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DRIVING

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

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.

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

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.

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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LIVING IN FRANCE

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.

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