Baffling French road signs: Take the test

As a new survey has revealed that one in two French people can't identify the meaning of common road signs, we've collected the most confusing signs from the roads around France to see whether you can understand them.

Baffling French road signs: Take the test
Photo: Pete Labrozzi/Flickr
Driving in France can be confusing enough for foreigners – especially for the Brits and the Aussies who drive on the left-hand side of the road for a start. 
But according to a survey that was released this week by road safety group Prévention Routière, the French seem to have no idea what's going on either. 
Despite the fact that 71 percent felt confident that they could pass a written test based on the signs, one in two French people were unable to correctly identify even the most common of road signs.
So what's going wrong?
The problem could partly be blamed on the total of 700 different signs on the roads of France, a figure which is constantly rising as rules and laws are amended. 
On top of this, motorists in France aren't re-tested on the road signs as they get older (and the signs change).
Thomas Le Quellec the head of Prévention Routiére that motorists simply felt they had nothing else to learn once they'd been given a licence. 
Le Quellec told The Local that France makes up a new sign on average once a year, mainly due to changes in regulations.
Foreign drivers who are heading to France should take their time to do their research of French signs before departing Le Quellec added.
But he said drivers should not be too concerned. 
“For the British drivers in France the most complicated aspect is probably driving on the left,” he said.
But perhaps most importantly of all, we think people might be confused because the signs are basically confusing. Take our quick test below and keep score – there are nine in total ranging from easy to absurd.

Let's start easy. What does this mean?

A) No drivers allowed who are aged 70 or older

B) End of the speed limit of the 70 kilometre zone

C) You are now leaving the 70th département of France

The answer was B. And that's as easy as it gets. What about the sign above?

A) Accident ahead that's blocking the road

B) Risk of driving off road and down a hill or crevice

C) Impossible hill inclination ahead

Yes, that was A, suggesting an accident ahead. Fair enough. What about the one above. Is it:

A) Toll booth payment for drivers with season tickets

B) Train station ahead for passengers with season tickets

C) Truck stop ahead for drivers with season tickets


It was A. OK, let's take it up a notch. What is this red circle above?

A) Residential area ahead, slow down

B) This sign does not exist

C) Traffic flow forbidden in both directions


We forgive anyone who said B, that the sign doesn't exist, but they're wrong. The answer is C. Don't ask why. What about this one (above) – what does it mean?

A) Conservation area ahead

B) Psychedelic tunnel ahead

C) Recycling station ahead

Boringly enough for any psychedelic tunnel enthusiasts, the answer is A, conservation area. But what about the one above with the mysterious acute-accented e (é)?

A) Stopover village ahead (Village étape, hence the é)

B) Art and craft fair on Sundays ahead (the é is just an arty pattern, nothing but a coincidence)

C) School ahead, slow down (Zone d'école, hence the é)


The answer was A, a village étape. Tricky, no. How about this one?

A) No crossing the river with wheeled vehicles, only boats and rafts

B) Access forbidden for vehicles carrying water pollutants

C) Approach riverside with caution, tide can rise quickly

The answer was B. How about this?

A) Parking forbidden from the 16th to the end of the month

B) No parking after 4.30pm

C) Vehicles longer than 16.31 metres not allowed 

It was A. And lastly, what about this?

A) Detour for cyclists

B) Picnic area ahead

C) Emergency pullover area

Answer below picture. 

READ ALSO: How French motorists drive expats crazy

How French motorists drive expats crazy

Yes, the last one was C. An easy one to finish, perhaps. How did you go in the nine questions?

0-4 – Get off the roads and take public transport. 

5-7 – Well done, you're better than the average French driver. 

8-9 – We don't believe you – but congratulations! You are King (or Queen) of the French road.

Prévention Routière has a guide to driving in France along with a list of the rules on its website. You can view it by clicking here.

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Reader question: Can I buy or sell a car in France if I have a foreign driving licence?

You can drive in France for a certain amount of time with some foreign driving licences. But can you buy or sell a car with one and what other documents do you need?

Reader question: Can I buy or sell a car in France if I have a foreign driving licence?

