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DRIVING

When – and where – to avoid driving on France’s roads this summer

Summer in France means busy roads especially on certain days throughout July and August. Here's a guide of when you might want to avoid driving and which roads you should try to steer clear of on those days.

When - and where - to avoid driving on France's roads this summer
(Photo: Jeff Pachoud / AFP)

In France, the summer holidays are nigh – schools break up for the grandes vacances on Thursday, July 7th – which means the roads will get busy in the days and weeks to come as people escape to the seaside by the carload.

And with flight cancellations, strikes and other disruptions expected at French and European airports this summer — not to mention soaring air fares — many are opting to drive to their holiday destinations despite the cost of petrol.

READ ALSO Planes, trains and roads: France’s timetable for 2022 summer strikes

Each year, France’s roads watchdog Bison Futé publishes a road traffic calendar, which lists the times of the year when travel can be particularly bad. Unsurprisingly, the summer holidays are among the heaviest travel periods, as French and foreign holidaymakers head for the sun.

It operates four levels of travel status, which are colour-coded.

Image: Bison Futé

The standard days, with ‘normal’ traffic are in coded green, meaning that circulation is running as expected. There may be a few jams on certain stretches, notably around cities, but nothing out of the ordinary. Higher traffic days are in orange.  Days with very high traffic volumes are listed in red, while extremely traffic volumes are listed in black. 

On ‘black travel’ days, Bison Futé has calculated that the combined length of all traffic jams on France’s roads could stretch a total of more than 1,000km – or the length of the country from north to south.

We’ll issue regular travel updates, like this one, throughout the summer. But for July and August, the roads monitor forecasts five black travel days, on July 9th, 23rd, and 30th, and August 6th and 13th – all Saturdays.

Only one of those days – July 30th – is graded ‘black’ for the whole of the country. That day is the notorious “chassé croisé” when traditional July holidaymakers head home, and the first of the August breakers set off on their holidays.

READ ALSO Juilletistes vs Aoûtiens: Do France’s two summer holiday tribes still exist?

Image: Bison Futé

The other ‘black days’ are for certain areas, identified by number according to the geographical area where traffic will be heaviest. The areas correspond to the numbers shown on the following graphic.

Image: Bison Futé

The busiest routes of the summer are those that lead to the coasts of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean – notably the southwest of the country, though Brittany and Normandy are also always popular. Bison Futé even highlights the direction of travel in which traffic will be heaviest – using Départs to describe travel away from main cities, such as Paris, to popular resorts, and Retours for travel away from resorts and back to the cities.

So, on July 30th, the heaviest traffic will be heading to holiday resorts, hence the black ‘extremely difficult’ code. Travel back to the cities in comparison will be classed as ‘red’ – merely ‘very difficult’.

Any route will get busy as it passes large towns or major cities, and at the toll booth entry and exit points of France’s motorways.

READ ALSO Driving in France: What is télépéage and how does it work?

Delaying your departure outside peak periods is frequently the best solution, and Bison Futé offers daily updates on the travel situation on arterial routes across France, including travel times to avoid.

These are consistently difficult stretches of French roads in the summer, but it depends on which way the traffic is heading – whether people are leaving the big cities or returning to them after holiday.

  • The A7 particularly between Vienne and Valence and the Fourvière tunnel in Lyon
  • The A7-A8 between Salon de Provence and Saint-Maximin – where two busy motorways collide
  • The A10 around Tours from Paris to Bordeaux, and the Bordeaux ringroad
  • The A9 between Nîmes and Montpellier, and between Narbonne and Perpignan
  • The A50-A55 around Marseille
  • The A8 heading to Monaco from Nice. The La Turbie toll area is a recurring nightmare for motorists
  • The A10-A71 link between Orléans and Vierzon
  • The A13-A84 between Rouen and Caen
  • The A6 and A10 motorways leading in and out of Paris  

Avoid these routes if you can, especially at peak travel times, for a holiday roadtrip that’s less fraught. For example, instead of braving the A10 around Tours, perhaps consider taking the A71, A20 and A89 to bypass the area altogether.

And the most obvious plan to escape the worst of the traffic – don’t travel on a weekend if you don’t need to.

READ ALSO ‘Something always goes wrong’: What I learned taking the train through Europe with two kids

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DRIVING IN FRANCE

French motorway breakdown services cost rises

Breaking down on a French motorway just got more expensive, as the government raised the prices that breakdown services can charge.

French motorway breakdown services cost rises

If you do break down, you should use the nearest emergency call box rather than your mobile phone (they’re about 2km apart). This puts you immediately in touch with the motorway company, and means your car is easier to locate. 

READ ALSO: Who to call and what to say in a driving emergency in France

If your vehicle can be repaired at the side of the motorway in 30 minutes or less, you will be charged a government-set fee. A decree published in September 2022 indicated that the fee would rise from €131.94 in 2021, to €138.01, plus parts.

If, however, the repair is likely to take longer, your vehicle will be towed. You can decide whether your vehicle is taken to the garage to which the truck belongs, or one of your own choice, or another location within an acceptable distance.

For breakdown assistance that requires a tow (to a rest or service area, to a garage or to a location chosen by the motorist), this rate – again, set by the government annually – varies according to the weight of the vehicle.

These charges are now:

  • €138.01 for vehicles weighing no more than 1.8 tonnes (up from €131.94 in 2021);
  • €170.65 for vehicles with a total weight greater than 1.8 tonnes and less than 3.5 tonnes (up from €163.15).

Be aware: Add 50 percent to these charges if the call was made at weekends and public holidays, or between the hours of 6pm and 6am Monday to Friday.

Meanwhile, running out of fuel is not considered an unforeseen emergency for stopping at the side of a motorway. Motorists are expected to keep an eye on their fuel gauge and ensure they have enough fuel to complete their journey or to be able to reach the nearest service station.

For full details on what to do if your car breaks down in France, plus some handy French vocab, click HERE.

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