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Driving in France

Updated: Sep 10, 2022


We cover all you need to know about driving in France, from obtaining a license to understanding traffic laws, fines, and other issues.

While there aren't many differences between driving in France and driving in the US, Canada, or other parts of Europe, there are a few unique traffic rules that you should be aware of before you get behind the wheel. This page contains all you need to know about driving in France, including the following: Whether you're planning a road trip to visit some of the country's stunning locations or are just trying to get from A to B, this article will help.

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France's traffic laws

In France, driving is done on the right side of the road, much as in the US, Canada, and most of the rest of Europe (except for the UK). On the left side is the driver and steering wheel as well. The National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) of France reports that in 2018, 84% of French families owned at least one automobile, and 36% had two or more. Furthermore, compared to only 67% in the Paris region, 94% of families in rural regions had a car. In France, the average age of an automobile is nine years old, and more than half of all new cars are used ones.

In general, French people don't give their automobiles much thought. They do see them more as a mode of transportation than a status symbol. As a result, people don't take minor dents or scrapes too seriously. It's not uncommon to see French drivers slamming into curbs or even other vehicles while parking. Depending on where you are from, you could find this surprising.

In general, French drivers are quite lax, except Paris and other major towns like Lyon or Marseille. However, in these big cities, you'll often hear plenty of horn blaring and run across aggressive drivers in high-stress circumstances. This is especially true at some of the chaotic roundabouts in the city, including the one beside the renowned Arc de Triomphe. Mopeds, motorcycles, and scooters are also widely used in France, particularly in major cities. Be aware of them while driving since you will often notice them swerving across lanes of traffic, which is perfectly legal for them to do.

In France, who has a license?

To operate a vehicle in France, you must be at least 18 years old and have a current driver's license. While drivers under the age of 18 with a license from another nation are not permitted to operate a motor vehicle in France, they may be authorized to operate a motorcycle or scooter. Depending on the size of the engine, you may operate these kinds of two-wheeled vehicles as young as 14. For example, a moped (cyclomoteur) with a motor under 50cc is legal for drivers under the age of 18.

Your international driver's license is valid for 12 months in France. To comply with French legislation, you will require an official translation of your license or an international driving license (ITCA) if it is not from the EU or is in a language other than French. An expert translation service like lingoking might be useful in this situation.

Notably, unless your license is from a nation in the EU or the European Economic Area (EEA) including Iceland, Norway, and Lichtenstein, you must get a French driving license if you want to remain in France for more than a year.

French driving licenses

What exactly is a French driver's license then? How do you obtain one and what does it look like?

French driver's licenses used to be bulky, pink, laminated pieces of paper that were difficult to carry in a wallet. The French driving licenses were altered by the government in 2013 to be more like those in other nations like the United States and the United Kingdom: hard plastic cards that are about the same size as bank cards.

A person's picture, name, date of birth, signature, license number, and the date the license was issued are all included on a French driver's license. Additionally, they identify the kinds of vehicles the driver is permitted to drive, such as motorcycles, cars, trucks, and so on.

The majority of French drivers have 12 points on their driving licenses, which are based on a point system. However, new drivers only get six points when they first get their license, and they only add two points each year as long as they don't break any traffic laws. The three-year probationary term will expire when they have acquired all 12 points. Importantly, a motorist will lose their license if they accumulate zero points.

Getting a driving license in France

In France, obtaining a driving license entails two phases. First, prospective drivers must pass a written exam on the code of the road, also known as the code de la route. This portion of the French driving exam is now completed online. You utilize clickers to pick the correct answers to questions that are presented on a screen.

You proceed to the practical phase after passing the written test. A minimum of 20 hours of accompanied driving with a certified driving instructor are necessary for this. You may take the driving test with an examiner after you and your teacher are comfortable with your skills. Your license will be on probation for three years after you pass the driving exam. You are required to have the red letter "A" on your vehicle during this period.

Exchanging a foreign driving license in France

You don't need to get a new license to drive in France if it was granted by an EU member state or an EEA nation, as was previously indicated.

However, if you want to remain in France for more than a year and your license was granted by a nation outside the EU or EEA, you must get a French driver's license. You may be able to trade your license for a French one depending on your nationality (or, for American citizens, the state that provided it). However, you must go through the same procedure as individuals without a license if your nation or state doesn't have a deal with France. This includes passing the written exam, logging enough supervised driving time, and the driving test itself.