Let’s start with the good news: a driving licence is not among the list of official documents needed to buy or sell a car in France – just to drive one.

But it’s likely that are asked to provide one when you buy a car.

In that case does what happens if you have a foreign rather than French licence?

We know by reading certain Facebook posts that this question often arises and some people have reported that they were wrongly asked for their French driving licence when buying a car and told that a UK licence, for example, wasn’t acceptable. 

Not having a French driver’s licence should not stop you from being able to buy a car in France.

Kim Cranstoun who runs the Facebook group ‘Applying for a French Driving Licence’ told The Local: “It’s a dealer issue, they have it fixed in their mind that you have to have a French licence mainly because they don’t understand the new agreement and the last thing they read was a UK licence was only valid until the end of 2021.

“As long as you have a valid UK licence you can purchase a car in France. Anyone going into a dealer with a valid UK licence should carry a copy of the agreement,” she said.

Interestingly a driving licence is not on the list of official documents you need to buy a car (see below) but dealer’s will often ask for it if they take charge of registering the car.

What does the seller need?

The seller is responsible for providing the car registration document, called the certificat d’immatriculation and known informally as the Carte Grise.

You must sign a certificat de cession (transfer certificate) along with the buyer, and then declare the sale on the ANTS website within 15 days. 

You should then receive a code de cession (transfer code) which you must also send to the buyer so they can register the vehicle in their name.

If the vehicle is second-hand and more than four-years old, the seller should also provide a recent roadworthiness certificate, proving that the vehicle has passed a contrôle technique (similar to an MoT in the UK), in the past six months.

What does the buyer need?

When you buy a car, you must sign a certificat de cession (transfer certificate) along with the previous owner, who has to declare the sale on the ANTS website within 15 days. 

The seller should then receive a code de cession (transfer code) which they must send you because you will need this to register the vehicle in your name. There is a fee, which usually falls to the buyer to pay for transferring a vehicle registration – which varies depending on the region, type of car, and its CO2 emissions. 

The previous certificat d’immatriculation (registration certificate – aka carte grise) needs to be struck through, and completed with the date of the sale and the seller’s signature.

You will then need to register the car in your name, which can be done online. You have one month to do this, otherwise you risk a fine of up to €750. 

If you are purchasing the car through a dealer, this transfer of registration will be done at the time of the purchase. Be aware, a dealer may ask for your driving licence as part of the process, but – as long as you hold a valid licence, whether it is French or not, you will still be able to go through with your purchase.

In fact, you can ask any certified garage to apply for the carte grise on your behalf, which could save on time and hassle, even if you didn’t buy the car from them.

When applying for a carte grise you will need to submit proof that the vehicle has undergone a contrôle technique (vehicle safety check) within the previous six months if the car is at least four years old.

To register the vehicle, you need the following official documents:

  • Identification (passport or identity card)

  • Proof of residence (typically a utility bill or rental receipt, less than six months old).

  • A copy of the Certificat d’immatriculation/Carte Grise with the appropriate section filled in.

  • The contrôle technique (CT) certificate, if required.

Buying a car with a loan

If you have the funds to buy the vehicle outright, you’ll have no problems – simply hand over the cheque at the appropriate time. It may be harder, however, to access financing for your vehicle if you’re not permanently resident in France.

Driving your new vehicle

If you plan to drive your car away that day, you will also be asked for a copy of a valid insurance certificate for the vehicle – in France, the vehicle is insured rather than the driver. 

Most car insurance companies will provide a provisional certificate to allow you to drive your new purchase. You will then need to finalise details and provide them with a copy of the Carte Grise when it arrives.

Driving licence

If you live permanently in France, sooner or later you may need to swap your driving licence for a French one – but where you learned to drive in the first place could dictate whether you have to take a French driving test. We cover that in depth here – including what’s changed for Britons in France after Brexit.

You can buy some vehicles – known as voitures sans permis – and drive them on some French roads without having a driving licence. Anyone born after 1988 must, however, hold a Brevet de sécurité routière, which has a 15-year limit, and the vehicles are speed limited and can only travel on certain routes.