For Americans moving to France or just visiting on a long-stay visa, you need to know the laws and guidelines for driving, and what to when problems arise. Don’t worry, our guide to driving in France for Americans has you covered!
Can I Drive in France With My American Driver’s License?
You can drive in France with a driver’s license from your country for a full year if it is accompanied by a certified translation; visitors are strongly advised to carry an international driver’s license too, which you’ll need to get in your home country. Once you are a resident in France you should exchange your U.S. license for a French one.
The traditional source for an international driver’s license in the U.S. has been AAA (American Automobile Association); it’s a simple walk-in process and costs $20. You can also get an international driver’s license from idaoffice and they provide you with a translation into 29 languages: $39.99 for one year.
Driving in France: Road Rules and Speed Limits
Whether driving a rental car or your own vehicle, you should know French traffic rules, restrictions, and recommended procedures. In general:
- Everyone in the vehicle must wear seatbelts (or appropriate device).
- Priority is to the right – the auto to your right normally has the right-of-way.
- A 130 km/h speed limit automatically drops to 110 km/h in rain; turn headlights on.
- Unlike in the US and Canada, no right turn on red.
Do not use a mobile phone while driving, you can be fined 135€ and have your license immediately suspended. (You may use a phone while driving only if it is entirely hands-free and headphone-free.) Do not use radar detectors; there is a 1500€ fine. It is also illegal to use any device that detects speed cameras, including GPS systems that show the position of speed cameras. Do not drink and drive – there is a possible 4500€ fine and 2 years in jail.
Anyone caught exceeding the speed limit by more than 25km/h can have their license confiscated on the spot. Also unlike the U.S., the police have the authority to collect fines and press charges on the spot.
What Equipment Do I Need in My French Vehicle?
When you buy your own car in France (or import yours from home) you’ll need to equip them properly. In France, owners must carry the following devices in their vehicle (under penalty of 750€):
- Gilet jaune (or gilet de sécurité), a day-glo yellow vest.
- Triangle de signalization (emergency roadside triangle).
- Unused Ethylotest (breathalyzer). (While the law states that you must have an Ethylotest, fines for non-compliance have been postponed.)
The full kit can be purchased online or in stores. In case of a spot check by police, make sure you always have those items, as well as your passport, driver’s license, proof of insurance, vehicle registration, and current vehicle inspection certificate (certificat de contrôle technique).
What to Do If You Have a Car Accident in France
Never leave the scene when you are involved in an accident; make sure you do the following:
- Stop immediately. Switch on your hazard warning lights and place a warning triangle at the edge of the road 30m (about 6-7 car lengths) behind your vehicle.
- If there are no injuries and if damage to vehicles or property isn’t serious, you don’t have to call the police, unless another driver has obviously been drinking or appears incapable of driving. If anyone is injured, immediately call the fire department(sapeurs-pompiers): 112 on your cell.
If you have no cell phone or no service, emergency phones (orange pillars with SOS written on them) are positioned at 2km (1.2mi) intervals on motorways and every 4km (2.5mi) on other roads. To use them press and release the button marked pour demander au secours (for summoning help) and speak into the metal grille. Give the number of the telephone and as many other details as possible.
- For accidents involving two or more vehicles, it’s standard practice for drivers to complete an accident report form (constat amiable) provided by insurance companies (keep one in your car).
France’s Good Samaritan Law
Even if you were not involved in an accident, if you see one where someone is in danger or injured, you must try to help, at least by calling emergency services. If you do not help, you can be fined up to 75,000€ and imprisoned for up to 5 years.
Hit-and-Run in France
The Fonds de Garantie Automobile (FGA, www.fga.fr) is a national fund that pays compensation to people injured and vehicles damaged by hit-and-run drivers. You can claim for damage to your vehicle, but only if the person responsible is identified and is uninsured or insolvent.
Protect against theft when driving in France
In larger cities (Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Montpellier, Marseille, and Nice), thieves on mopeds are known to pull up next to you while driving and reach in your window to grab valuables; so keep doors locked, windows raised, and valuables out of sight. Crooks have even been known to approach a vehicle stopped in traffic, smash a window, reach in to grab valuables, and take off.
If you are a victim of theft or pickpocketing:
- Dial 17 or the emergency number 112 as quickly as possible from a mobile phone (free call).
- Where possible, specify the location of the theft and the number of thieves. Give their description: sex, age, haircut and hair color, height and build, dress, anything special.
- Indicate the direction and the means of their escape, and, for a vehicle, the color, make and license plate number if you have this information.
- As soon as possible, file a detailed list of your stolen items with the police.
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