France is one of the UK’s favourite holiday destinations, and being so close, particularly for those in Southern England, many of us choose to drive over. Whether heading across to the Alps for skiing in winter*, down the autoroute to the sun in summer, or just a quick trip over – or under – the Channel to do some shopping, there are a few things drivers need to be aware of.
*Skiers bound for the Alps have been advised by the French authorities to fit winter tyres and carry snow chains after chaos at the end of 2014 when drivers were stranded because of heavy snowfall and traffic congestion.¹
When driving in France, make sure you have the following documents²:
- A full, valid Driving Licence for each driver
An EU or EEA driving licence is accepted, but the minimum age for driving in France is 18, so under 18s who’ve just passed their test in the UK can’t drive in France, even if they have a full driving licence.³
All visitors to France need a valid personal ID card or, in the case of UK citizens, their passport.⁴
- Proof of ownership
This is the car’s registration certificate or V5C certificate. It might be referred to in France as the “Carte grise” (grey card).
- Proof of Insurance
Including your Certificate of Motor Insurance and any relevant breakdown cover. Always check exactly what your policy covers before setting off. Some insurance policies that offer comprehensive cover in the UK only provide third party cover abroad, so consider if you need to take out extra holiday insurance and European breakdown cover.
- Travel insurance and your freeEuropean Health Insurance Card (EHIC)⁵
The EHIC card entitles you to reduced-cost, sometimes free, medical treatment in most of Europe but the cover isn’t always comprehensive and the cost of bringing a person back to the UK in the event of illness or death is never covered so make sure you have adequate travel insurance as well.
French law also requires you to carry the following items; if you don’t you could face substantial on-the-spot fines:
- Hazard warning triangle
A red reflective triangle to put at a suitable distance behind the car if it is immobilised on the road. Do not attempt to set up a warning triangle on the hard shoulder of the motorway, as you could put yourself in danger. Move away from your car as soon as it’s safe to do so, and then follow the instructions given in the Emergency assistance section below.
- Headlamp beam deflectors
Depending on your car, you will either need deflector stickers or have to adjust the beam manually.
- High visibility reflective jacket
This must be kept inside the car, within reach. The French Road Safety Department strongly advise carrying 2 high visibility vests.⁶
- Spare set ofbulbs
- GB sticker or GB Euroflag number plate
In theory, it has been obligatory to carry a breathalyser kit since 1st March 2013 but there’s no penalty for not having one.⁷ The original official announcement stated that one, unused, in date, certified breathalyser must be produced showing the French certification mark NF. Carrying two single-use breathalysers will ensure that if one is used or damaged, you will still have a spare to produce.⁸
Emergency assistance on the motorway and toll roads ⁹
The RAC recommends that drivers are made aware that, due to French law, motorists cannot request help from their own assistance company if they break down on a motorway/toll road. You would need to use one of the orange emergency telephones situated every 2 km along main roads and motorways which enable motorists needing assistance to call the police or the official breakdown service operating in that area. You would then be towed to a safe designated area to meet your breakdown provider. Charges for assistance on a motorway are fixed by the French Government. Find out more.
Drink/drug driving ¹⁰
The legal alcohol limit for car drivers in France is much lower than it is in the UK. The maximum legal level of alcohol in the blood is 0.05%.
The police are empowered to carry out random breath tests and a test is compulsory after an accident which has caused injury or when a driver has committed a serious motoring offence.
A driver who is involved in an accident, or has committed a traffic offence such as speeding or not wearing a seatbelt, must take a drugs test.
The police use saliva or urine tests to detect drivers under the influence of drugs. If positive, a blood test follows.
Satnav and speed camera alerts ¹¹
Since 2012, French laws have prohibited drivers from carrying any device capable of detecting speed cameras, including products informing the location of speed cameras e.g. satnav or gps systems.
The AA recommends that if you have a satnav capable of displaying French speed camera locations in France then you must at least disable camera alerts. Contact the manufacturer for advice too as a software or database update is likely to be available that will remove camera data for France from the device. If you have a satnav system built into your car, contact the car manufacturer. For more details see: http://www.theaa.com/motoring_advice/overseas/driving-abroad-whats-new-2012.html
If you are setting out on a long journey to France, good advice is to have your car serviced or checked, especially, checking tyre pressure and condition (12), and remember your map or satnav. It’s also important to familiarise yourself with local speed limits and road signs. For more details on driving in France see http://www.rac.co.uk/travel/driving-abroad/countries/france
Remember drive safely…. and drive on the right!
  http://www.theaa.com/motoring_advice/overseas/general_advice.html
   http://www.rac.co.uk/travel/driving-abroad/countries/france
   http://about-france.com/driving-checklist.htm
  http://www.halfords.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/mAdviceArticlePage?storeId=10001&langId=-1&articleId=701017&selectedCategory=245375&selectedType=Featured+Article&pc=categories