a full and valid UK driver’s license when visiting the country.

Just like in the UK, the legal age to drive a car in France is 18 years old, and provisional licenses will not be accepted.

However, if you plan on exploring France via a two-wheel drive, riders of motorbikes or motorcycles up to 125cc must be 16 or over.

What documents do I need to drive in France?

In addition to your driver’s license, you are required to always carry the following documentation when driving in France:

Any required documents relating to your hire car will be provided by the rental company. Make sure these are stored safely and on hand should you need to supply them during your travels.

Driving in France equipment checklist

French law also states that motorists are required to carry the following mandatory items:

Driving in another country can be daunting, but you can add that extra reassurance to your trip by carrying these recommended, but not mandatory, items:

No matter where or what weather conditions you are driving in, it is always best to be well-prepared for all eventualities.

Do I need a UK sticker for driving in France?

If you will be driving your own car in France, then it is mandatory to have a UK sticker clearly visible on the rear of your vehicle.

GOV.UK states that any road users driving a UK-registered car in France must display the letters ‘UK.’

However, if you are driving a French-registered hire car, a UK sticker will not be required.

Lexus IS

Road rules in France

Now that you are fully aware of what essentials are required for both you and your hire car, it is time to learn how you can navigate the French roads safely.

You may notice some similarities between the driving rules in France and the UK.

However, it is important to remember that there are some rules that may be very different from what you are used to.

So, it is always best to thoroughly check and ensure you understand the rules before you hit the road.

Do I need to wear a seat belt?

Yes, it is mandatory for both drivers and passengers to wear a seat belt at all times.

The driver is responsible for ensuring that anyone under the age of 18 is adequately restrained in the car.

If anyone is caught not wearing their seat belt, you could be issued a fine of €150 .

Which side of the road do they drive in France?

Just like in many other European countries, road users are required to drive on the right-hand side of the road in France.

If you have hired a car in France, it will already be set up for this, with the driver's seat located on the left side.

Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get used to this change by learning about your hire car and practising on quieter roads.

Who has priority?

In France, you must always give priority to vehicles approaching from the right, unless road signs state otherwise.

This is easily identifiable by signs stating ‘priorité à droite’ meaning priority from the right.

You are also expected to give way to any traffic that is already on the roundabout.

French road rules also state that emergency vehicles with flashing lights or sirens have priority over other road users.

How do I overtake?

Generally, road users are expected to overtake other vehicles on the left-hand side of the road.

However, if there is traffic in the lanes, road users may overtake on the right of vehicles in slower moving lanes.

If you need to overtake a bicycle, you must leave a minimum distance of 1 metre in built up areas and 1.5 metres outside of these areas.

It is important to apply the same level of due care and attention when overtaking in France as you would do in the UK, by checking your mirrors, blind spots, using your indicators, and keeping a safe distance.

Can you turn right on a red light in France?

You cannot turn on a red light unless it is accompanied by a yellow arrow.

If this is the case, you must proceed in the direction in which the arrow is pointing.

However, it is important to be aware that the yellow arrow does not give you the right of way, so it is always best to proceed with caution.

How do traffic lights work in France?

Just like the UK, France follows the international three-colour traffic light system.

A major difference with French traffic lights is that there is no amber light as the lights transition from red to green.

If you see a flashing amber light, this indicates that you need to be cautious, slow down, or continue but give way to vehicles approaching from the right.

While a flashing red light alerts drivers that there is no entry or indicates a level crossing.

If you fail to stop at a red light, you could receive a fine of €135 .

What are the French speed limits?

France follows the metric system for all of its road signs for distances and speed limits, like many other European countries.

Just as you normally would when driving, it is important to always be aware of your speed and surroundings, as the speed limit can vary depending on the road type and location you are driving in.

Here is a general guideline for French speed limits:

  • Motorways – 130 km/h regularly, 110 km/h in rainy conditions
  • Dual carriageways – 110 km/h regularly, 100 km/h in rainy conditions
  • Main roads – 80 km/h regularly, 70 km/h in rainy conditions
  • Built-up areas – 50 km/h

While the above are the standard speed limits in France for the listed roads, special speed restrictions will apply to certain classes of vehicles, so it is always best to do your research beforehand.

Why do French speed limit signs say ‘rappel’

While driving through France, you will often see the word ‘rappel’ underneath speed limit signs.

This translates to ‘reminder,’ as it is reminding road users that the speed limit is still in place and that they must stick to it.

How much are French speeding fines?

To speed in France is to break the law, for which you can expect a hefty fine or points on your license.

The standard fine for breaking the speed limit is €135; however, this can vary depending on how far over the speed limit you were driving.

If you are caught exceeding the limit by more than 50 kph you can receive a fine of €1,500 and potentially have your license and vehicle confiscated.

If a fine has been issued to you, it is always better to pay it sooner rather than later.

Early payment discounts are available to those who pay within the first 15 days of receiving their fine.

