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DRIVING

Plan to allow 15-year-olds to drive in France

In a bid to improve road safety in France, a proposal is set to be put forward to the government that would allow learner drivers as young as 15 to get behind the wheel of a car if they are accompanied by an adult.

Plan to allow 15-year-olds to drive in France
Drivers as young as 15 could soon be allowed behind the wheel in France under a plan to improve road safety. Photo: Mychele Daniau/AFP

Under current French law teenagers are not allowed to buy a packet of cigarettes until the age of 18, but they could soon be permitted to get behind the wheel of a car aged 15.

French driving magazine Auto Plus revealed on Friday that the National Council for Road Safety, a government advisory body, is set to recommend reducing the legal age of “accompanied driving” to 15.

Currently learner drivers in France are allowed to drive from the age of 16, as long as they are accompanied by an adult. They are required to build up around 3,500 km on the clock as an “accompanied driver” before they can gain their licence once they have reached the age of 18. 

But the road safety council wants to lower the limit in a bid to better prepare learner drivers for the dangers of the road, before they get behind the wheel alone.

The National Road Safety Council believes the change would allow young drivers to get more road miles under their belt before they reach 18 and it would also discourage many parents from allowing their teenage children to ride a moped.

The law in France allows teenagers from the age of 14 to drive a moped, as long as the wheels are smaller than 50 cm3.

SEE ALSO – Crazy French drivers: The real rules of la route

But concerns have been raised after figures for 2012 revealed that 40 percent of teenagers aged between 15 and 17 years old who died on France’s roads were driving a moped.

Anyone learning to drive from the age of 18 in France has to have a minimum of 20 hours of lessons before they can take their test.

The move to lower the age limit for learner drivers in France to 15 is in contrast to the UK, where the government was considering raising the age-limit for when someone can get a learner's license from 17 to 18, to try to cut down on the number of road accidents involving young motorists.

However in a move more akin to the system in France, the UK government is also considering imposing a "learner stage", that can begin at the age of 17, during which drivers would have to total at least 100 hours of daytime driving and 20 hours at nighttime driving while under supervision.

In Spain the minimum driving age age is 18 and in Germany it is 17, as long as you are accompanied by an adult. Drivers can only gain their full license in Germany at the age of 18.

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DRIVING

8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Taking a roadtrip through France is always a popular holiday option, but make sure that you're ready to take to the French roads.

8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Black weekends – as with all countries, France has certain weekends when the roads are likely to be especially busy. These generally coincide with school holidays, public holidays and opportunities to ‘faire le pont‘ – as well as the traditional ‘crossover’ weekend when the July travellers return and the August travellers set out.

There is a helpful traffic forecasting website called Bison futéfind it here – which publishes a calendar of days that are likely to be especially busy on the roads. Avoid red and black days if possible.

Fuel prices

It seems likely that fuel prices will remain high around Europe this summer, and France is no exception despite the government fuel rebate of 18 cents per litre.

The government publishes an interactive map of fuel stations and the prices they charge, so if possible you can plan your journey to fill up in the cheapest area.

MAP Where to find the cheapest fuel in France

Crit’Air stickers – if you plan on driving into or through a city, check whether a Crit’Air sticker is required for your vehicle. Initially the province of the big cities, more and more towns now require these. 

The sticker gives your vehicle a rating based on the emissions is produces, vehicles that get the highest ratings of 3, 4 or 5 are banned outright from some cities, while other cities limit their movement in days when air pollution is particularly bad.

The sticker costs less than €5 but must be ordered online in advance of your trip – here’s how.

Yellow vest – yellow vests in France are not just for demonstrators, they form part of the kit that you are legally obliged to have in your car. A red warning triangle and a high-vis yellow jacket must be carried with you at all times, although it is no longer compulsory to carry a breathalyser.

If you’re coming from the UK your UK driving licence is enough – there is no need for an International Driver’s Permit – but check that your insurance covers trips to France. Insurance ‘green cards’ are not required. 

Péages – if you’re driving on autoroutes you will likely need to pay, as most sections of the French highway are covered by tolls. When driving you will see warning signs that the péage (toll booth) is coming up and that is your signal to get your money ready.

The cost varies depending on which road you are on and how far you drive.

Usually you take a ticket at the first toll booth and then when you exit that section of road you drive through another station where you pay. The pay stations take either cash or debit cards – some but not all allow contactless card payments – and as you approach the pay station you will see signs with either a coin or a card on them, to ensure you’re in the right lane for your payment type.

Naturally the pay stations are on the left of the vehicle. If you’re driving a right-hand drive car and don’t have a passenger this can be a little awkward, so there is an option to buy a pre-paid radar device – known as télépéage – that allows you to drive straight through the péage.

Speed limits and alcohol – obviously you will need to keep an eye out for speed limits (which are of course in km/h not mimes per hour) but if you’re on the autoroute there are two different limits – 130km/h for fine weather and 110 km/h for bad weather.

As well as police officers doing speed checks, also keep an eye out for radars (speed cameras) which sit at the side of the road and are usually grey.

If you’re in certain parts of rural France you might think that drink-driving laws don’t apply in France, since unfortunately there is still a culture of drinking and driving in some areas.

In fact, however, France has strict limits on drinking and driving and they may be lower than you are used to. If you are stopped and breathalysed you face losing your licence and saying ‘well everyone else in the café had two glasses of wine and then drove’ is not a legal defence.

READ ALSO Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive laws?  

Fake police – Speaking of police, it is an unfortunate fact that every summer, some tourists fall victim to scammers who pretend to be police offices and demand cash for ‘fines’.

Real French police officers do stop drivers – either if they have been speeding or committed another driving offence or simply for a random check – but if you incur a fine you will be given a ticket that you pay later. Genuine police officers will not demand that you hand over money in cash at the roadside.

Priorité à droite – France’s most notorious road law is still in place in certain areas, but not everywhere. The priorité à droite rule (priority to the right) essentially means that you give way to the vehicle that is approaching from the right unless there are road signs or marking in place telling you to do otherwise.

In practice this means that on most major routes and in towns you simply obey the street signs, road markings and traffic lights to determine who has the priority.

It’s really more on smaller, country roads where there are no markings that priorité à droite applies, although it’s also in place on smaller roads in residential areas of cities and on Paris’ famously confusing Arc de Triomphe roundabout (although there are plans afoot to pedestrianise the area around the Arc).

You can read a full explanation of the priorité à droite rule HERE.

. . . and French drivers.

It pains us to peddle a cliché, but a lot of French drivers do live up to their international stereotype of being terrible drivers. Not all, of course, but certainly don’t assume that your fellow drivers will give way or let you join a queue of traffic. Also just because a vehicle isn’t indicating, that does not mean that it’s not just about to turn. Also, for the American readers out there – though automatic cars do exist in France, they are typically more expensive to rent and stick shifts tend to be the norm in France. 

Bonne route!

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