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All you Need to Know About Driving in France

Driving to France this summer? Don’t be the Brit who puts their family at risk with no insurance, breakdown cover or safety equipment.

Written by James Mills
Written by James Mills
Main image

Summer sees an exodus of families pack their car, lock the house and steer a course to the ports on the South coast. Generally, most will have given plenty of thought as to whether they’ll travel by car or enjoy a spot of lunch aboard a ferry. But precious little thought is given to stay on the right side of France’s strict driving laws.

Six million Britons visit France each year, yet few of those driving have any idea what safety items they need to pack to stay on the right side of the law and keep themselves and family or friends safe.

Driving trip to France - toll booth

In a recent survey of motorists who’d travelled to France in the past two years, conducted by Alcosense, just 15 per cent of people knew to pack a set of spare bulbs. Meanwhile, only 24 per cent were aware of the legal requirement to have a breathalyser, and 26 per cent knew to carry a high visibility jacket for each occupant of the car. A third (34%) were aware of the requirement for a warning triangle.

However, that’s not all. Too few motorists arrange the correct insurance cover, potentially leaving them vulnerable to covering the costs for damage to their car. And many don’t take out any breakdown protection, causing all manner of stress – emotionally and financially – that can put more than a dark cloud over a holiday.

To help drivers know what to pack when travelling in France, and better understand local laws, we pulled together an essential checklist.

Paperwork for driving in France

  • Your driving licence
  • A copy of a DVLA driver record and licence check code
  • The vehicle's original registration document (V5c)
  • Car insurance certificate
  • MOT certificate, if it’s more than three-years-old
  • Your passport(s)
  • Taking a hire car, company car or a borrowed vehicle? Ensure you have a letter of authorisation from the registered keeper

Insurance cover for driving in France

Always check with your insurer what level of cover you’ll have on holiday, and consider enhancing it if required. All insurers in the UK offer a basic level of cover across most of Europe. However, it may be less effective than third-party, fire and theft.

Breakdown cover for driving in France

Can you imagine anything worse than your car breaking down in the middle of the night in a foreign country, where you don’t speak the language, garages are closed and you need help to arrange temporary accommodation and having the car repaired or – worse still – recovered all the way back to the UK? Neither can we. So compare prices and policies among breakdown providers.

Safety kit to take to France

Breathalysers: you’ll need two disposable items, and they must be certified to NF standards (similar to the BSI in the UK).

image of person breathing into a breathalyser

There’s no fine for not having these but bear in mind the alcohol limit in France is 50mg, compared with 80mg, per 100ml of blood.

GB sticker: one for the back of the car. Without one, drivers risk a €90 fine.

Headlamp converters: also known as beam-benders, there’s a €90 fine for failing to fit them and preventing your lights from dazzling oncoming traffic

High visibility vest: one per person is required. There’s a €135 penalty for not having them in the car and to hand, should you be stopped by police

Spare bulbs: failing to pack these is a €80 fine. Although how it can be policed, given the sophisticated lighting units of many modern cars, is another matter…

Warning triangle: get a puncture and you’ll be glad you packed this. Fail to do so and Les Gendarmes will issue a €135 penalty


Top Five Tips For Driving in France – From the Institute of Advanced Motorists

  1. A child sitting in the front passenger seat must be at least 10 years old (or a baby up to 9 months in a rear-facing child seat).


  1. Driving on the right-hand side of the road on unfamiliar routes can be challenging. Take regular breaks and have a rest if you’re getting sleepy.


  1. Remember that the speed limits in France are different from those in the UK. Also, unlike in the UK, they change when it rains, so make sure you know them before you go.


  1. On-the-spot fines or “deposits” in France are severe. A holder of an EU driving licence who is caught exceeding the speed limit by more than 40kph (25mph) will have their licence confiscated by police.


  1. Radar-based speed-camera detectors are illegal whether or not you are using them. This includes sat nav systems that show the location of speed cameras.


Written by James Mills
James Mills

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