As this is alledgedly a blog about ‘life in France’, I thought it was about time I actually wrote something on the subject so here is the first instalment.
*this started out as an attempt at a sensible guide to driving in and around France for my friends who are coming to stay, but by the time I was done it felt like it should have ended up here.
There are may websites that will give you a full run-down the ‘code de la route’ (highway code) and all the various obscure traffic laws, of which there are many that I am sure I am still unaware of. Below are a few ‘high priority rules’ and I will give you a few of my very own hints and tips tomorrow.
You must have in your car; a red warning triangle and enough Hi-vis jackets/gilets for every passenger travelling in the car.
This law came into force in July 2008 and if you do not comply you are liable for a fine for EACH item that is missing.
There is an ongoing discussion about the number of jackets required in a vehicle, not even the police seem to be able to provide a definative answer. People I know have been told It’s OK just to have one, and others I know have been fined for every person in the car who does not have one, so for the sake of a few Euro I err on the side of caution on this one and we all have our own.
The police seem particularly strict at enforcing this law in the vicinity of ferry ports and train terminals.
You will see many hi-vis vests draped over the back of car seats when you are driving around, and whilst this is not technically against the law it has been known for a particularly mean-spirited brand of policeman to fine a person for this as it ‘could’ be a danger to other drivers if they happen to catch the glare from your jacket when driving at night. It has also been said (although this may be an urban myth) that you can be fined for keeping your Hi-vis in the back of your car as, in the event of an accident, you would have to get out of your car without one on to retrieve it from the boot. So probably best keep them in your glove-box or door pockets then.
It is also a requirement to have beam deflector stickers on your headlights, (unless of course you have a very fancy car which has a little button inside to automatically adjust your beams), BEFORE your tyres touch French soil. Hence the reason you normally see lots of headlight action in the departure point car parks or on ferry decks. These stickers can be purchased for a couple of pounds at any reputable ‘car-parts’ shop. Or if you do happen to forget you can pay about a tenner for them at your departure station. Again this is a very popular ‘ferry port fine’. Do not forget to take them off again when you leave.
Your car must also sport a GB sticker, (unless you have a fancy EU licence plate with the circle of stars on it).
You must carry at all times; your driving licence and your car registration documents. Proof of insurance, (a minimum of third party is compulsory), and a valid Controlé Technique (MOT) must be on display at all times. It is also advisable to take your passport.
These documents MUST be originals or you could be liable for an on the spot fine.
Most policemen in France are well aware of the differences in UK and French documentation, but be prepared for a lot of chin-stroking and shrugging if you are asked to produce your documents in some of the more rural areas. And if you are coming here from outside of Europe the chin stroking will be multiplied according to the distance away from France you normally reside.
Autoroute (A) ; 130 KM per hour, this is reduced to 110 KM when the roads are wet.
Route National (N) or dual carriageway; 110 K Mph, reduced to 100 KM when wet
Open road (B, C or D); 90 K Mph, reduced to 80 KM when wet
Towns or villages; (whenever you pass the town/village name sign) 50 K Mph
In periods where visibility is less than 50m ALL limits are reduced to 50 K Mph
When driving in France you will notice that these speed limits are largely ignored, and an average speed on the open road seems to be around 130km. There are MANY speed cameras in France, but these are all clearly signposted .(”controles automatique.”). It is also possible to ascertain the position of speed cameras in .France by the rapid and sometimes terrifying application of brakes of the car in front of you.
There are also a VAST number of mobile radar traps, (policemen with speed guns.), employed throughout the country. Particularly on nice warm sunny days. Whilst it is impossible to tell where these will be set up, (although most of the locations do tend to be in the immediate vicinity of a boulangerie or cafe), the French drivers have a unique warning system. If you pass a radar post it is customary to flash your headlights at any cars you may pass coming in the opposite direction for a distance of up to 5km. So if you see a car wildly flashing its headlights at you, make sure you are going at the correct speed, and once you have passed the radar point, extend the courtesy in the opposite direction.
Flashing headlights can also indicate that there is an accident or incident further on, so it is best to reduce your speed and take extra care.
Whilst most drivers seem to treat the speed limits as a minimum rather than a maximum, I would urge you to be cautious as the speeding fines and penalties are very large and can be demanded on the spot. (Full details can be found HERE)
Drinking and driving
The legal blood/alcohol limit in France is very Low, much lower than in the UK. (0.5 mg – about two small glasses of wine or a small beer. And the penalties for being under the influence while driving are extremely severe. (a full list can be found here ).
The absolute best advice I can give is just don’t. You will nearly always find a cafe or bar within walking distance or take it in turns to be designated driver or enjoy some local vintage in the comfort of your own home.
Sadly a lot of people treat these laws much as they do the laws for speeding, and it is very common to see folk staggering from bar to car to embark on their journey home on mostly unlit country roads. Please do not follow local custom on this.
It may seem a little obvious to tell you to stop at a stop sign, but you really must be stationary or once again you could get an on the spot fine, even if your wheels are only moving a tiny bit. This is an extremely popular ‘summertime fine’ for the police and they often wait in the vicinity of stop signs waiting for the person who just slows down a bit.
Priorité á droite
This is a crazy, crazy French law that, although largely ignored, is still the law and can be enforced.
When driving through towns or villages you must give priority to to traffic coming from the right even if they are joining from a smaller side road.
However if you pass a yellow diamond road sign this means you have priority and do not have to give way to the right, but look out for the sign that tells you that you once more do not have priority.
Its absolutely bonkers, but in the case of an accident priorité á droit will be enforced.
Here is a link to a good site with some useful translations definitions , there are plenty more at your fingertips!
Tomorrow I will post a more personal take on driving with some essential ‘survival’ tips!