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Fake laws: The real rules for driving in France you need to know

The Local France
The Local France - [email protected]
Fake laws: The real rules for driving in France you need to know
Photo: Deposit Photos

Articles in the foreign press, particularly in Britain continue to publish false information about the laws of driving in France. With the help of the French government's road safety body, we've cleared a few things up about some of the rules on French roads.


A recent article in the British press (see pic below) on the controversial drop in the speed limit on French roads mentioned the laws around driving in France when it comes to eating at the wheel, listening to music or even putting on make up. And it claimed anyone without a disposable breathalyzer kit was subject to a £8 (€11) fine.

Similar misinformed stories have also been published in the French press which even prompted the government's road safety body Securité Routiere, linked to the Interior Ministry to issue a reminder of the laws in a bid to clear up some of the confusion.

Here we look at some of the laws or fake laws that many foreign drivers might be mistaken about.

It is illegal to eat at the wheel

Contrary to what you might have read elsewhere there is no actual law in France that bans drivers from eating at the wheel, whether it's a baguette, a bonbon or a boeuf bourguignon.

However Article R.412-6 from the highway code (code de la route) dating back to 2001 and updated in 2008 gives police the power to punish dangerous driving.

The law states: "The driver must at all times adopt a cautious and respectful behaviour vis-à-vis other road users. Every driver must be constantly in a state of readiness and in a position to execute all the manoeuvres required of him/her immediately."

Anyone caught flouting this article in law is subject to a fine of at least €35.

In other words if a police officer happens to catch you eating a baguette as you overtake a car or head round a roundabout they are likely to pull you over. If however you eat a sandwich whilst stuck in a traffic jam on the autoroute, then the officer might let it go.

It's also likely that if you end up in a collision and it's found you were eating at the wheel at the time, you will likely face a much stiffer punishment if it's deemed you were not in control of the car or in a "constant state of readiness".

(This article on the Mirror's website repeated some false information about apparent new laws for driving in France.)

It is illegal to put make up on at the wheel

This fake law appears in many of the same articles alongside the fake law about a ban on drivers eating.

As the folks at Securité Routière point out, there is no actual law banning drivers from putting on mascara or lipstick whilst behind the wheel. 

Officials point out that the same R.412-6 article applies, meaning drivers must have complete control at all times to react quickly to carry out the necessary manoeuvres.

So be warned.

Securité Routiere says: "This article, which law enforcement agencies apply with discretion, could therefore eventually lead to the punishment of inappropriate and dangerous driving behaviour."

It is illegal to listen to loud music in the car

No it's not. Despite frequent mention of this so-called law in articles in the press (see above), there is no law in France that stipulates the maximum volume for music played in a car.

Again, the traffic police have at their discretion the power to fine you if they believe the heavy metal music you are rocking along to, means you are not fully concentrating on driving and are likely to be a danger to others.

(Deposit photos)

It is illegal for drivers to wear earphones or bluetooth earpieces at the wheel

This is in fact TRUE. In July 2015 France banned motorists, bikers and even cyclists from using headphones whilst driving/riding.

The interior ministry pointed out at the time that drivers needed to improve their attention while at the wheel, noting that one in ten deaths was linked to mobile phone use.
"The aim is to stop drivers from getting isolated from their exterior environments, and from losing their concentration due to the use of headphones," the Interior Ministry noted.
Those caught with earphones or bluetooth ear pieces risk fines of €135 and the loss of three license points. 
This means drivers are not allowed to use hands-free kits and also means that the only way to use a phone while driving in France is to have the caller on loud speaker via the car's own system or one drivers have installed.
France bans drivers from using mobile phone even when car is stopped(Deposit photos)
So what are the rules about using mobile phones whilst driving?
In short if you are caught using a mobile phone whether it's in your hand or via earphones or hands free kit you will automatically be subject to a €135 fine and three penalty points on your license, because the law in France specifically bans using the telephone whilst the car is in circulation.
If you want to use your phone you will either have to take the car out of circulation, so park it (note that just stopping and putting the hazard lights on is not enough), or use it through the car's own inbuilt loud speaker system or a separate loud speaker system you have installed yourself.
Note that from 2019 police will be able to take away a license from drivers caught using a mobile phone whilst committing another driving offense, such as not indicating when turning a corner.
You can use your phone as a GPS as long as it is placed in a support so you don't have to hold it.