The whole process of exchanging your international driver's license for a French one may be completed online. You will need identification (a passport or French ID card), evidence of your immigration status, a current (valid) foreign driver's license, evidence of your present residence in France, and evidence that the nation that gave your license still grants you the right to drive.

You should be aware that you have one year from the day you get your first French residency permit (carte de séjour) to seek a French license. More information about this is available on our page on obtaining a French driver's license.

Car registration

If you reside in France, you must register your vehicle with the state, regardless of whether you buy a new or old automobile there or import one from your home country. The registration must be completed within a month. It is crucial to be aware that failing to register your car within a month of arriving in France may subject you to a fine of up to €750.

Immatriculation, often known as vehicle registration, is a fast and easy process that may be completed fully online via the Agence nationale des titres sécurisés (in French). This is the department of the French government in charge of registration, licensing, and official identification papers.

The website enables you to transfer registration for a used vehicle (véhicule d'occasion) and register a new or imported vehicle for the first time in France. A carte grise, which translates to "grey card," will be given to you after your vehicle has been registered. This serves as the vehicle's registration documentation.

The cost to register a car is determined by the vehicle's emissions/efficiency, age (known as chevaux fiscaux or CV), fuel type, and geographic location. On the website of the French government, there is a simulator you may use to determine the cost of your carte grise. As an example, the cost of registering a vehicle in the Paris area is around €245.

Registering imported cars in France

For brief visits of up to six months, you are permitted to bring your car into France without having to register it. However, you must register your vehicle within one month of establishing residence in France if you want to remain for more than six months.

Through the official website of the French government, foreign vehicle registration (l'immatriculation d'une voiture étrangère) may be done online. You must fill out Cerfa form 13749*05 and submit other paperwork, such as your ID, evidence that the automobile has passed inspection, proof of your residence, and confirmation that the correct VAT tax was paid on the vehicle, to get your proof of registration. After that, you will have to pay for car registration.

Driving and maintenance costs

There are additional expenses related to owning a car and operating a vehicle in France in addition to registration fees.

Vehicle inspection and maintenance costs

Every two years, French vehicles must undergo a technical examination (contrôle technique). If there are any issues found during the inspection, the owner has two months to address them before a subsequent inspection. However, the owner must fix the vehicle before it may be driven if the examination identifies a serious safety risk.

A contrôle method may cost anywhere from €70 and €90, however, costs might vary. Regular auto maintenance expenses include things like oil changes (vidanges) and tyre rotation and balancing (contrôle de géométrie et parallélisme), which run around €55 and €80 on average, respectively.

The French government website has further information on the safety checks.

Car insurance

The price of auto insurance in France is influenced by several factors, including the driver's age, any history of accidents or penalties, and if the motorist is a "new driver" who has held their license for less than three years.

Some French auto insurance providers and price comparison websites are:

● Assu 2000

● BlaBlaCar Assurance

● Le Comparateur Assurance

Road tolls

French autoroutes, which are the country's main thoroughfares, turn become toll roads as they leave urban areas. Signs with the huge letter "A" in blue and white are used to identify certain routes. They show with the letter "A" before the highway number, such as A3 or A6, on maps or GPS.

The toll (péage) is often paid per the distance traveled. You get a ticket when you enter the toll area of the road, and you pay with a debit or credit card when you depart. You may regrettably expect to spend between €12 and €25 for a one-way toll in France.

Fuel costs

In France, gas is sold by the liter rather than the gallon. In a gallon, there are around 3.8 liters. E85, a gasoline with a high proportion of ethanol, costs €0.749 per liter at the time of writing (April 2022), whereas SP98, a premium unleaded petrol with a low amount of ethanol, costs €1.802 per liter. Diesel costs €2.160 per liter. This is around €2.85 per gallon of E85, €6.85 per gallon of premium unleaded, and €8.21 per gallon of diesel.

Driving rules and penalties

Driving laws in France are comparable to those in North America, Canada, and the rest of Europe. There are a few significant outliers, however.

