Driving in France–Some Basics

French Roadsigns
Note the Round Speed Limit

Summer vacation is quickly approaching–two more weeks of school and the great summer exodus will start again!  Driving is a great way to see the French countryside.  While public transportation is the way to go when visiting a city like Paris, a car is still your best bet when going farther afield.  Visitors to Brittany and Normandy without a car miss out on the little villages, random vantage points and beautiful coastal areas only accessible to those with their own transportation. When renting a car make sure that the rental company has included a safety vest, emergency triangle kit and disposable alcohol tests in your car.  All three items are required for driving in France.  If you are bringing your own car, stock up before you leave home.  While the alcohol tests won’t be mandatory until July 1st, it’s worth having them in your car already.  As an aside, I don’t see how making alcohol tests mandatory will change people’s drinking and driving choices.  If you’re drunk enough that you shouldn’t be driving, are you really going to go hunting for the test somewhere in your car and take it?  I doubt it.  A simpler rule, if you’re going to drink in France, choose a designated driver when you go out.  Rant over.

City Limits Sign

Getting back to the earlier list, should you be pulled over by a police officer, he or she could ask to see them and fine you if you don’t have any or all of the required items in your car.  French police do conduct random car/driver checks on secondary roads.  While the majority of the time, they function as sobriety checks, the police also use them to check for uninsured drivers, those without licenses, etc..  I think it is random–Anthony has been driving for years and only been stopped once; my mother was stopped three times within the space of two weeks last year.

Do Not Enter

Radar detectors are illegal in France.  GPS units are allowed to signal ‘danger zones’ but are no longer allowed to show the exact location of installed radar traps.  Prior to a fixed radar trap, you will see a warning sign.  If you were speeding, it’s time to slow down!  From time to time, you hear of a project to remove these warning signs.  So far this hasn’t happened but I think it is only a question of time and political willpower (or need for more ticket money).

While GPS systems have taken a lot of the guesswork out of driving, it still helps to know how to read basic road signs especially once you leave the highway behind you and start truly exploring.  To that end, allow me to present a few road signs you will probably see while driving in France.  Here are a few that you may or may not be used to seeing:

30 km/h Zone

Speed Signs:  City limit signs (see above) are useful not just because they tell you that you have arrived at your destination or are on the right way but also because they serve as de facto speed limit signs.  Unless otherwise indicated, cars are limited to 50 km/h within city limits–when you cross a city limits sign, adjust your speed accordingly.  Notable exceptions to the 50km/h rule are school and pedestrian zones which tend to be limited to 30 km/h.  Zone signs indicate that an entire area is limited to a specific speed limit, normally 30 km/h.  The most common speed signs you will encounter in France are the round circles with the speed inside.  Keep in mind that on the highway, in case of inclement weather i.e. rain, the speed limit decreases from 130 km/h to 110 km/h.

Priority at the Next Intersection

Priority Signs:  Unless otherwise indicated, at intersections, drivers on your right side have priority over you.  Priority signs override this rule.  A yellow diamond indicates that you are a priority road and that you should have the rightaway at all intersections.  The sign on your right here indicates that you have the priority over all other cars at the next intersection.  (If you see an X in a triangle, however, it means that the next intersection is a dangerous priority to the right intersection–be careful!)

There are enough rules and road signs to fill an entire book–too many to mention here and some feel like they were only designed for the driving exam.  I simply wanted to point out a few that have caught my attention especially when we’ve been out driving with friends visiting from abroad.  Drive safely and enjoy your summer!

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