For example, if you have received the standard speeding fine of €135, you could receive a quick payment discount of €90.

However, if you exceed the 45-day payment window, you can be charged up to €450 for a late payment.

Speed cameras in France

There is no cheating the system in France, with French law prohibiting any use of devices which can detect speed cameras.

This includes GPS systems, smartphone apps like Google Maps, radar, and laser detectors that can pick up a camera’s location and alert drivers of their presence.

If you are caught using this function, you could be subject to a fine of €1,500, have your device confiscated, or worse, have your vehicle seized.

Do children require a car seat?

Yes, any child under the age of 10 and less than 135cm in height is required to travel in a R44/R129 approved car seat .

Children under 10 may only sit in the front seat of a vehicle if there is a special child restraint, and only if there is no rear seat or the seats are already occupied with children under the age of 10.

If you are travelling with a baby, they must be placed in an approved rear-facing baby seat, and the passenger air bag must be turned off in this incidence.

Failure to comply with French child seat laws could see you penalised with a fine of up to €750.

Can I use my mobile or headphones when driving?

It is against the law to use your mobile without a hands-free set while driving in France.

The European Union states that road users can only use a Bluetooth hands-free set and that the use of headphones is strictly prohibited.

What is the drink-driving limit in France?

It is not uncommon to enjoy a drink or two while on holiday, especially after a day of seeing the sights.

However, if you plan on rounding off your day with drinks, it is always best to get a taxi rather than getting behind the wheel.

France’s standard legal limit for drivers is 0.5 g/l, while the limit for newly qualified and professional drivers is 0.2 g/l .

If you are caught drink-driving , the punishment will depend on your blood alcohol level.

For example, if you are found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.5 g/l - 0.8 g/l, you could receive a fine of €135, 6 points on your license and/or a driving ban of up to three years.

Whereas if you are caught above 0.8 g/l, you could face a fine of up to €4,500, points on your license, a compulsory road safety course, and even imprisonment for up to two years.

The French police do have the power to carry out random breath tests, which must be complied with.

If a driver has been involved in an accident or committed a traffic offence, they must complete a drug test.

Do I still need to carry a breathalyser kit?

A breathalyser kit was once a mandatory item to carry in your vehicle at all times when driving in France; although, this is no longer the case.

However, there is nothing wrong with taking a kit with you if you do plan on drinking alcohol while on your travels.

Parking in France

Unknowingly parking in the wrong place can add a lot of unnecessary stress to your holiday, as you can receive fines and even have your hire car clamped or impounded.

To avoid this, it is always worth researching where you can and cannot park when driving in France.

Here are some important tips for parking while visiting France:

  • If a road has two side-by-side lanes, you must only park on the right-hand side
  • Parking is allowed on both sides of a one-way street if the road is wide enough
  • Continuous yellow lines on the road or curb signify that stopping and parking in this area are prohibited
  • Broken yellow lines indicate that you must not park in that particular area
  • Road signs will highlight when you need to pay for parking
  • Disabled parking spaces are marked with a wheelchair symbol and are usually free

If you are found to be illegally parked in France, it is your responsibility to cover any costs of impounding, fines issued for dangerous parking, or vehicle release.

French toll roads

While you are making your road trip plan or choosing the places you want to visit, it is important to consider French toll roads.

Toll roads in France are easily recognisable and are marked by the letter ‘A’ for Autoroute, followed by numbers, while the entrances to these roads are also highlighted by the word ‘Péage.’

Toll booths in France generally accept both cash and card payments.

If you want to save time waiting to pay, you can also use an electronic toll tag system such as Telepass or Emovis, which allows you to drive through the automated toll lanes and dodge the queues.

You can avoid further unnecessary charges on your days out by researching which roads in France require toll payments.

Availability and cost of fuel in France

Filling up your car in another country can be a daunting task; after all, no one wants to deal with the issue of misfuelling their car on holiday.

However, by taking the time to research what fuel is readily available in France and what name to look out for, the process can be a lot simpler.

To fill up your car with diesel, you will need to identify the pump that is marked with ‘gazole.’

While higher-octane petrol can be found under ‘sans plomb 95’ and standard-octane petrol under ‘sans plomb 98.’

Fuel prices can vary throughout time and parts of the country, so it is always worth checking the current prices before travelling.

Final thoughts

Your trip to France should be filled with fun memories rather than those of car issues or mishaps.

With a bit of extra research and planning ahead of time, you can ensure that you are well-equipped to handle any situations that may arise, so that all you have left to do is have a wonderful and stress-free holiday.

About the author

Jon spent years travelling Europe and Asia before settling down in the UK when he met his wife.

He’s hired cars across the globe and is passionate about helping people save money with excess insurance.

Since co-founding Reduce My Excess, Jon has found that he can use the knowledge he picked up from his travels by sharing it in online guides and articles.

He hopes to save people from making the mistakes he learnt from over the years by giving them the travel information they need before they head off on their holidays.