General road rules in France

Driving in France requires some adaptation for Americans since there is no right turn on red. You must wait until the traffic signal turns green before turning right, even if the road is clear.

Priorité à droite, which states that the vehicle to your right has the right-of-way unless when the junction has a stop sign, traffic signal, or solid white line, is one of the key distinctions that distinguishes France apart from most other nations. However, on roundabouts (rounds points), where vehicles to your left have the right-of-way, this law does not apply.

Although it is uncommon for the priorité à droite rule to be used, it is nonetheless vital to be aware of it, particularly when traveling through rural regions and in the heart of old cities.

Other French road rules to note include:

● French safety NF standards-compliant self-test breathalyser kits are a requirement for drivers to keep in their vehicles. A reflective triangle and vest are also required in case of breakdowns or other situations.

● Even those in the backseat of a vehicle must use seatbelts. Except where it's impracticable, as, in a two-seater, children under 10 must sit in the backseat. Until they are old enough to wear a conventional seat belt, children must ride in the appropriate car seat.

● Driving while using earbuds or headphones is prohibited.

● The legal limit for driving while intoxicated is 50mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood, which is stricter than the US or UK's 0.05 g/dl level. The legal limit for drivers with less than three years on their license is 20 mg/100 ml of blood alcohol content or 0.02 g/dl. Importantly, even one drink may cause someone to exceed the limit and lose their license.

● In a French city, using the automobile horn is illegal unless there is an impending accident.

● On the website for road safety maintained by the French government, you may access the whole Code de la Route.

Penalties for minor traffic violations

Traffic infractions cost you driving privilege points and may lead to an amende in France. You may get one to six points and penalties ranging from €68 to €1,500 for speeding.

You will get three points for not using a seatbelt, four points for running a red light, and so on. On the French government's road safety website (in French), you can find a full list of the points lost for each offense as well as a list of penalties (in French).

The speed limit in France

Depending on the kind of route and whether it is in a city, the speed limit varies in France. In France, there are different speed restrictions depending on whether the motorist is a young conducteur (jeune conducteur) or has been driving for three or more years.

The current French speed restrictions are shown below:

● Autoroute (divided highway): 130 km/h (new drivers should go at 110 km/h).

● 110 km/h on a two-lane divided highway (100 km/h for novice drivers)

● roads without a divider that have at least two lanes going in the same direction at 90 km/h (for novice drivers, 80 km/h)

● Two-way highways without a median: 80 km/h; if the local traffic authority permits, 90 km/h (80 km/h for novice drivers).

● Within city boundaries, the speed limit is 50 km/h (50 km/h for novice drivers).

● Roads around schools and in city centers are designated as 30 km/h zones and have signs to that effect.

You should be aware that France uses speed cameras to enforce speed restrictions. Signs warning of the existence of cameras or radars are commonly seen. However, using any kind of radar detector in your automobile is prohibited.

If you are caught speeding, your license will get fewer points and you will pay a fine. The degree of your speeding violation will determine the amount of the punishment and the number of points you lose:

● < 20 km/h over = -1 point and a fine of up to €135

● 20–30 km/h over = -2 points and a fine up to €150

● 30–40 km/h over = -3 points and a fine up to €450

● 40–50 km/h over = -4 points and a fine up to €750

● ≥ 50 km/h over = -6 points (and your license if you are a new driver) and a fine of up to €1,500

A letter informing you of the number of points lost and the fine you must pay will be sent to you.

Driving under the influence

In France, 0.5 grams of alcohol per 1 liter of blood, or 5 grams per 100 milliliters (or 0.05%), is the legal limit for driving while intoxicated. When using a breathalyzer, this is comparable to 0.25 milligrams of alcohol per 1 liter of air. The blood alcohol limit in France for novice drivers is 0.2 g/l or 0.1 g per liter of air for breathalyzer testing.

Driving under the influence of alcohol in France is punishable by up to two years in jail, €4,500 in penalties, and the suspension of a driver's license even if there is no overt evidence of drunkenness.

On the French government's website for road safety, you may find out more about the legal alcohol limits in France (in French).

In France, it is illegal to drive while under the influence of any substance. Drivers run the danger of receiving 6 license points, two years in jail, and penalties totaling €4,500. If the motorist rejects a drug test, they run the same danger of punishment. The website for road safety has further information, including the consequences for drivers who are discovered to have both alcohol and drugs in their systems.

