Driving in France
On the Motorway/Freeway
You’ve made the decision to come to France or even move here. First thing to consider if coming from Britain or Australia – you will be driving on the ‘wrong side ‘ of the road. Arriving from the States this is one less difficulty to get over.
On the « Autoroute » in France the road signs are blue:
« Autoroutes » in France with it’s « péages » means tolls. You must pay a fixed amount as you enter the autoroute or you take a card and then pay as you exit.
The toll lanes are clearly marked and you can pay by cash or card. The ‘t’ is reserved for those who have an automatic badge.
Which you can obtain with a « abonnement » a few papers needed here’s a link
Choose the lane « voie » depending on how you wish to pay.
The « autoroutes » in France are expensive but efficient, with speed limits of 110km/hr and 130km/hr. Every 40km or so you will have an « aire » where you can stop for a picnic, find toilets and a telephone. Every 80km or so you will find « station service » with a petrol station, restaurant etc. Unless you find yourself on the A89 which I find to be neverending and the only service station is at « Correze » where you find everybody else and you always seem to arrive at midday no matter what time you leave the house……
Check out our road signs in English!
Speed Cameras, speeding radars
2) This is an old radar which takes a photo of the rear of the car. This leads to a lot of legal problems with motorists saying they were not driving the car at the time so that they can keep all of their points on their license.
3) This is the newer generation facing forward for trucks and cars. Now they are warning you before with the same sign as above but hiding the radars behind other signs so you don’t see them till the last minute and BAM … flash … BAM … ticket.
4) The newest generation of radars are two cameras that take a photo and record your speed then 12 kilometers further down the road another set of cameras that rerecord your information calculate your average speed using the time passed between each set.
If you are unfortunate to break down « tombe en panne » on the « autoroute » you will find these SOS telephones on the roadside at regular intervals. The distance to the next telephone is written on the ground. This avoids the scenario of walking four kilometres to the next phone when there was one behind you at 1km!
On picking up the phone you will be connected with an « autoroute » agent and they’ll have a « depannage » tow truck collect you. They’ll have your location and may even see you due to the numerous cameras on the « autoroute » so even if there is a language issue they’ll get you to the nearest garage. Once at the garage, you pay the « depannage », give him your « autoroute » ticket and the rest is up to you at the garage – a whole different article!
In town and On the National Roads green signs
In this same section look for the English translation of the French road signs.
The signs are green. (I make a point of detailling this as living in the Alps you may one day visit Switzerland – the sign colours are the opposite – green for the motorway and blue for the National smaller roads.)
Signposting can be tricky. They’re good at signage here, have faith, if your direction is longer indicated keep going straight you’ll find another sign if there are turns necessary.
Driving in France can be an adventure in itself. I love the French and especially the Savoyards but once behind a wheel they become these scary, aggressive people. Ok that is a generalization but roundabouts are sometimes war zones (in my opinion). The game of who can get past the car in front of them and beat them round the roundabout for the win down the stretch. It’s like Formule 1 driving or Indy races.
Roundabouts: in 99.9% of cases, priority is indicated. Traffic already on a roundabout has priority over traffic entering it. EXCEPT at some big urban roundabouts such as the « Place de l’Etoile » on the « Champs Elysées » in Paris, where it is priority to traffic entering, or trying to enter, the roundabout system.
« Priorité à droite » – Priority to the right. The worst law on French roads
Once upon a time, this was the general rule in France; at any intersection, traffic had to give way to cars coming in from the right. Today this is still true only on minor rural roads, and at junctions in suburbia and villages, between roads of similar classification. All main roads – « N » “national” roads and « D » “département” roads – are generally priority roads, marked with a yellow diamond sign. Priority ends when there is a yellow diamond with a black strike-through. While on a priority road, you have priority over all traffic coming in from a side road, unless your priority ends.
If you see this sign then the road coming up on your right has the priority, you should consider slowing down – even if we feel there is no logic – the priority is on the right! To add to this confusion the « priorité’ à droite » is also made evident by its lack of roadmarking. If there are no white lines on the road like at a stop sign – be careful! The road on the right has priority. Depending on where you have chosen to live you will become familiar with the « priorité à droite » in your own area. Seriously there isn’t really a rule that I can give you like every other road or size or anything. It is kind of like the French language it is just like that and you have to learn it. Since motorists have the right well they try to enforce it by pulling out in front of you no matter how fast you are going, naturally causing an accident. Which will be Your fault, even if. I have read up on this crazy law and what I have found is surprising.
This Right Of Way on the right is mostly in the counties along the borders, not many in the middle of France or Paris. They say it is to keep traffic always flowing (except when there are multiple accidents). And I even read it was because someone ordered the wrong signs and said well we’ll just put them up because we have them (no truth to that story but funny). What motorists don’t realize is that they don’t have the right to cause an accident just to enforce the law.
Yes I have been in two accidents thanks to the Right Of Way on the right. In one of them, two birthday cakes flew to the front seat and back to the back seat. I had to stop at the next Pâtisserie to buy two new ones. Really silly law with no rhyme nor reason.
In this picture the red car has priority as there are no road markings. The blue car must slow down and let the red car onto the road. Tricky when visibility is poor.
« The Right Of Way » on the right law gets even better in a four way intersection with four cars. Imagine it, everyone must stop because there is always the possibility of someone approaching on our right. You can see people trying to think who should turn first but it’s difficult to move because someone is blocking the road ahead of you. It’s impossible, and can be amusing to watch. Usually it is the most aggressive person who wins. Don’t hesitates too long, nice not while on the road.
Also the roads are pretty narrow here which can be surprising to some. Two way roads sometimes shouldn’t be. But the cars in Europe are somewhat smaller than those in the States or Australia, so it seems to always work.
The French are pretty respectful to speed limits. But the mountain roads can be great fun so watch out on your next biking outing!
Talegating is common, get used to it!
Also commonplace, parking almost anywhere and especially double parking. They are Latin, laws and regulations do not apply to them especially when they need to park. So you’ll see a great number of different poles, rocks, cement pillars, and other interesting solutions to protect side walks, grass areas and roundabouts.
Most city/town streets have metered parking. You’ll have to buy a ticket at a parking ticketing station for the time you need and put it on your dashboard. Most parking meters take change and credit cards. I suggest paying because the ticket is 17 euros. If you rent a car, even long term, the ticket will go to the rental company and they will charge you automatically.