Driving in France is one of life’s great pleasures, but make sure you know the French road rules and have the right kit when you take your car to France
1. You pay motorway tolls when you leave the motorway. When entering a motorway toll in France, simply take a ticket, and off you go. When leaving the motorway, have your cash or credit card ready. Be aware that not all cards are valid: Visa and Eurocard/MasterCard are accepted, but Maestro and Electro are not.
2. Sign up for a Liber-t toll tag, which allows you to subscribe to the same system used by French drivers and pass through the lane marked with an orange ‘t’. In some cases you don’t even need to drop below 30km/h to pass through. The toll charge (plus a small subscription) is taken by Direct Debit from your British bank account.
3. Not all motorways in France demand a toll charge; examples include the A84 from Caen to Rennes, the A20 from Vierzon to Limoges, the N10 from Poitiers to Bordeaux, and many others. With the exception of the Millau Viaduct (and who would mind paying the small charge for that?), the A75 from Clermont-Ferrand to Béziers is toll-free and also happens to be one of the most beautiful roads in France.
4. Make sure you stop at an aire. The French have stop-offs down to a fine art, with so-called ‘aires’ being placed, on average, every 20 kilometres along the motorways. Some offer just a picnic area and toilet block, while the ‘aires de service’ provide something more akin to our British service stations.
5. Look out for the ‘villages étapes’. These villages or small towns set just next to the motorway have a double attraction: they give motorists the services they need, such as cafés, restaurants, toilets and overnight accommodation, as well as something of interest to explore. This can be a pretty town square, a park, garden or even a château.
6. Follow the correct emergency procedure. If you have to make an unscheduled stop on the motorway – in the case of a breakdown, for example – you must walk to the nearest emergency telephone, placed every two kilometres, and call for assistance. You will be towed to a designated area where those with European cover will be met by their breakdown provider. You cannot call for them to pick you up directly from the motorway.
7. Be sure to pack reflective jackets (gilets) for everyone in the car. Make sure they are within reach inside the car.
8. A warning triangle, which – in the case of a breakdown – should be placed a safe distance behind the vehicle to warn other drivers of the obstruction ahead.
9. Make sure you use headlamp beam deflectors. British cars’ headlights are designed for driving on the left, so when we switch to driving on the right, the beam can dazzle oncoming traffic. In order to correct this, you will need to buy special stickers to place on your lights. Alternatively, some cars allow you to adjust the beam manually.
10. You need a breathalyser/alcohol kit in your car. While the €11 fine for not carrying one has been postponed indefinitely, you are still required to have an NF-approved breathalyser in your car.
11. Make sure you have the right documents. You need to carry the following: full, valid driving licence (international driving licences are recognised but not obligatory); proof of motoring insurance; proof of ID (passport); proof of ownership of the vehicle (V5C Certificate); travel insurance documents.
12. Hang onto the UK photocard licence paper counterpart (it was abolished on 8 June 2015 in the UK) for driving and hiring a car abroad in case traffic police or hire companies are unaware of the change. Go to the DVLA website and print your own driving licence record and also get a code (valid for 72 hours) to allow a third party to access it.
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