EXPLAINED: The new sign appearing on French roads

If you have been driving in France you might have noticed a new sign appearing on the autoroutes - here's what it means and what you need to do.

EXPLAINED: The new sign appearing on French roads
Image: Vinci autoroutes

Motorway operators have begun introducing new signage to remind drivers about a safety rule when driving on the country’s autoroutes.

The rule itself was actually introduced in 2018, but it seems that few drivers are aware of it – leading to the installation of signs on major routes across France.

This is what it looks like:

Image: Vinci

It refers to the ‘safety corridor’ law, which was added to the Code de la route (highway code) in 2018.

This refers to the rule that if a vehicle is parked or going slowly on the hard shoulder, drivers approaching in the right hand lane should slow down and switch lanes to the centre or left lane, if it is safe to do so. 

It was introduced after a space of accidents in which highways workers died while working on the hard shoulder, after vehicles travelling on the inside lane crashed into them.

QUIZ How well do you know French driving laws?

The Code says: “The safety corridor consists of a virtual barrier that all drivers must respect as soon as they approach personnel intervening on the side of a road.

“In concrete terms, when a vehicle equipped with special lights, or any other vehicle whose driver is using its hazard warning lights, is stopped or travelling at a slow speed on a hard shoulder or emergency stop strip, any driver travelling on the right-hand edge of the road must, on approaching it, reduce their speed in accordance with Article R. 413-17 and change lanes after ensuring that he can do so safely.

“If it is not possible to change lanes, the driver must keep as far away as possible from the vehicle while remaining in his lane.”

Failure to comply with this rule is a traffic offence and can result in a €135 fine.

READ ALSO The French driving offences that can cost you points on your licence

The new road signs appear in sets of three, around 300m apart, reminding drivers of the steps they should take.

Je ralentis – I slow down

Je m’éloigne – I am moving away

Je change de voie si possible – I change lanes if it is possible to do do

These steps apply only if you see a vehicle either parked or moving slowly on the hard shoulder – it applies to highways employees but also private vehicles such as a broken-down car.

READ ALSO French road signs – take the test

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What to know when visiting France’s lavender fields this summer

Known affectionately as 'blue gold,' France’s lavender fields are a popular tourist attraction every year. Here is what you need to know about visiting them:

What to know when visiting France's lavender fields this summer

Lavender is the “soul of Provence,” the French region where the fields can be found. Like wine, lavender was brought to France around 2,000 years ago by the Romans. The flower is the emblem of ‘Haute Provence’ regional identity, though the fields stretch from just outside of Nice almost all the way up to Valence, and they are not fully exclusive to France.

Even the washerwomen, those whose job it was to clean clothes and linen, were referred to as les lavandières in France. 

The flowers, which can be found mainly in two species in Provence, have several uses – as oils for cooking and bathing, as a perfume for soaps, and even as an antiseptic for healing wounds and scars.

The lavender essential oil that comes from Provence is even an AOP (L’Appellation d’origine protégée) in France. 

When is the best time to see the fields?

Typically, the lavender flowers from around mid-June to early-to-mid August. However, depending on the weather, especially if there is a drought or hotter temperatures, the lavender might flower sooner than normal, which is likely the case for this year.

This is unfortunately also a side effect of climate change, which might be pushing up the lavender flowering season.

Where should I go?

The Valensole plateau is perhaps the most famous place to go for lavender fields. Speckled with several small Provencal towns, the area is beautiful, with a mountainous backdrop in the distance. If you go here, you might also be able to see the sunflower fields too.

Sault is perhaps a bit less known, partially because due to its altitude, the lavender typically flowers a bit later.

It is still a great place to go see the fields, and every year the town hosts a Lavender Festival in August. Walking (or cycling) between the villages (Aurel, Saint-Trinit and Saint-Christol) is very manageable.

This is not too far from the Sénanque Abbey, a medieval 12th century abbey which is surrounded by lavender fields. You might notice some small stone houses called bories in the fields, which were historically used for field workers.

Luberon Valley is another location that comes highly recommended. In the area, there is a regional national park, home to rosé wines, castles (chateaux) and charming villages, like Gordes, a stunning hilltop village.

Here you can also find the Musée de la Lavande, if you are looking to learn more about harvesting, producing and distilling lavender, its industry, and some interesting regional history.

How to get there?

You can take a TGV train to Aix-en-Provence or Avignon, or rent a car. With a car, you can also enjoy the several scenic routes that allow you to see the fields from the roads.

What else is there to do while in the region?

The area is also known for its rosé wine, so you could take the opportunity to go visit some vineyards or spend some time wine-tasting. 

In the summer months, the south of France can get quite warm. If you are looking to go swimming or enjoy the water, the Gorges du Verdon are not too far away. Though a bit of a tourist hotspot, the canyon is a beautiful and a wonderful place for paddling along in a canoe.

If you’re a fan of hiking, you can always go for a (light) hike along the Ochre Trail near Roussillon. Here, there are two marked paths that will take you through sunset-colored red and yellow cliffs in an old quarry.

Words of Wisdom

Unless you have been given express permission, do not pick the lavender, as this is the farmer’s livelihood. You can always buy a bouquet from nearby souvenir shops for your photo shoots! 

Also, stick to the paths that exist to avoid trampling any crops, and of course do not litter in the fields.