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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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TRAVEL NEWS

What to expect from traffic during upcoming three-day weekend in France

L'assomption - or the Assumption of Mary - is coming up for Monday, giving people working in France their last three-day weekend of the summer. As such, the roads are expected to be very busy.

What to expect from traffic during upcoming three-day weekend in France

As the last three-day weekend of the summer approaches, France’s traffic watchdog, Bison futé has announced their forecast for congestion on the roads. 

Traffic is expected to be quite difficult this weekend, with Saturday classified as almost entirely ‘red’ across France for both departures and returns, with the Mediterranean area coloured black – the highest alert level – for departures.

The different congestion levels range from green (normal), orange (difficult), red (very difficult) to black (extremely difficult).

“Throughout the weekend, traffic will be very difficult in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and on the Mediterranean Arc, especially on the A7, A8 and A9 freeways”, warned Bison Futé in their statement.

Here is the breakdown per day:

Friday, August 12

Friday is mostly green for departures, aside from the Paris region and the Mediterranean, which can expect some minor delays, as they are coloured in orange. The traffic watchdog recommends leaving or crossing through the Paris region prior to noon.

For returns, however, the situation will be less calm. The majority of the country is on orange alert, with the Mediterranean area coloured red. 

Bison futé predictions for Friday

Specifically, for departures motorists are advised to:

  • leave or cross the Île-de-France before 12:00,
  • avoid the A10 freeway, between Paris and Orleans, from 2pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the A63 freeway, between Bayonne and Spain, from 8am to 8pm,
  • avoid the A7 freeway, between Lyon and Orange, from 11am to 9pm and between Orange and Marseille, from 2pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the A9 freeway, between Orange and Narbonne, from 10am to 9pm,
  • avoid the A75 freeway, between Millau and Lodève, from 3pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the A62 freeway, between Bordeaux and Toulouse, from 3pm to 7pm,
  • avoid the A61 freeway, between Toulouse and Narbonne, from 3pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the Mont-Blanc tunnel in the direction of Italy, from 12:00 to 15:00 (wait time will likely be greater than 30 minutes)

For returns, Bison futé’s advice is to:

  • return to or cross the Ile-de-France before 2pm,
  • avoid the A10 freeway, between Bordeaux and Paris, from 2pm to 7pm,
  • avoid the A63 freeway, between Spain and Bayonne, from 5pm to 7pm,
  • avoid the A6 freeway, between Lyon and Beaune, from 3pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the A7 freeway, between Marseille and Lyon, from 10am to 8pm,
  • avoid the A8 freeway, near Aix-en-Provence, from 10am to 7pm,
  • avoid the A9 freeway, between Narbonne and Orange, from 11am to 7pm,
  • avoid the A62 freeway, between Toulouse and Agen, from 2pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the A61 freeway, between Narbonne and Carcassonne, from 2pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the Mont-Blanc tunnel on your way back to France, from 2pm to 9pm (wait time will likely be more than 1 hour)

Saturday

Saturday is slated to be the most difficult day on the roads this weekend.

For both departures and returns, the whole of the country can expect significant delays and congestion, under the ‘red’ classification. For departures, roads in the Mediterranean area are expected to be the most packed and will be classified as ‘black.’ 

Bison futé predictions for Saturday

Bison Futé advises you to avoid the big cities, from as early as 8am for the Paris region. 

The roads you should pay avoid for departures on Saturday are:

