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'Aggressive, thoughtless, arrogant': This is how bad French drivers really are

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'Aggressive, thoughtless, arrogant': This is how bad French drivers really are
According to a lot of our readers, French drivers are afflicted by a bit of road rage. Photos: AFP, Deposit Photos
17:18 CET+01:00
Is the reputation of French drivers really deserved? Our readers in France, who know a thing or two about how the locals drive gave us their views, and we have to admit, they're not easy reading if you are a French driver.

On the whole, foreigners love living in France and tourists love visiting.

But one of the grievances you'll hear frequently is how bad the French are at driving.

But what do French drivers supposedly do that is so wrong? How big is the problem? Is it just annoying or dangerous? How should foreign drivers behave?

We put the questions to our readers in France and the response was emphatic.

Here's what you had to say. Thanks to all who responded.

‘Tailgating is a national habit' 

In a nutshell, our readers who wrote in by and large argued that they're not fans of French driving, although a handful contended instead that French road skills are no worse than any country's, just different. 

But the general consensus seems to be that they lack a sense of “empathy for l'autre” (empathy for others), as Charles Bremner from Faverolles, in Eure-et-Loire put it.

Bremner blames that lack of empathy on turbulent French history which has bred "distrust of strangers and resentment towards authority".

"Many drivers are not aware of the aggressiveness of their behaviour. They see it as normal," he adds.

31-year-old Australian Matthew, who lives near Toulouse adds: “They are far more aggressive, impulsive and are less likely to indicate."

Others accused French drivers of being "thoughtless" and showing a "lack of consideration" "carelessness" and "arrogance" towards other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

Nick Paulsen who lives in Paris said: "They seem to think driving is a battle, leave no prisoners."

Their overtaking habits were also described as “dangerous”, “haphazard”, “leaving very little space” and done “without indicating”.

Asked what makes French drivers so bad Victoria from Haute-Vienne said: "Their sense of immortality."

 

This ties in closely with another driving habit that annoys several of our readers - tailgating - described by Liz Prosser, 68, as a “French national habit”.

According to a lot of critics French drivers “tailgate a lot”, doing it “too fast and too close behind the car in front”.

Several others complained that French drivers “never indicate at roundabouts” and that they don't stop at pedestrian crossings unless someone is actually on it rather than waiting on the pavement. 

Other bothersome and potentially dangerous habits that were brought up include driving without the fog lights at night in a dark car in the fog, rude and aggressive hand gestures as well as driving too fast.

So does everyone think driving in France is that bad?

It would be fair to say that the French probably have their own set of grievances about drivers from other countries.

Some respondents did call for a bit of introspection, arguing that British drivers are the same or worse.

“In terms of lane discipline on autoroutes, they are often better than Brits, with far less hogging of the fast/overtaking lane, but worse in other ways.” 61-year-old Jennifer Taylor, from Mayenne in the northwest, argued.

Or as 52-year-old Dirk de Bruyn from Neuilly-sur-Seine explained pragmatically: “Having lived and driven in 5 countries I can attest that the French drivers are not the worst at all. A little self-centered perhaps, but not too bad at all.”

Andrew Poodle, 45, who owns a property in Charente, speaks of “perceived tail-gating on the autoroute” as well as “flashing of lights. The latter isn't 'bad' and may be perceived as aggressive, but it's more local etiquette than rudeness".

Annoying perhaps, but more dangerous?

According to official EU data, in 2017 there were 53 fatal traffic accidents in France for every million inhabitants.

That road death toll puts them above the UK (27/million), Spain (39/million), Ireland (32.8/million), Germany (38/million), Switzerland (27/million), Holland (35/million) and several other countries in Western Europe.

L'Héxagone's road deaths rate is more on a par with neighbouring Belgium (54/million) and Italy (55/million).

Source: ETSC

However, France's Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Tuesday released road death figures for 2018, showing the lowest rate in fatalities in French history, 3,259 deaths in one year.

Whether this is down to improved French road etiquette or the controversial speed limit cut from 90km/h to 80 km/h on secondary roads we'll leave you to decide about.

Any tips to deal with the different driving in France?

If you're a driver reading this from outside France and all the negative comments are putting you off from going on a road trip around the country, here are some tips our readers have submitted.

Daniel Bergen from the Var urges calm.

"Do not get nervous, do not get upset, you can not teach them anything, just upset them even more (angry faces, fingers, horns, gestures - romantic French to some maybe), even though you almost died," he said.

For starters, “be aware, be patient and have a sense of humour - otherwise you will become very frustrated,” Leon Isaac, 57, from Paris and Vaucluse recommends.

Vis-à-vis tailgating “try not to brake suddenly and no matter how tempting, do not do it on purpose!” Mary suggests.

On a similar note, Steven Fletcher, 62, from Cervennes proposes that you “don't allow drivers behind to bully you into driving faster than you need. Try to maintain a good distance front and back. Slow down and pull in to let impatient drivers overtake, and very important... don't compete”.

Another grievance mentioned by readers which in fact relates more closely to French road laws than etiquette is giving priority to the right when there's a car in the turning lane.

Daniela Provvedi, 58, from Nice says she find French drivers to be "courteous" but she can't get to grips with it, and she's not alone as this road law baffles many foreigners.

“No matter if you're driving on a main road or not, if there's no "stop" or "yield" sign on the road to the right of you, the cars coming from your right have right of way

Matthew from near Toulouse suggests this therefore as his main tip for drivers in France: “If you're used to driving on the left study the rule for "priority à droite which is contrary to Australian rules for example (not to mention illogical and dangerous). Also study the rules for multi lane roundabouts.”
 

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Gordon - 01 Feb 2019 17:55
Your drivers are braver than drivers in Washington DC or Los Angeles. They KNOW how to drive in very busy highways. Your motorcycle drives are fearless, but safe. I love watching them in Paris. One thing that you do better than any other place I have been is to give pedestrians the right of way. Bravo. And in a city like Paris that is saying something. You are not aggressive drivers but know how to move a lot of traffic fast.
GuyDenning - 01 Feb 2019 18:14
I drove in Poland a few years back. France was a delight after that. I don't know if it's true or not but someone once told me that tailgating was encouraged at one time (even by driving instructors) as an indication to the car in front that you wanted to overtake.
rmcigich@gmail.com - 02 Feb 2019 23:17
One thing about the French when driving-they do not like to back up. Especially the ladies. You can't wait them out-they just refuse to move backwards even when they are in the wrong and cut you off.
Kris - 03 Feb 2019 04:01
It was the consistent driving in the middle of the road on a bend, due to taking the corners too fast, which terrified me as a tourist driving.
Surprat - 03 Feb 2019 07:15
I live in Mumbai,India where the traffic sense is almost non existent because of the way Driving Licences are issued.But I thought France being a Developed nation there would be stricter rules for issuing Licences.Why? It is the Authority issuing licences who should be responsible for issuing licences.For example,in Singapore the Authority is very strict and on the third offence of even lane cutting ,a driver's licence is cancelled for a year and a penalty is levied immediately.I travel to Singapore frequently.Rules should be such as to not only deter but prevent a driver from breaking them.
Nick-nack - 02 Jun 2019 00:20
The French are missing some of the brain cells required for driving, perhaps the least dangerous, but most annoying is their inability to park their cars in consideration of other's needs. Parkiing cells are completely missing resulting in the poor dears often taking up two parking spaces in an effort to park their car. Actually, 'effort' is not really a good discription, dumping the car is more accurate. The main thinking pattern seems to be 'Je vais bien Jack, vas te faire encule'
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