Distracted driving laws

In France, it is illegal to use a phone while operating a vehicle. Notably, utilizing an earpiece or headphones is prohibited but hands-free usage through an inbuilt Bluetooth capability is permitted. Furthermore, because the shoulders are solely for emergencies, you cannot pull over to the side of the road to use your phone.

You run the danger of receiving a €135 fine and losing three license points if you are seen using your phone or headphones. Additionally, you run the danger of losing your license for up to six months if you engage in another offense while simultaneously using your phone.

Driving unauthorized

On the website of the French government, driving without a license in France carries a danger of a €15,000 fine and a year in prison. Additionally, the car you're driving might be seized, and you could get a five-year driving restriction.

Road signs in France

No, there isn't an official government website that lists every road sign in France. There is, however, a list of the most typical road signs in France on Wikipedia.

The signs showing that you are approaching or leaving a city, which denotes a change in the speed limit, are two traffic indicators that are especially crucial to understand while driving in France.

Be careful to reduce your speed to 50 km/h when you encounter a rectangular black and white sign with the name of a city enclosed in a red rectangle. When a city's name is crossed out on a sign, it indicates that you are leaving the city and have a speed limit of 70 km/h.

Information about French traffic

It should come as no surprise that France's roadways are most congested at the start and conclusion of the school year. This is particularly true in the vicinity of major cities like Paris, Lyon, and Nantes. Driving in France at this time is likely to result in delays and traffic congestion.

Notably, the Périphérique, a sizable beltway around Paris, has considerable traffic almost every day. If at all possible, avoid traveling at these times: 08:00 to 10:00 and 17:00 to 19:00.

You may get terrific information on delays on your journey via apps like Google Maps or Waze, which are particularly popular in France. For traffic updates, you may also turn to the radio. For instance, in the Ile de France area, FM 107.7 is a favorite among drivers looking for the most recent news.

Parking in France

Parking in France isn't always simple since spots are often rather small, both on the street and in garages. The closest public parking lots are indicated by signs with a big, blue "P" on them.

In most cases, parking on public streets costs money. Nearby are little devices called horodateurs where you enter your license plate number and the required amount of time. After that, you may put the ticket on your dashboard and pay with a card, cash, or over the phone (on the side closest to the street).

Depending on the city and the area, the maximum time for parking on the street is often two to six hours. However, on Sundays and at night, parking in public lots is often free. Parking might cost anywhere from €2 and €6 per hour, depending on the location.

Street parking is free in Paris from 20:01 to 08:59 on weekdays and all day on weekends and holidays. If not, it runs around €6/hour in the city center and €4/hour outside of it.

Look for entrances at street level or below since parking garages are often subterranean in cities. Using applications like Zenpark, Onepark, and Parclick, you may also book a parking space in advance.

Road accidents and breakdowns

Even though you are familiar with all the driving laws and faults to avoid in France, things sometimes don't go as planned. What to do if you get into an accident or have a breakdown while driving is outlined below.

Road accidents

The first thing you should do after an automobile collision in France is switch on your warning lights and, if you can, move to the side of the road. After arriving, position the reflective triangle 200 meters in front of the vehicle to warn approaching traffic. Use the fire extinguisher in case of a fire, and then move as far away from the car as you can.

To notify emergency services of the accident and seek assistance, dial 112 for emergency services. If you need help and you're hard of hearing or deaf, call 114. Every two kilometers along the route are orange emergency phones if you don't have a cell phone.

Keep these French emergency numbers handy.

Exchange contact details with any other drivers who may have been involved and any witnesses. Additionally, you need to request that they remain until help arrives. Then advise your insurance company or the automobile rental company of the problem.

Vehicle breakdowns

If feasible, pull over onto the road shoulder in France if your automobile breaks down, and position the reflective triangle 200 meters in front of your vehicle.

then dial 112 for immediate assistance. The police or an authorized roadside help provider will then show up and tow you to a secure location. The price for this service is determined by the French government.

