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DRIVING

Driving in France: Understanding the new French traffic laws

Over the past few months France has brought in several new laws relating to the roads - here is what you need to know, whether you're a pedestrian, a cyclist or a motorist.

Driving in France: Understanding the new French traffic laws
Motorists drive through the Place Maillot on January 23, 2017. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

Changes for bicycles

France already has quite strict laws in place for cyclists, including a ban on listening to music on headphones while cycling, but as the government attempts to boost cycling in France, some additional laws have come into effect.

New categories – Starting in October 2022, France will create two additional categories for bicycles: the vélomobile (bicyles with protective panelling) and the vélo couché (horizontal bicycles). As these bikes are lower to the ground and more difficult for motorists to detect, they will be banned on roads where speed limits exceed 50 km/h.

Fast bicycles – Bicycles whose electric assistance allows them to go up to 45km/h will have to ride on a D9 track on roads with a speed limit of 50 km/h or more. This type of track allows for a separate space for pedestrians and cyclists. These types of bicycles should not ride on D10 tracks (where the sidewalk is shared between cyclists and pedestrians) for safety reasons.

Reflectors – New rules will go into place at the start of October also allow bicycles to use orange or yellow reflectors, which were previously prohibited. 

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about cycling in France

Changes for drivers

Signs

Signs banning the use of “cruise control” were repealed starting October 1st.

Additionally, starting in October, on the road in front of railroad crossings, a checkerboard marking area will be added to limit the possibility of accidents. This is intended to help vehicles be more aware of where they cannot enter, particularly if they are to be blocked in that space due to traffic. 

QUIZ How well do you know your French driving laws?

Electric vehicles

Starting October 1st, electric vehicles parked in front of a public charging station must be connected and charging – drivers cannot simply use them as an extra parking space. Violators risk a fine of €58.

Driverless cars

Starting September 1st, a new set of laws went into place that allowed for the licensing of more types of autonomous vehicles on the road in France, albeit with some limits.

Specifically, the laws concern “Level 3” (on a scale of 1 to 5) ‘semi-autonomous vehicles.’ These vehicles can operate either with a driver or automatically. However, France is still a long way from allowing unmanned vehicles on the roads, and it is important to note that so far only one such semi-autonomous vehicle has been approved for use – the Mercedes S-Class. Several other manufacturers have also announced their plans to launch their own versions.

City vehicle limits

Several new cities have introduced either introduced or extended their current rules regarding low-emission zones, which ban the most polluting vehicles from certain areas, based on the Crit’Air sticker system.

As of September 1st, the cities of Marseilles, Lyon and Rouen introduced such changes.

All vehicles are required to display a Crit’Air sticker, which gives them a rating of 1-5 based on their emissions level.

In Marseille Crit’Air 5 vehicles will be banned from a zone in the city centre, while the law comes into effect on September 1st, police will only start issuing fines on October 1st.

In Lyon the low-emission zone which is already in place in the city and its surrounding suburbs will now include private vehicles – previously it only concerned commercial vehicles. It covers Crit’Air 3,4 and 5 vehicles, however fines will only start being given in January 2023, until then police will simply inform drivers of the new rules.

READ MORE: MAP: Which French cities have vehicle bans or restrictions?

Rouen too is expanding its low-emission zone – which covers 13 communes of the city and its suburbs – to include private vehicles with a Crit’Air 4 or 5 rating.

A similar scheme is already in place in Paris, covers vehicles with Crit’Air 3, 4 and 5 ratings, while several other cities have intermittent schemes that come into effect when pollution levels rise. 

The sticker requirement covers both French and foreign-registered cars.

“Contrôle techniques” for motocycles and two-wheel vehicles

Technically, all motorised two-wheel vehicles were expected to need to submit to inspects as per a 2014 directive from the European Union.

In France this means the Contrôle technique – the regular vehicle inspection already required for cars (similar to the MOT in the UK). This would affect owners of motorised two-wheelers (scooters, motorcycles, mopeds) larger than 50 centimetres cubed. It would also impact owners of unlicensed cars, three-wheeled scooters, sidecars and quads.

If you have a vehicle dating from before 2016, according to the directive by the European Union, you should do your technical inspection prior to October 1st. For vehicles manufactured between 2016 and 2020, you have (in theory) until January 1, 2024. There is no set time frame for newer vehicles.

However, there has been much confusion surrounding this rule. President Emmanuel Macron’s government has attempted to pass legislation eliminating the obligation, but the legal status of the French government’s attempts are unclear, as they are still being judged by the European Commission. There will likely be more clarity on the subject, including further regulations regarding sound pollution, in the coming months, according to La Nouvelle Republique

According to reporting by La Voix du Nord, owners of two-wheeled vehicles do not have to worry about being fined if they have not yet submitted to inspections. 

Paris 

Within the city of Paris, riders of motorbikes, mopeds and scooters now have to pay for parking.

The new rules come into effect on Thursday, September 1st and concern motorbikes, mopeds and scooters.

Anyone who parks a motorbike, moped or a scooter with an internal combustion engine in public parking spaces within the Paris area has to pay.

READ MORE: Paris brings in new parking fees for motorbikes and scooters

Low-emission two-wheelers, such as electric scooters, can still park for free – however you will still need to register with the scheme. 

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DRIVING

France’s new plan to help motorists with rising fuel costs

Fear of rising fuel prices has taken hold in France, after the government cut the subsidy this week. In response, the French prime minister has already begun laying out plans for what future help it will offer motorists.

France's new plan to help motorists with rising fuel costs

Fuel prices are cause for concern in France again, after the government’s fuel subsidy – which ran from September until mid-November – decreased on Wednesday.

The subsidy previously awarded motorists a €0.30 per litre rebate at the pump, and it was decreased on November 16th to a subsidy of €0.10 per litre of fuel, which will remain in place until December 31st.

With concern rising over high fuel costs, the French government has already begun discussing a possible replacement for the subsidy.

In an interview with French news organisation Les Echos, the French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, referenced plans for a  “working fuel allowance” that would become available at the start of the new year for French people who rely on their cars for long commutes to work.

According to Borne, the successor to the blanket fuel subsidy will be income-based. The prime minister told Les Echos that the “working fuel allowance” would “benefit households in the lowest five income brackets”, i.e. half of all households in France.

As of November 18th, the government’s plan was for these households to receive a first payment in January.

“We are still working on the scale [of the payment], with the intention of significantly helping those who make a long journey to work,” Borne told Les Echos.

The French government discussed a similar proposal over the summer, prior to the extension of the fuel subsidy. At the time, President Emmanuel Macron’s coalition had envisioned a targeted aid €100 to €200 for drivers who relied on their vehicles to get to work, depending on income level. 

As of 2017, three-quarters of the 24.6 million working people in France surveyed by INSEE used a car to get to work. 

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