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DRIVING

What you should do if you have a car accident in France

If you’re driving in France, make sure you know what to do in the event of an accident

No one wants to be involved in a road traffic collision. But if you are while in France, there are things you should know.

Under French law, all cars, including those registered abroad, must carry at least one reflective hi-vis safety vest that is accessible without getting out of the car and a warning triangle that can be placed behind the vehicle in case you have to stop at the side of the road. Drivers who do not have this equipment in their car face a €135 on-the-spot fine.

If you are in a road accident

If you are involved in a minor road traffic collision in France you should:
  • Move to a safe place and alert oncoming traffic by placing a red warning triangle 30 metres down the road, if it is safe to do so, to alert oncoming traffic;
  • If anyone is injured call the police on 17 or 112 (if you are using a non-French mobile phone). If the incident takes place on a motorway, use the nearest fixed roadside emergency telephone. That makes it easier for officers and breakdown crews to locate you. If you are involved in an accident involving any sort of injury, even if it is not your fault, you MUST remain until the police give you permission to leave.
  • Wear your hi-vis safety vest when you are out of your vehicle;
  • If two cars are involved, you may be asked to fill in a Constat Amiable D’Accident Automobile (an amiable declaration – also known as a European Accident Statement) by the driver of the other vehicle. These accident statements give a brief account of the circumstances of the accident, and then allows your insurance company to determine whose responsibility it was and the compensation that needs to be paid. This is common practice in France and should include written and graphic descriptions of the accident – but if you don’t understand what has been written, or do not agree with the other driver’s version of events, do not sign the form. It is an important document and may be used as evidence; 
  • If more than two cars are involved, each French driver will fill in a constat amiable;
  • Make a note of the other vehicle’s registration number and take the details of any witnesses.

The form

There are two sections of the form, one for each driver to complete and it’s important you check everything carefully (including registration plate numbers) and the right boxes have been ticked. If there’s a dispute over the cause of the collision you don’t want to accidentally agree with the other driver’s version of events.
 
Make sure you get these documents right the first time, matters can quickly get complicated if you change them because the constat is a legal document.
You can get an English version of the document here. It is a good idea to have blank copies of these accident reports in your car to fill out in case you are involved in an collision with another vehicle.
 

The constat is not compulsory, but while the police will not demand you complete one, your insurance company might, so it’s worth doing. If you don’t feel as though you understand the process or are concerned that your French is not strong enough, you should not feel pressured into signing the form.

Towing costs

If your vehicle needs to be towed after a collision on the motorway you must use an approved motorway breakdown service, for which you will be required to pay a government-set fee. 

For breakdown assistance requiring towing (to a rest or service area, to a garage or to a location chosen by the motorist), this rate varies according to the weight of the vehicle:

€131.94 for vehicles weighing less than or equal to 1.8 tonnes;

€163.15 for vehicles with a total weight greater than 1.8 tonnes and less than 3.5 tonnes.

If your vehicle can be repaired at the side of the road, you will be charged €131.94 plus parts.

These prices increase 50% if the emergency call was made between 6pm and 8am on weekdays, or at weekends or on public holidays.

What if you are in a collision and the other driver is uninsured?

You wouldn’t be alone. In 2020, some 27,332 drivers in France were involved in collisions in which the other motorist was not insured, according to figures from the Fonds de garantie des victimes (FGAO). Of those, 7,984 were injured in the incident, and 128 died.

Those figures are down on the previous year – as is the  €106.3 million the FGAO gave to those victims in compensation – but only because the Covid-19 pandemic, along with the confinements, working from home, and curfews to control it, cut road traffic levels in France.

There are strict rules for applying for compensation from the FGAO if you are involved in a collision with an uninsured motorist: the uninsured party must be at fault and the vehicle they were driving must be registered in France. You must live permanently in France, or be an EU/EEA citizen, or of Moroccan, Tunisian or Swiss nationality.

You can claim for personal injury regardless of whether the uninsured driver has been identified, but can only claim for damage to your vehicle or other property if they are identified.

To make a claim (your French insurers would probably do the bulk of the work for you) you need to fill in a compensation claim form – a copy (in English) is available here. Send it to the FGAO, along with a photocopy of your ID card, passport, or residency permit, and a photocopy of the police report (if this document is not in your possession, indicate the contact details of the authority that prepared it). If a police report is not available, a photocopy of the accident statement signed by both parties or an accident report accompanied by one or more witness accounts.

You will also need to supply medical reports if you required treatment for any injuries, and documents showing the cost of any repairs to your vehicle, if applicable.

French laws to know 

You have a “duty to rescue” a person in danger in France. If you deliberately fail to help someone in danger, you risk five years in prison and a fine of €75,000.

The law – non-assistance à personne en danger – essentially obliges you to help someone in danger if you are able to without putting yourself in danger. It means that, at the very least, you should call the police or gendarmes. You can do that by dialing 17 or 112 (if you are using a non-French mobile phone).

Five French words to know
 
une voiture – car 
 
un accident de voiture – car accident 
 
une panne – breakdown 
 
assurance – insurance 
 
une blessure – injury
 
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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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