Key points about this information item Driving in France : Road rules and driving in the Midi-Pyrrenees region of France - Updated 26 July 2012Information Description:
Driving in Midi-Pyrenees, France - some rules of the road
A drive along the fantastic country roads of France can be a great start to any holiday in the country. Read our guide to help you along your way and avoid any problems. There are also links to useful websites at the end of the article.
Driving in France can be a joy. Along tree lined Route Nationales , with very little traffic, it is far removed from the hustle and bustle of much of the United Kingdom road network. A slow drive through the French countryside could be part of a relaxing holiday.
The Autoroute system is generally quiet and extremely well maintained. Be aware that a large proportion of the motorway system charge tolls (peage) and although not overly expensive, they will add up if you travel the whole route by motorway. Have a look at the Autoroute website. It allows you to easily enter a route and calculate the toll charges and also provides up to date information on congestion.
The worst part of the journey to the south west of France is negotiating Paris, so if at all possible avoid it. If you intend going through the city, use a satnav to relieve the stress!
As in the United Kingdom, speed cameras and the policing of speeding figures highly in the government’s attempts to reduce accidents. On the Autoroute’s, the fixed cameras are well signposted but, the mobile cameras will have no warning and will not be obvious until it is too late. The best advice is to remain within the speed limit.
***Update*** : Speed camera detection devices are illegal in France and this includes the use of satnav devices that simply show the camera location. If caught using one in France, you can be fined on the spot and have your satnav confiscated. Check with your satnav company website – you may find that if you connect your satnav for an update, that the camera location information for France will be automatically removed.
Take a look at the level of speeding fines on our guide2 page.
As in the UK it is taken very seriously and the drink drive limit is lower in France. The best advice is not to drink if you are driving even though it is very tempting when the wine is included with the menu de jour. It is not uncommon for the police to target the hour after lunch for random breath tests.
*** Update*** : It is now compulsory to carry a breathalyser kit in your vehicle and if in doubt about your alcohol level to use the breathalyser before driving. This in reality means that you need to carry two breathalysers in the vehicle, since once you have tested yourself, you still need an unused kit in the car while you are driving. The French Interior Minister has recently announced that the proposed €11 fines for not carrying a breathalyzer kit will not be enforced for the foreseeable future. This means that although it is a requirement to carry the kit, the police have no way of enforcing the law.
These are generally very well maintained and traffic jam free except near major cities. Large stretches are owned and operated by private companies, who charge a toll (peage) for their use.
The autoroutes.fr website is a useful trip planner that gives directions, speed camera locations and will also tell you the cost of tolls for your planned trip.
Dry conditions - 130 kph / 80 mph Wet conditions - 110 kph / 68 mph
Route Nationale (RN):
These are the equivalent of British A roads. They are a mixture of single and dual carriageway roads, taking indirect routes and passing through towns.
Dual carriageway - 110 kph / 68 mph
Single carriageway - 90 kph / 56 mph
In wet conditions, reduce your speed by 10 kph.
Route Departmental (D):
These are similar to British B roads and can vary from dual carriageway to single track lanes. Speed limits are the same as for route nationale.
Entering a town is marked by a town name sign and leaving a town is marked by a town name sign with a diagonal line through it. Within the town signs, the speed limit is 50 kph / 31 mph unless otherwise indicated.
When trying to navigate around France, the signs often do not have road numbers, only destinations. Sometimes the next major town is shown as the destination, other times it could be the next village, so a good map is essential and planning ahead highly recommended.
A useful map, the Bison Fute, is available free of charge at petrol stations and gives alternative routes avoiding the Autoroutes, ideal if you have a bit more time and want to see more of France.
Things to remember
- Priorité à droite - The general rule is give way to the right unless otherwise indicated, even if you are travelling on the main road and a minor road is joining from the right. Many older French drivers still remember when this rule also applied to roundabouts, meaning traffic on the roundabout had to give way to joining traffic! Take care.
- Traffic lights - There is no amber light when going from red to green. Also, where there is a right turning at the lights, you may come across a flashing amber light. This indicates that you may proceed to turn right, with caution, even though the main traffic light is still showing red.
- Display a country sticker if your vehicle is not French registered.
- Unlike the UK, it is not usual for traffic to stop at pedestrian crossings. If you decide to stop check your rear-view mirror first, as the driver behind will not expect you to stop!
- Until recently, it was only possible to use a UK credit card at petrol stations when paying at the cashier. The automatic machines generally would not accept them. The situation has now improved and it is possible to pay at many machines now. Just remember that late evening and Sunday opening is still quite rare in France and find a petrol station that will accept your card to avoid getting stuck.
- At Autoroute toll booths, head for the lanes showing "CB" if you are going to pay by card. The manned booths have a small white symbol depicting a cashier and these will take both cash and cards. Some toll booths are unmanned and it is possible to pay by cash at the machine in this case.
The main thing to remember is not to rush, enjoy the drive and the scenary and make the most of the time away from work.
Check our news items regarding driving in France
More information on driving in France
Some useful websites
Bison Fute - Real time road information showing traffic jams and roadwork’s
Route planner and toll charge calculator
Location of LPG sites in France
Fuel price checker and garage location
Online plant sales, based in Escanecrabe, Midi-Pyrenees, France