It is illegal to get something out of your glove box whilst at the wheel

Some news and motoring websites both in France and the UK stated a new law in France banned drivers from getting something out of the glove box whilst at the wheel.

Again this is not true but obviously article R.412- 6 (see above) applies as does common sense. 

It is illegal to smoke at the wheel?

This is what Securité Routiere had to say about this question:

"Contrary to a false information broadcast by some media and denied by Securité Routiere, no section of the Highway Code specifically provides for a ban on smoking while driving," the statement said.

But that doesn't mean you can't get fined for driving whilst smoking, indeed some drivers in France have been. That's once again because of article R.412-6 which gives police the power to judge that someone's cigarette is actually preventing them from being able to drive safely. (Article R.412-6)

France to ban smoking in cars with kids(Deposit photos)

It is illegal to smoke in a car with children present

Since 2014 it has been illegal for drivers or passengers for that matter to smoke in cars where children under 12 are present.

Those caught doing so will be subject to a €68 fine that could rise to €450.

This law was brought in for reasons of public health rather than as a change to the Highway Code.

Do I need one of those pollution stickers to drive in France?

From July 2017 motorists, including foreign ones, have been subject to fines if they don't display their “CritAir” anti-pollution sticker on their cars, whilst driving in certain parts of France.

Initially just rolled out in the major cities, the scheme is now being extended to more and more areas.

The stickers indicate how environmentally friendly the car is according to a colour code. The criteria is based on how old and how polluting the car is.

For those who are heading to France this summer and have just realised they need to get hold of a sticker, you can do so by visiting this website:

Drivers in parts of France now face €68 fines if they don't have this car sticker


Smartphone apps that detect the presence of speed cameras on French roads are banned

This is in fact true, although it may be hard for the police to enforce. Ever since 2012 any device whether a fixed GPS device or a mobile phone app that alerts the driver to the presence of a speed camera whether fixed or mobile have been banned.

This law is in the name of road safety with French authorities arguing speed cameras are their best weapon at stopping drivers from putting their foot down and endangering the lives of others.

If you are stopped by police they have the power to check your device or mobile phone and if you are involved in an accident then investigators may look at whether you were using a warning device.

Bear in mind that those caught using a warning device face a fine of up to €1,500 and 6 penalty points.


Do I need a breathalyser kit in my car?

There has been constant confusion about this law among drivers coming to France ever since it was brought in in 2012.

Initially drivers who didn't have a breathalyser kit in the car, whether a fixed or a disposable one, were subject to an €11 fine.

However that law was never actually applied and it was amended so drivers without one would simply be reminded by the police of the need to carry one in the car but not face any fine.

But the government wants to change things again and in January 2018 laid out a raft of new measures aimed at saving lives on the roads that including a plan to ditch the law around breathalyser kits.

In a statement the Prime Minister's office said the government planned to "remove the obligation to hold a breathalyser in the vehicle. The feasibility and the effectiveness of this obligation are not proven, which is why the government advocates other, more relevant, ways to make breathalyser kits more available."

So until the obligation is officially scrapped you shouldn't worry too much about not having a breathalyser kit if you are stopped by police. 


Are there any other laws you want clearing up? Email [email protected]










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Anonymous 2019/08/02 18:29
What about driving in flip flops?
Anonymous 2018/08/04 13:28
In this article you say on the one hand that it is illegal to use a phone whether in the hand, thru headphones or with a hand free kit. But then you also say that it is legal to use it through an in-built loud-speaker system (which I thought is another name for a hands-free kit). Please can you clarify. By the way - great article!

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