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DRIVING

8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Taking a roadtrip through France is always a popular holiday option, but make sure that you're ready to take to the French roads.

8 things to know about driving in France this summer
Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Black weekends – as with all countries, France has certain weekends when the roads are likely to be especially busy. These generally coincide with school holidays, public holidays and opportunities to ‘faire le pont‘ – as well as the traditional ‘crossover’ weekend when the July travellers return and the August travellers set out.

There is a helpful traffic forecasting website called Bison futéfind it here – which publishes a calendar of days that are likely to be especially busy on the roads. Avoid red and black days if possible.

If you’re coming from the UK, remember to allow plenty of time at the ferry or Channel Tunnel port, and if you haven’t travelled since 2020, remember there are lots of extra rules in place since the end of the Brexit transition period. 

Fuel prices

It seems likely that fuel prices will remain high around Europe this summer, and France is no exception despite the government fuel rebate of 18 cents per litre.

The government publishes an interactive map of fuel stations and the prices they charge, so if possible you can plan your journey to fill up in the cheapest area.

MAP Where to find the cheapest fuel in France

Crit’Air stickers – if you plan on driving into or through a city, check whether a Crit’Air sticker is required for your vehicle. Initially the province of the big cities, more and more towns now require these. 

The sticker gives your vehicle a rating based on the emissions is produces, vehicles that get the highest ratings of 3, 4 or 5 are banned outright from some cities, while other cities limit their movement in days when air pollution is particularly bad.

The sticker costs less than €5 but must be ordered online in advance of your trip – here’s how.

Yellow vest – yellow vests in France are not just for demonstrators, they form part of the kit that you are legally obliged to have in your car. A red warning triangle and a high-vis yellow jacket must be carried with you at all times, although it is no longer compulsory to carry a breathalyser.

If you’re coming from the UK your UK driving licence is enough – there is no need for an International Driver’s Permit – but check that your insurance covers trips to France. Insurance ‘green cards’ are not required. 

Péages – if you’re driving on autoroutes you will likely need to pay, as most sections of the French highway are covered by tolls. When driving you will see warning signs that the péage (toll booth) is coming up and that is your signal to get your money ready.

The cost varies depending on which road you are on and how far you drive.

Usually you take a ticket at the first toll booth and then when you exit that section of road you drive through another station where you pay. The pay stations take either cash or debit cards – some but not all allow contactless card payments – and as you approach the pay station you will see signs with either a coin or a card on them, to ensure you’re in the right lane for your payment type.

Naturally the pay stations are on the left of the vehicle. If you’re driving a right-hand drive car and don’t have a passenger this can be a little awkward, so there is an option to buy a pre-paid radar device – known as télépéage – that allows you to drive straight through the péage.

What is télépéage and how does it work?

Speed limits and alcohol – obviously you will need to keep an eye out for speed limits (which are of course in km/h not mimes per hour) but if you’re on the autoroute there are two different limits – 130km/h for fine weather and 110 km/h for bad weather.

As well as police officers doing speed checks, also keep an eye out for radars (speed cameras) which sit at the side of the road and are usually grey.

If you’re in certain parts of rural France you might think that drink-driving laws don’t apply in France, since unfortunately there is still a culture of drinking and driving in some areas.

In fact, however, France has strict limits on drinking and driving and they may be lower than you are used to. If you are stopped and breathalysed you face losing your licence and saying ‘well everyone else in the café had two glasses of wine and then drove’ is not a legal defence.

READ ALSO Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive laws?  

Fake police – Speaking of police, it is an unfortunate fact that every summer, some tourists fall victim to scammers who pretend to be police offices and demand cash for ‘fines’.

Real French police officers do stop drivers – either if they have been speeding or committed another driving offence or simply for a random check – but if you incur a fine you will be given a ticket that you pay later. Genuine police officers will not demand that you hand over money in cash at the roadside.

Priorité à droite – France’s most notorious road law is still in place in certain areas, but not everywhere. The priorité à droite rule (priority to the right) essentially means that you give way to the vehicle that is approaching from the right unless there are road signs or marking in place telling you to do otherwise.

In practice this means that on most major routes and in towns you simply obey the street signs, road markings and traffic lights to determine who has the priority.

It’s really more on smaller, country roads where there are no markings that priorité à droite applies, although it’s also in place on smaller roads in residential areas of cities and on Paris’ famously confusing Arc de Triomphe roundabout (although there are plans afoot to pedestrianise the area around the Arc).

You can read a full explanation of the priorité à droite rule HERE.

. . . and French drivers.

It pains us to peddle a cliché, but a lot of French drivers do live up to their international stereotype of being terrible drivers. Not all, of course, but certainly don’t assume that your fellow drivers will give way or let you join a queue of traffic.

Also just because a vehicle isn’t indicating, that does not mean that it’s not just about to turn. And for our American readers – though automatic cars do exist in France, they are typically more expensive to rent and stick shifts tend to be the norm in France. 

Bonne route!

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DRIVING

Péage: Toll rates for motorists in France to increase in 2023

France's Ministry of Transport has announced that toll-fees will increase in 2023. Here is what motorists in France can expect.

Péage: Toll rates for motorists in France to increase in 2023

With French motorists already expecting increases in fuel prices starting in January, the cost of travel on many of France’s motorways will also increase in 2023.

Toll rates on the main routes across France are set to go up by an average of 4.75 percent starting on February 1st, according to an announcement by the Ministry of Transport on Friday.

These rates already rose by two percent in 2022. 

While the increase is still lower than the rate of inflation (six percent), motorists in France can still expect driving to become more expensive in 2023, as the government does away with its broad-scale fuel rebate (€0.10 off the litre) at the start of January.

As of early December, the French government was still discussing plans for how to replace the fuel rebate. The Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, told Les Echoes in November that the government was considering a targeted, means-tested “fuel allowance” for workers who depend on their vehicles to commute to and from work. 

How much will I be affected?

The degree to which drivers will experience increased costs depends largely on what kind of vehicle they use, in addition to how far you plan to drive on the toll-road. 

Vehicles are broadly classified as follows:

Class 1 (Light vehicles): these are cars and minivans. This class also includes vehicles pulling trailers with a combined height of no more than 2m and a gross vehicle weight (GVW) of less than or equal to 3.5 tonnes.
Class 2: Large utility vehicles and camping cars
Class 3: Heavy goods vehicles, coaches, other 2-axle vehicles, motorhomes taller than 3m
Class 4: Vehicles taller than 3m with a GVW greater than 3.5 tonnes
Class 5: Motorbikes, sidecars, quad bikes, three-wheeled motor vehicles 

The next determining factor for how significant the price rise will be depends on which company is operating the road you use, and there are several different companies that operate toll-roads in France. 

Each year, toll (péage) prices in France are adjusted and re-evaluated for the following year on February 1st, following discussions between the government and the main companies that operate the French freeways. The fees are in part used for road maintenance costs. 

To estimate the cost of tolls for your next French road trip, you can use the calculator on this website

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