For many Brits the dream of enjoying the ‘open road’ as perhaps our parents and grandparents did, is just that – a dream.
And, while it might be a struggle to find one among Britain’s congested highways that isn’t true of France. Board a ferry and the open road can be yours.
Those who regularly visit France or live there part-time need no reminding that while the roads are often blessedly free of traffic and are generally well maintained, there are some quirky driving laws that can catch unwary drivers out.
Of course you need to be insured and if you are driving in Europe and some insurers such as the AA automatically extend their comprehensive cover of your car, but not all do so.
Nevertheless, your car will be covered for the minimum legal insurance in Europe. That’s usually only third party only so it makes sense to check if you can extend your comprehensive cover.
You’ll also need European Breakdown Cover which in France is provided through a network of garages, given that there isn’t a French equivalent of the AA.
Take out the free EHIC card which provides reciprocal medical treatment for UK citizens and at the same time, make sure your annual travel insurance (as well as your passport!) is up-to-date!
Low emission zones
These have been introduced in Paris, Lyon, Lille and Grenoble and more are expected so it’s a good idea to order the required ‘CRIT’ Air quality sticker you will need to display if you want to avoid a fine in these places.
Get the sticker from the official source – they only cost €3.70 plus postage.
They’re not dissimilar to those in the UK – for example in built-up areas it is generally 50 km/h which is roughly 30mph. The maximum is 130 km/h (80mph) on non-urban motorways. Beware if it’s raining as the speed limits are lower, other than in built up areas.
Oh, and it’s long been the case that it is prohibited to carry a speed camera detector or a sat-nav that indicates speed cameras. If yours has this feature you should disable it on pain of a hefty fine if caught.
Rights of way
Now this is something that has led to many an exchange of horn-blowing and even collisions. Many (especially rural) junctions may have no road markings and the rule is ‘priorité à droite’: priority for traffic from the right.
If this rule applies, the sign for a junction is a uniform X within the triangle (if there is a sign at all).
You’ll also see white diamond-shaped signs with a solid yellow triangle within – this indicates your road has right of way. If the same sign has a solid diagonal line through it, the road reverts to the ‘priority right’ rule. Best to be cautious – just in case a car emerges, the driver expecting you to give way!
Similarly, at signed roundabouts bearing the words “Vous n’avez pas la priorité” or “Cédez le passage” traffic on the roundabout has priority (as in the UK); but where there’s no sign traffic entering the roundabout has priority.
Stuff to take
Unlike the UK there are rules about what you must carry in your car. These include a warning triangle and high-visibility jackets that you must keep in the car (not the boot) and don if you get out of your broken-down car.
You should also carry a pair of NF certified breathalysers even though the fine for not carrying them has been shelved!
The French government recommends keeping headlights on during daytime: and they are required in poor visibility, including rain.
Drink driving is a no-no. The limit is 49mg per litre of blood – in England and Wales it’s 80. If you are a young driver (ie within three years) it is 0.02mg – effectively zero tolerance.
Many French motorways are subject to tolls. Sanef France has extended the Liber-t automated French tolls payment service to UK motorists and if you subscribe, you can use the automatic telepeage/tag lanes, previously reserved for French residents only.
Driving in winter? Then it’s recommended you fit winter (or cross-climate) tyres which display the snowflake or mountain symbol. You must also carry snow chains and use them on fully snow-bound roads.
And one of the quirkier rules: don’t pass a stationary tram while passengers are boarding or alighting…for more advice on this and other tips you can download the AA’s full driving tips for France and Monaco and find plenty of other advice on driving in Europe.
The main thing is, enjoy your ferry trip and take a few minutes to familiarise yourself with the journey ahead. And of course enjoy the freedom of the open French road network!