Cars in France

French-made automobiles like Peugeot, Renault, and Citroen are well-liked in France and provide high quality at competitive costs. The ability to readily maintain and repair French vehicles nationwide is another advantage. If you want to purchase a vehicle in France, bear in mind that many international automobiles, including those from American, British, and Japanese manufacturers, cannot be considered to be comparable.

Hiring a car in France

The majority of automobile rental agencies in France demand that drivers be at least 18 years old, however, some also demand that they be 21 and have held their license for three years.

France is home to all of the typical automobile rental businesses, including Avis, Enterprise, Hertz, and Rental Cars. Another famous one is Sixt. In bigger cities, the majority of rental companies have offices in or close to railway stations, as well as in airports. They often have a downtown site as well.

Depending on the kind of vehicle and the time of year, the daily cost of renting a car varies from €30 to €80. Rentals lasting a week usually cost between €250 and €500. Notably, renting an automated vehicle in France is often more expensive than hiring a manual vehicle. If you don't drive the latter, you may pay roughly twice as much.

Buying a car in France

You may go to a dealership (concessionaire) or buy directly from a person to purchase a vehicle in France (particular). In any case, to receive the registration, you must register the car and follow the aforementioned instructions (matriculation).

Selling a car in France

In France, whether the buyer is a dealership or an individual, the registration must be transferred to the new owner. This may be done online on the website of the Agence nationale des titres sécurisés.

Carpooling/car sharing

Paris is one of the many French cities where Uber is available. The French firm Chauffeur Privé provides a comparable service and features a trip calculator that allows you to calculate the cost of your journey.

Bla Bla Car is the most widely used ridesharing application in France for longer journeys (in French). This makes it possible for people to charge relatively little for the use of their automobiles.

While it could be more challenging to locate somebody ready to lend their automobile to someone with a foreign driver's license, Drivy (in French) enables you to borrow a car from an individual.

Electric cars and hybrids

Less than 7% of automobiles registered in France in 2020 were electric, according to the INSEE, indicating that electric vehicles aren't very widespread there. In France, registrations of hybrid vehicles will account for roughly 15% of all new automobile sales in 2020.

In France, several gas stations and major shopping malls include electric vehicle charging stations. Cities often set aside a few parking spaces around town for electric vehicle charging as well.

Car repair in France

Any auto repairs you need to have done in France must be done in a garage (garagiste). Dealerships for Peugeot-Citroen, Renault, BMW, Mercedes, and other vehicles often provide car repair services as well.

You may also take your automobile to one of the major auto shop companies in France, like Feu Vert, Midas, Speedy, and Norauto, for maintenance or repairs.

Drivers with disabilities

A Mobility Inclusion Card (Carte Mobilité Inclusion or CMI) may be obtained in France by drivers with disabilities or by drivers who are also passengers with disabilities. They can park as long as they want with no charge. On the website of the French government, you may discover the qualifications and procedures for acquiring the card.

You may ask for modifications for your driving test if you need a driver's license in France and have a handicap. More information about passing a driving test in France with a disability may be found here.

Tips on driving in France

Driving in France still involves a few more considerations. This provides unstated guidelines and information that other manuals often ignore.

Here are a few to keep in mind:

● Instead of being above the center of a junction, traffic lights are often located on the right side of the road. Even in the absence of a stop sign, intersections marked by solid white lines command a halt.

● Road signs in France often display the next town rather than a road's number (D-76) or direction (east, west, etc.). Signs that name various places along the way, from the neighborhood hamlet to the nearest big metropolis, are often seen. Always seek the name of the next large town on your itinerary while reading a map, in addition to the route numbers.

● Most major highways outside of cities are toll roads, or péages, denoted by signs with blue backgrounds and a white letter "A" for autoroute.

● The French always travel in the right lane of the roadway, except passing. They don't linger in the left lane, and after passing, they go swiftly back into the right lane.

● In France, drivers use their blinkers to signal an impending maneuver rather than as a request.

● When leaving a roundabout, you must signal with your right turn signal.

Useful resources

Information about driver's licenses, car registration, traffic laws, and infractions is available from Service Public (in French).

Information on all facets of driving, permits, and road safety in France is available at Securite Routiere (in French).

Information regarding driving in France with an EU/EEA license is available from Service Public.

French driving licenses and vehicle registration are governed by the Agence nationale des titres sécurisés (in French).


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