  • the A1 freeway, between Paris and Lille, from 10am to 5pm
  • the A84 freeway, between Caen and Rennes, from 10am to 12pm
  • the A11 freeway, between Paris and Le Mans, from 8am to 7pm and between Le Mans and Angers, from 8am to 5pm
  • the RN157 national road, between Laval and Rennes, from 10am to 5pm
  • the national road RN165, between Nantes and Lorient, from 11am to 8pm
  • the A10 freeway, at the Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines tollgate, from 6am to 2pm and between Paris and Bordeaux, from 7am to 5pm
  • the A63 freeway, between Bordeaux and Spain, from 9am to 8pm
  • the A6 freeway, between Beaune and Mâcon, from 8am to 12pm
  • the A7 freeway, between Lyon and Orange, from 6am to 6pm and between Orange and Marseille, from 9am to 7pm
  • the A54 freeway, between Nîmes and Salon-de-Provence, from 10am to 4pm
  • the A9 freeway, between Orange and Narbonne, from 7am to 5pm and between Narbonne and Perpignan, from 8am to 5pm
  • the A20 freeway, between Limoges and Brive-la-Gaillarde, from 10am to 12pm
  • the A71 freeway, between Orleans and Bourges, from 9am to 12pm
  • the A75 freeway, between Clermont-Ferrand and Saint-Flour, from 10am to 12pm, and between Millau and Lodève, from 8am to 6pm,
  • the A750 freeway, between Lodève and Montpellier, from 11am to 1pm
  • the A62 freeway, between Bordeaux and Toulouse, from 9am to 5pm,
  • the A61 freeway, between Toulouse and Narbonne, from 8am to 4pm,
  • the A43 freeway, between Lyon and Chambéry, from 10am to 4pm,
  • the Mont-Blanc tunnel towards Italy, from 12pm to 3pm (wait times expected to be more than 30 minutes).

Motorists are also advised to:

  • return to or cross the Ile-de-France before 2pm
  • avoid the A83 freeway, between Niort and Nantes, from 10am to 4pm
  • avoid the A84 freeway, between Rennes and Caen, from 10am to 3pm
  • avoid the national road RN165, between Lorient and Vannes, from 11am to 3pm
  • avoid the A10 freeway, between Bordeaux and Paris, from 10am to 5pm
  • avoid the A63 freeway, between Spain and Bayonne, from 11am to 1pm
  • avoid the A6 freeway, between Lyon and Beaune, from 9am to 6pm
  • avoid the A7 freeway, between Marseille and Orange, from 8am to 5pm and between Orange and Lyon, from 9am to 7pm
  • avoid the A8 freeway, between Italy and Fréjus, from 10am to 12pm and between Fréjus and Aix-en-Provence, from 9am to 2pm
  • avoid the A54 freeway, between Salon-de-Provence and Nîmes, from 10am to 12pm
  • avoid the A9 freeway, between Perpignan and Narbonne, from 10am to 1pm and between Narbonne and Orange, from 9am to 5pm
  • avoid the A20 freeway, between Brive-la-Gaillarde and Limoge, from 10am to 1pm
  • avoid the A71 freeway, between Clermont-Ferrand and Orléans, from 1pm to 5pm
  • avoid the A62 freeway, between Toulouse and Bordeaux, from 9am to 5pm
  • avoid the A61 freeway, between Narbonne and Toulouse, from 9am to 7pm
  • avoid the A43 freeway, between Chambéry and Lyon, from 9am to 1pm
  • avoid the A48 freeway, between Grenoble and Lyon, from 10am to 12pm
  • avoid the Mont-Blanc tunnel on your way back to France, from 2pm to 9pm (wait times are expected to be greater than 1 hour)

Sunday 

Bison futé predictions for Sunday

The traffic situation will be considerably calmer this Sunday, with slowdowns for departures mostly concentrated around the Mediterranean area and for returns around in the greater southeast region.

For departures, motorists are advised to avoid:

  • the A63 freeway, between Bayonne and Spain, from 10am to 8pm
  • the A7 freeway, between Lyon and Orange, from 9am to 7pm and between Orange and Marseille, from 2pm to 8pm
  • the A9 freeway, between Orange and Narbonne, from 10am to 7pm
  • the A61 freeway, between Carcassonne and Narbonne, from 10am to 12pm

For returns, you should also avoid:

  • the A7 freeway, between Marseille and Lyon, from 9am to 7pm,
  • the A9 highway, between Narbonne and Orange, from 10am to 8pm,
  • the A61 freeway, between Narbonne and Carcassonne, from 5pm to 7pm,
  • the Mont-Blanc tunnel on the way back to France, from 1pm to 8pm (wait times will be greater than 1 hour).

Finally, traffic will be more or less back to routine circulation in both directions on the jour férié of Monday, August 15th. The Paris region is the only part of France that is not green, and this is still only for returns. 

Motorists heading back to Ile-de-France are advised to either cross through or return before 2pm.

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