Driving in France: Laws, Rules and Regulations

French police badgeThese are the rules governing driving in France, including important recent changes to the law.

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Click here for useful information for drivers in, specifically, Provence, here for our guide to the two fastest routes down to Provence from Northern Europe, here for our recommended best route south to Provence and here for tips on touring Provence by camper van.

You have to be at least 18 to drive a car or a motorcycle over 80cc in France. A green card is not required for EU citizens but motorists from other countries should check with their local French embassy or consulate or motoring association. Third party insurance is compulsory and it is advisable to inform your insurance company before you go.

Your driving licence, car registration papers (carte grise in French) and insurance documents must be kept in the vehicle. These must be the original documents; copies should be kept separately.

French breathalyser kit or etholtestIn 2012, moves were made to force drivers to carry a breathalyser kit, or éthylotest, in their cars. However, due to a shortage of supplies and subsequent problems with the reliability of the device as well as ecological concerns, the deadline for the law was postponed, twice.

Finally in February 2013 it was announced by the Ministry of the Interior that motorists are still required by law to carry the breathalyser kit - but, confusingly, there will no longer be a sanction or fine if they fail to produce one on demand.

One in three road fatalities in France is caused by alcohol abuse and the Conseil national de la sécurité routière (France's National Council for Road Safety) continues to recommend that drivers keep a breathalyser in their cars. You can buy a French Government approved breathalyser kit image!(in a pack of two) online here before you go.

Bear in mind that one problem with the cheaper, chemical breathalyser - the NFX 20 702 - is that it may give inaccurate readings and/or deteriorate when exposed to extremes of temperature, as is likely to happen when kept in a car in the baking provençal sun. Keep an eye on the "best before" date (date de validité or date de péremption).

The NFX 20 704 is a more reliable electronic breathalyser. It costs a lot more and must be recalibrated each year but can be used repeatedly. You can buy a French-approved electronic breathalyser here.

The French drink-driving limit is 0.5mg per ml - significantly lower than in the United States, Ireland and UK (where it's 0.8mg). You are liable for prosecution if you are over, or just equal to this limit, and even if you refuse to take the breathalyser test.

If you read French, you can find out more about this law and others relating to road safety on the official Ministry of the Interior website.

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Out clubbing? French discos and nightclubs are now required by law to have available either a chemical or an electronic breathalyser for clients' use (there may be a charge for this).

Motorists are legally required to carry one red warning triangle, stamped with the mark E 27 R, and one yellow high-visibility waistcoat or vest, stamped EN 471 or EN 1150, in their vehicles.

You should keep these inside the car, rather than in the boot / trunk, so that you can put the jacket on if it's needed before getting out of the car. Failure to carry these items in the vehicle is punishable by a fine.

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In the event of a breakdown or accident the driver must put on the safety jacket and then place the warning triangle 30 metres / 33 yards from the breakdown to warn approaching traffic. Buy a red warning triangle and yellow high-visibility jacketimage! online here.

Pictured: this very cool road safety ad from 2008 features the fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld sporting the yellow jacket.

Karl Lagerfeld French road safety adThe slogan reads "C'est jaune, c'est moche, ça ne va avec rien, mais ça peut vous sauver la vie" ("It's yellow, it's ugly, it doesn't go with anything. But it could save your life").

If you have a breakdown on a motorway, you cannot, by law, call out a garage or mechanic of your choice, but must make your selection from a government-approved list. These can be contacted from the emergency SOS telephones that line French motorways at two km / one and a quarter mile intervals.

The mechanic must be able to arrive within 30 minutes and repair the vehicle within another 30 minutes, after which you risk having it towed to the nearest layby.

The cost of calling out the mechanic is also regulated by the government, depending on the time of day, nature of the repair and size of your vehicle, and the official price-list should be on display in the mechanic's van and at the garage itself. If you read French, you can find out in more detail what to do in the case of a motorway breakdown here.

To make things really easy, the AA has put together a very handy and quite reasonably priced Car Essentials Travel Kit image!for drivers in France.

AA travel kit for drivers in FranceIt's a neat yellow carrying case that contains two breathalysers, a GB plate (for British motorists, of course!), a high-visibility jacket, a warning triangle and beam converters for right-hand drive cars.

If you have an accident involving another vehicle or vehicles while driving in France and all the drivers agree not to call the police, you will be asked to fill in a constat amiable (amiable declaration).

The idea is that each driver fills out his or her own copy of the form with a mutually agreed account of the incident for insurance purposes.

If you want to be extra-prudent, you could keep a form in your car, with your basic details already filled in order to save time in case of an accident.

The form should be sent to your own insurance company within five days. You can download a bilingual French-English copy of the constat amiable here.

The French have problems with roundabouts / traffic circles (rond-points). These are still regarded as a nasty foreign invention, yet there has been an enormous growth in their number over the last few years.

The confusion stems from the fact that, until recently, the standard driving convention in France was to give way to the right. But doing that at a roundabout would mean that traffic coming on to the roundabout would have priority over traffic already on it. So the present general rule is that traffic coming on to the roundabout gives way to traffic already there.

Almost all roundabouts in France are now preceded by a large sign saying Vous n'avez pas la priorité (You do not have priority). If you see that sign, give way to the traffic on it.

A few roundabouts do not have this sign and then you should be guided by the white line markings on the road, which should clearly indicate at each exit from the roundabout who has priority. Be careful - they may not be consistent all the way round!

When overtaking cyclists, you should leave a distance of at least a metre / 3'' 3" in towns and 1.5 metres / 5 feet in the countryside between your car and the bicycle.

Speed limits for private cars without trailers are as follows unless otherwise indicated: 50 km/h or 31 mph in built-up areas, 90 km/h or 55 mph outside built-up areas, 110 km/h or 68 mph on dual carriageways and most motorways and 130 km/h or 80 mph on certain toll motorways. All these limits are lower in wet weather.

France is liberally supplied with radar speed traps: exactly 2,205 of them, to be precise, as of November 2013. Since 5 January 2012, it has been illegal to use an alert system which warns drivers of upcoming speed traps.

This applies both to Smartphones and to SAT NAV or GPS navigation systems which have radar traps programmed into their software and, if you have this feature on your SAT NAV, it should be disabled before your trip.

Since the summer of 2013 there has been a major crackdown on foreign drivers speeding in France. European countries which have a reciprocal arrangement with France can be asked to supply information which will enable a speeding ticket to be sent to the driver's home address.

Drivers from countries with no such reciprocal arrangement, including the UK, Ireland and Denmark, can now be stopped by police and required to pay a hefty on-the-spot fine of up to 375 €uros.

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If your car has a right-hand drive, you should come armed with a car headlight beam converter in order to deflect your headlights away from the eyes of oncoming motorists. In France dipped headlights should be used during the day on days of poor visibility. Buy a car headlight beam converterimage! online.

It is compulsory to wear a seatbelt front and rear (when fitted). Children under ten must wear child seat belts or be strapped into a child seat and should not travel in the front unless the car has no rear seats. The driver of a vehicle in which any occupant is not wearing a seatbelt faces the loss of three points from his or her licence, plus a fine.

In theory, it is prohibited to use a mobile phone / cell phone - apart from a hands-free model - while driving, and you could incur a spot fine and penalty points. Hands-free models are exempt, though they may be an issue if deemed to have been the cause of an accident. All this said, you are still likely to see plenty of drivers in Provence happily ignoring this ban.

When parking on the street, you should not position the car facing oncoming traffic; this is illegal.

Finally, there should be no television, video, DVD equipment or anything similar which might distract the driver's attention in the car within his or her eyeline. Bonne route!

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