Driving in France: How France’s Crit’Air vehicle sticker system is taking over the country

Driving in France: How France's Crit'Air vehicle sticker system is taking over the country
A high Crit'Air sticker number means a vehicle is highly polluting. Photo: AFP
With heatwaves, pollution spikes and pressure to reduce emissions more and more towns and cities across France are imposing driving restrictions on vehicles using the Crit'Air sticker system. Here's what you need to know about them and if you need to get one.

The Crit'Air system was introduced in 2017 and assigns a number to each vehicle based on how much they pollute. Importantly the system applies for all vehicles not just French registered ones.

But the Crit'Air system hasn't just been rolled out so drivers get to put a new sticker on their windscreens. It is aimed at reducing emissions in towns and cities, especially those prone to spikes in air-pollution such as Paris. 

During pollution spikes authorities in French towns impose what is called circulation différéncié meaning the most polluting vehicles (those with the higher Crit'Air numbers) are not allowed on the roads. 

So in the recent heatwave, vehicles with Crit'Air number 3 and above were banned from inside the A86 outer ring-road in Paris.

Importantly a new law has given local authorities extra powers to impose restrictions under circulation différéncié – and more and more of them are taking up the offer.

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But the Crit'Air system isn't just enforced to help cut emissions during a heatwave. Certain cities like Paris, Grenoble and Strasbourg already have permanent restrictions imposed on an geographical areas called zones à circulation restreinte or zones à faibles emissions (ZEF) or low emissions zones.

From July 1st 2019 all vehicles with a Crit'Air 4 or 5 sticker were banned from Paris city centre between 8am and 8pm on weekdays.

Over the coming years restrictions will get tighter so cars with Crit'Air stickers numbering 3 and then 2 will steadily be be banned from the city on weekdays. The same will apply to the outer suburbs in Paris where currently only vehicles with Crit'Air stickers number 5 are banned.

Grenoble has also imposed restrictions on the city centre and various suburbs meaning vehicles with Crit'Air 4 and 5 stickers are no longer allowed on weekdays. From 2022 those restrictions will also apply to Crit'Air 3 vehicles.

And most major cities and big towns in the country are in the process of and intending to roll out their own permanent low emission zones over the coming years, meaning the Crit'Air system will be in permanent use.

So do I need a sticker?

There isn't really a simple answer to this as it depends on where you're going in France and if that area is prone to spikes in pollution, especially at the time you are there.

But it would make a lot of sense to get one given so many cities and areas require vehicles to have the Crit'Air stickers on their vehicles even if permanent restrictions are not in place.

The cities where Crit'Air stickers are now obligatory are Paris, Grenoble, Lille, Bordeaux, Rennes, Strasbourg, Toulouse, and Marseille so you will definitely need one if you are going there. 

However an increasing number of places are taking the opportunity to enforce circulation differenciée in a certain designated environmental zones, which means they can impose restrictions in case of high pollution levels – most commonly in the summer. 

Many other places have declared environmental zones, which means that although for most of the year no restrictions are in place, you will still need a sticker to drive there.

The zones are départment wide in some areas. See map below

  • ZPA d’Angers
  • ZPA d’Annecy 
  • ZPA d’Auch 
  • ZPA de Chambery 
  • ZPA de Clermont-Ferrand 
  • ZPA de Dijon
  • ZPA de La Roche-sur-Yon
  • ZPA de Montpellier 
  • ZPA de Niort 
  • ZPA d’Orléans
  • ZPA de Pau
  • ZPA de Poitiers
  • ZPA de Valence
  • ZPA de Chartres
  • ZPA de Guéret
  • ZPA de la Vallée de l’Arve


A full list of France's environmental zones.

What happens if I get caught without one in a designated zone?

You face a fine of €68 although in certain areas police are treating motorists lightly and educating them about the system rather than emptying their wallets, so you may escape with just a stern telling off.

The sticker has your registration number on it, so you cannot swap them between vehicles and if you get a new car you will have to get a new sticker.

The stickers needs to be ordered in advance, so if you come to France without one and end up in a restricted zone you could be in trouble.

They're cheap and easy to obtain (see below) so we would say it's better to be safe than sorry.

And if I get caught driving a car that is part of the restrictions?

If you're driving a car than is banned from a city under permanent or temporary restrictions then you face a €68 fine and it's unlikely the police will let you off with a warning.

What do the stickers mean again?

The sticker corresponds with how polluting your vehicle is. Electric and hybrid cars get a special green sticker with a zero, petrol or diesel vehicles get a number from 1 to 5. The level is automatically assigned based on the age of your car and the registration details you give, which allows the system to assign you a number based on the manufacturer's specifications.



How do I get one?

Surprisingly for a French bureaucratic task, the process is pretty simple. Head to the government site here and fill out the form (in English). You will need your vehicle registration documents to hand as you need your vehicle identification number as well as registration number and you also need upload an image of your vehicle registration documents.

Once the form is completed the sticker will be sent to you in the post. It usually takes a week but at peak times it can be longer. The total price, including postage, is €3.62 if you're in France or €4.41 if not.


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