Why you really do have to stop at the 'Stop' sign in France

Ben McPartland
Ben McPartland - [email protected]
Why you really do have to stop at the 'Stop' sign in France
Care to guess what you should do at this junction? Photo Photo: ggkuna/Depositphotos

The instruction on the French road sign couldn't have been clearer but The Local's Ben McPartland found out the hard way that ignoring a "stop" sign in France can come at a cost (not to mention the risk to your safety). Here's a reminder of what "Stop" actually means on French roads.


I can't say I wasn't warned.  My French partner has for a while now been warning me that I do actually have to stop at a "Stop" sign in France (despite my impression that most French drivers seem to be oblivious to them).

That's not to mention the articles I have written for The Local about the importance of actually stopping at "Stop" signs.

And the sign even says "Stop" (in English, helpfully). The instruction couldn't have been more obvious (unlike these baffling French road signs)

But I ignored all that advice whilst passing through a small village on the outskirts of Paris on Saturday. I did what the French call glisser un stop or more formally non respect de l'arrêté au stop.

READ ALSO QUIZ: How many of these French road signs can you identify?

In other words, I rolled very slowly through a Stop sign, making sure of course nothing was coming the other way.

I've heard stories about the Gendarmes lying in wait at "Stop" signs in tiny French villages, waiting to snare motorists ignoring the sign. But I didn't think they'd be lurking in Sivry-Coutry on a cold, wet day in November.

But there they were. About 8 of them all waiting about 100 metres past the Stop sign, out of view of course.

One signalled for me to pull over and hand over my driving license and car registration details.

"Do you know why you've been pulled over?"


"No," I replied innocently.

"For not stopping at the stop sign," he replied.

I thought about playing the foreigner card.

"Look I'm English, I just didn't understand the sign.... I thought Stop might mean something else in French, you know like preservatif doesn't mean preservatives... car doesn't mean car and a pub in English isn't a pub in French..."

But I decided against it and accepted the verbalisation - not a verbal warning as the word would suggest but a fine.

"What's the punishment," I asked the gendarme?

"Four points and a €135 fine," he said.

"Quoiiiiiii... that's a heavy punishment."

"It would have been a heavier punishment for the person you could have crashed into after not stopping at the stop sign," the gendarme hit back.

Fair enough. He had me bang to rights, along with what seemed like every other driver who passed through the village at the same time - judging from queue of drivers waiting in their cars to be fined.

Lesson learned.

Rolling through Stop signs is a common driving offence in France, it seems.

In fact some 100,000 drivers in France were fined in 2016 for not respecting a Stop sign.

So in 2016 over 400,000 points were taken off people's driving licences for the infringement.

The stop signs are there for a good reason; to prevent accidents.

They are often put in place at accident spots, where France's often unsignposted rule of "priorité a droit" (priority to the right) - whereby drivers cede priority to vehicles coming from the right, hasn't worked.

READ ALSO How does 'priorité a droite' really work when you're driving in France 

But many drivers in France clearly feel it's enough to slow down and check for cars approaching from other roads rather than stop altogether.

So what does the law actually say?


A French urban legend says you must halt for three seconds at a Stop sign, but that isn't quite true. There is nothing in the law that identifies a specific duration. That said, the law states you have to come to an actual stop before the big thick white line on the road, meaning your wheels must not be moving forward.

And then stop long enough to be sure it’s safe to proceed.

Article Art R 415-6 in the Code de la Route specifically says: "At certain intersections indicated by a so-called Stop sign, all drivers must make a stop at the junction.

"They must then give way to the vehicles driving on the other road or roads. Drivers must only move on after the other vehicles have passed and if it is safe to do so."

Not only does a failure to stop at a stop sign cost you four points on your licence but you have to wait three years before you get the points back.

Although I have since discovered you can take a voluntary two day course to earn back four points.  Note, the courses can only be taken once a year and they seem to cost between €130 and €200.

All this to say that it really is worth following the instructions on the "Stop" sign next time you see one. Not least for your own safety.


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Anonymous 2020/02/04 17:27
Please note that you also have to physically 'stop' on entry to a roundabout if the entry point on your carriageway is a solid white line; if there is a broken white line at your entry point, then you may roll through into the roundabout. Note that different entry points may have different solid/broken lines at the same roundabout.<br />
Anonymous 2019/11/19 19:15
I say one gendarme, two gendarmes, three gendarmes before proceeding if clear ???

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