Driving in France might seem straight forward but I promise, it can be confusing especially if you are from North America. Fear not, if you are considering taking a trip to France and also want to do some road trips, you just need to know a few basic things to start.
11 Basic But Essential Things You Need To Know: France Road Trips
1. You Can Drive 130 MPH on French Highways? Know The Speed Limit
France is on the metric system so if you see a sign that says 130 like the one above, it means 130 Kilometres per hour and not 130 Miles per hour. (130 KPH is roughly 80 MPH).
2. You Must Have A Breathalyzer In Your Car To Drive In France?
Yes it is true. French law says you MUST MUST MUST carry 3 essential things in your car and a breathalyzer is one of them. Otherwise you run the risk of receiving a fine of up to 750 euros if you are stopped by a police officer according to the French service website. OUCH!
- 1 Breathalyzer ( Law in effect Since 2012. The tolerated blood alcohol level in France is 0.5 mg. per ml)
- 2 A Warning Triangle ( Law in effect since 2008. You must place this 30 meters behind your car if you have to stop on a public road due to car troubles.)
- 3 A Refelctive Security Vest. ( Law in effect since 2008. You must wear this if you are stranded on the side of the road)
3. Where The Heck Is The Highway?
TIPS: AutoRoute= French word for Highway / Motorway
If you want to get around quickly in France, the highway is the the way to go but If you have never driven in Europe than you may end up getting confused like we first did because there is no signage that says “Enter here for highway”.
Instead they have symbols and a clever lettering system that helps you recognize the various road systems in France.
There are three types of major roads across France. Autoroutes, National Roads and Department Roads.
- 1- Highways or Motorways are called Autoroutes in France and they begin with an A followed by numbers. For example A29 as pictured above.
- 2-Deparment roads are run by each department in france. They usually have fewer lanes, a slower speed limit and can be more scenic. They start with a D followed by a number. For example D34
- 3-National roads are very similar to department roads. These are marked with an N followed by a number. N33
4. It Can Cost You Over 100 Euros In Toll Booth Fees
As I mentioned above, If you want to get around fast in France, take the autoroutes but be prepared to pay the piper in toll booth fees.
Almost all highways (autoroutes which start with the letter A) have toll booths along the way. We drove from the south of France to Paris on one of our road trips. (Just over a 10 hour drive) and it cost us about 100 Euros in Tolls EACH WAY.
TIP: Péage= French word for toll booth. Bring 2 credit cards just in case you run out of cash for toll booths.
5. How To Calculate Or Avoid Toll Fees During Your French Road Trip
If you want to avoid or minimize tolls on your French toad trip, just use the D and N roads (Deparment and National Roads). But which ones do you use?
Luckily there is an autoroutes site which allows anyone to plan out their route based on their criteria and destination.
- Calculate total trip time based on route
- Plan the cheapest route
- Plan the most scenic route
- Plan the shortest route and more……..
6. How To Find A Restroom And Food Along The Way.
One of the benefits of taking the tolled autoroutes rather then the slower non tolled D roads (departmental roads) on your France Road Trip is REST STOPS at regular intervals along the way.
On average there is one rest stop very 15 km. You will always, always find clean restrooms, usually with picnic benches and food at these areas. Sometimes you find gas too.
Tip: Aire De (some name) = French word for Rest Stop. Look for signs like the one above that say Aire De…… In the photo above there is a rest stop called Peypin in 300 meters. It looks to be handicap accessible by the little wheelchair sign above it.
7. Forget about 4 way Stops: Learn How to Maneuver a roundabout / traffic circle
A lot of Americains complain about traffic circles (I think) because they don’t know how to properly use them when in reality they are quite simple. You just need to know 3 basic rules.
- YIELD: Yield to traffic already in the circle. If you time it correctly, you don’t need to ever stop at a four way intersection. Just slow down to yield then enter and exit.
- EXITING: When exiting a roundabout, put on your blinker to signal so that cars trying to enter the round about know you are exiting and can enter safely rather than waiting to see if you exit or stay in the round-about.
- MISSED YOUR EXIT: In a four way stop if you make a wrong turn, you have to do a series of turns around the block to get back but with a round about if you miss your exit, you just stay in the round-about and come around again to the correct exit.
Tips: If you want to learn more, here is a site that has more detailed explanations about roundabouts.
8. Where to stock up on Road Trip (picnique) Food in France
If you want to stock up on some food to eat while on your road trip than make a trip to one of the many supermarkets in France. Stop at a supermarket beforehand; Intermarché * Carrefour *Mono Prix *LIDL. (here is a more complete list of supermarkets in France )
TIP: Super markets are called marché or supermarché in French. Dramamine and aspirine are not sold at supermarkets or gas stations. You will need to stop at a pharmacie.
9. Bring GPS device
This is more of a recommendation rather than a requirement but I highly recommend getting a GPS device of some sort for your France roadtrip for the following reasons. (We rarely use a physical map anymore).
- Gives you the fleibility to go to new places and stops wthout the fear of getting lost.
- Know where you are instantly.
- Take detours or get lost and the GPS auto corrects your route to your destination on the fly.
- Calculates your total drive time for you almost to the minute.
- Has voice navigation that tells you of upcoming turns, exits, stops etc. Handy if travelling alone or want to avoid constantly looking at a map. Or your co-pilot gets car sick and passes out like I usually do and become utterly useless in helping navigate.
Tip: Get a GPS device that does not require data connection or wifi. I use a Samsung galaxy tablet and downloaded an app that gave me maps that I could use off line.
10. Can You Drive A Stick Shift / Manual Transmission?
Most cars in France are Stick Shift. You will be hard pressed to find an automatic car in France. I am not saying it’s impossible just rare so don’t limit your choices in cars just because you don’t know how to drive a stick shift.
11. Do You Have The Right Drivers Permit To Drive In France?
According to the official website of France, if you have an EU drivers license or drivers permit from another country you are allowed to drive in France as long as the following conditions are met.
- Drivers permit mus be valid.
- Drivers permit must have been issued by the country in which you normally resided before moving to France.
- Drivers permit must be written in French or be accompanied by an official translation. ( we have managed so far without an official transcript, knock on wood).
TIP: Although not required, it is highly recommended that you get an international drivers license which can help to expedite encounters with authorities in the event of an accident or traffic infraction. If you plan on staying in France for over a year, you are supposed to apply for a French drivers permit.
It probably goes without saying that there are so many more things you need to know when taking a road trip in France but these 11 are a good start.
Do your own research and try not to speed on the roads. We once got a ticket in the mail. Unbeknownst to us, you can get clocked by a radar gun after which a ticket is mailed to you a couple of weeks later.
What do you think? Have extra question? Leave your comments below!