21st June 2016

Features: Driving in France


Compulsory Documents:

Driving licence. Full driving licence.

NB: The minimum age for driving in France is 18, so drivers under the age of 18 cannot drive in France, even if they have a full driving licence issued in their own country.

Seat Belts – compulsory for all occupants. Children under 10 years old must not travel in the front.

IRL Sticker – not required if your vehicle is fitted with Euro number plates.

Personal ID. Anyone visiting France must have a valid personal ID card. For visitors from countries like the Ireland that do not issue ID cards, a valid passport is required. 

Proof of ownership, This is the car's registration certificate. If stopped by the police, you may well be asked for the "Carte grise" (grey card): it is the vehicle's registration certificate that you are being asked to show.

Proof of insurance. The standard insurance document from any EU country provides basic insurance for your vehicle (third party cover) throughout the Union. It is vital that you inform your insurance company and upgrade your insurance if necessary to comprehensive cover. Many insurance policies that are comprehensive policies in the Ireland only provide third party cover when the vehicle is taken abroad.

High viz vests.  All cars are required by law to carry a high-visibility vest (fluorescent yellow or orange). This must be carried IN the car, for the driver and one for EVERY passenger. It cannot be stored in the boot. This is so that it can be slipped on immediately by the driver who needs to get out of an immobilised vehicle, notably on a motorway or main road.

Headlamp beam deflector.  In Ireland, because we drive on the left, our headlights dip to the left, meaning they dip into the path of oncoming traffic. Beam deflectors (often just a bit of opaque tape to stick on a part of the headlamp) correct this. Depending on your car, you will either need these deflector patches or have to adjust the beam manually.            

Breathalyser kit. The legal blood alcohol level in France is 0.5 mg. per ml. Bus and coach drivers who must have no more than 0.02 grammes per litre of alcohol in their blood, with the limit for drivers with less than 3 years experience also set at 0.2 grammes per litre.

It is a legal requirement to carry a breathalyser with you in your car in France, even though there is no offence if you are caught without one.

With the undoubted high level of partying the Irish are renowned for, it is no bad idea to get these single-use certified breathalysers that are available on Ferries, many supermarkets, chemists and garages throughout France.

Self-testing is a good idea, so having at least two in your car is vital, indeed given the occasion, I’d have a consignment. Ensure that they are stored away from extreme heat or cold otherwise, any reading could be wrong as distinct from the one used by the Police.

But those who plan to self-test to be on the safe side should have at least two breathalysers in the car, if not more.

Remember the morning after – Designate a driver!

Spare set of bulbs.  French rules of the road require cars to carry a spare set of bulbs, although many cars now come with sealed beam units that require replacement in a garage. This is one of those items you are unlikely to be asked to produce, but if you are ……..

Hazard warning triangle.  A red reflective triangle that can be placed 45metres behind a car if it is broken down on the AutoRoute or hard shoulder. (Don’t forget to wear your high-viz vest)

Maps and Satnav.  Hand held detailed local maps are very useful for programming your Sat Nav or simply giving you a perspective on a route or the distance to be travelled. Knowing how your Sat Nav works and pre-programming your Sat Nav is highly advisable, saving you time and effort whilst in France.


Avoid when possible filling up on the AutoRoute! Fuel is more expensive, so better to leave the AutoRoute at a major intersection near a town or city, where you invariably will find a hypermarket/superstore within a kilometre or so, offering cut-price fuel. The saving can be us much as 15 centimes per litre.


Most motorways are toll roads (péage).  The fee is paid on leaving the motorway and is based on the category of vehicle and the distance driven.  Most credit cards are accepted, as are Euros.

Avoid the barriers marked LIBER-T, these are reserved for drivers who have a subscription and pass and do not need to stop.

Types of Road in France 

A roads: Autoroutes – these are motorways

N roads: Route Nationals – these are major roads

D roads: Routes Departementales – or secondary roads that link towns and villages.

Speed Limits

Toll motorways 80 mph/130 km/h - reduced to 70 mph/110km/h when wet

Dual carriageways 68mph/110 km/h

Other roads 68mpn/110km/h

In towns 31mph/50kh/h


Some French Driving Signage Translations

Autres Directions = other directions

Cédez le passage = give way

Chaussée deformer = uneven road/ temporary surface

Déviation = Diversion

Gravillons = loose chippings

Passage protégé = your right of way

Péage = Toll

Priorité piétons = give way to pedestrians

Rappel = reminder

Rids de poules = potholes

Sortie = an junction/exit off a motorway

Toutes Directions = All directions

Vous n’avez pas la priorité = Give way.



Exceeding the speed limit in Europe countries can be very expensive.

There is also no hiding place for European drivers who evade fines incurred abroad. Since the passing of a bill in 2011, EU Member States have to provide details of the driver or holder of the vehicle registration certificate to the authorities of the country where the offence took place, enabling them to send the offender a registered letter informing him/her of the offence committed as well as any punishment due, appeal procedures and legal consequences. Any fine and payment method will be based on the law of the state where the offence occurred.

Eucaris, the European Car and Driving Licence Information System, has been operational since 1994. This information sharing system is developed by and for the vehicle licencing authorities, meaning any offence committed in an EU state will result in the owner of the vehicle receiving the fine, though obviously in many cases that will be the car rental company, who would then try and pass it on to you. If they fail to do so, you may find that you are blacklisted when you try to rent from them again.

 If you break any driving laws French Police can confiscate your Irish driving licence. This can lead to your vehicle being impounded if no alternative driver with a valid licence is available.

There are two speed limits for motorways and dual carriageways depending on weather conditions and driving experience. The lower limit should be obeyed in wet weather and by drivers who have held a licence for less than two years.

Speed Detectors

Radar detectors are illegal in France - whether they are in use or not. If you are caught with such equipment in your vehicle, you are liable to a prison sentence, a fine, confiscation of the device and the vehicle. Not worth the risk.

HANDS-FREE mobile-phone use is banned in France as from July 1st. The new rule applies to all hands-free phones using a headset, Bluetooth or wired. Drivers caught using a mobile phone while on the road in France are liable to an on-the-spot fine of 135 Euros  – and 3 penalty points if they have a French driving licence.

With many unmarked police vehicles equipped with on-board speed cameras patrolling mainly on motorways, but also on other routes, it would be prudent to expect speeding restrictions being strictly enforced, which can lead to heavy on-the-spot fines. Cash payment is often required.

Vehicles recorded at over 140 Km/h in a 130 zone of motorway are liable to get pulled over and issued with a ticket, but more likely an on-the-spot fine. Drivers exceeding the speed limit by 40km/h can have their vehicle confiscated.

Average speed cameras are plentiful and often not signalled in advance. These record your speed between two points often several kilometres apart. Anywhere you see the normal speed camera warning sign, assume it’s a speed and distance camera – Expect a high enforcement presence during the European Football Championships.

Speeding restrictions are strictly enforced and can lead to heavy on-the-spot fines. Cash payment is often required.

Handy Stuff:

Spare set of car keys.  Not obligatory, but highly recommended.

First Aid Kit.


Cable Ties & Gaffer Tape

Disposable Gloves

Hand Wipes

Spare Glasses – if you wear prescription glasses, bring a spare set

Medicines – bring an extra weeks supply, just in case. Bring your prescription.

Enjoy your trip!








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