Driving a car in France

We provide you with information regarding traffic and safety regulations in France, such as speed limits and controls on French motorways. Furthermore, some cities in France implement measures to improve air quality and reduce the impact of road transport on people’s health. Any vehicle is concerned, whether it is registered in France or abroad.

Basic traffic rules

The ”Priority to the right” rule applies, unless there is a road sign that gives you priority.

Good to know: You can find an overview of the main driving rules in France on the site of the European Commission.

Take your foot off the accelerator on two-way national and departmental roads

In July 2018, the French government decided to lower the speed limit on two-way national and departmental roads from 90 km/h to 80 km/h. Approximatively 400 000 km of roads are concerned.

Pedestrian crossing: a fine of 35 € in case of non-compliance with the "buffer zone"

French cities now have the opportunity to build a "security buffer zone" in front of each pedestrian crossing. This new "buffer zone" is not equivalent to a "stop", the driver is not required to stop in front of this line when no pedestrian is engaged or shows the intention to cross. However, in case of non-compliance with the new marking on the ground in front of a pedestrian crossing or clearly showing the intention to do so, the driver is exposed to a fixed fine of 35 euros.

Since September 2018, a driver refusing to give way to a pedestrian who crosses or manifests the intention to cross on a marked pedestrian crosswalk is exposed to a fine of 135 euros with a withdrawal of 6 points on the drivers licence and a license suspension of up to 3 years.

France tests lane splitting in some departments

Lane splitting is when a motorcycle or a bike drives between two lanes of stopped or slowly moving cars. It is not allowed in France, though many two-wheeled vehicle users are used to practice lane splitting. So from 1st February 2016 to 31st January 2020, the French government is testing and allow lane splitting in some French departments:

  • Bouches-du-Rhône,
  • Gironde,
  • Rhône,
  • Region Ile-De-France.

Driver licence & point system

If you move to France from another EU Member state, you do not need to apply for a French driver's licence. Your valid EU or EEA licence allows you to legally drive in any EU Member state.

But if you committed a driving offence while living in France with an EU driver licence issued outside France, you will have to exchange your driver's licence with a French one.

The French driver's licence is based on a point system starting with 12 points. New drivers, however, only have six points. If they don't commit a traffic violation, they get two more points every year and will reach 12 points after three years.

If you commit a traffic violation you may lose points. Once you lose all points, your licence will be revoked.

If you wish to check the point balance of your French driver’s licence you can:

  • Go directly to the Prefecture and present a copy of your driver licence and an identity document (ID card, passport);
  • Write to your local Prefecture including copies of your driver licence, ID card or passport as well as a registered mail including postal fees and post receipt (so that you can receive  all information available by registered mail) ;
  • Go online: connect with a file number and a personal code delivered either in the full statement by the Prefecture or mentioned in the registered mails sent by the "Ministère de l'Intérieur" with reference 48N or 48M - if you committed an infraction (loss of 3 points or more).
  • Receive an e-mail or an SMS: since 7th October 2015, every French driver can automatically receive the point balance via electronic message. The driver has only to subscribe to an account on the French Ministry of the Interior road safety website. More information will be specified by an application decree.

To know when you risk losing points, refer to Main infringements and traffic fines in France. 

Good to know: you can never get the point balance of your French driver’s licence by a call!

A change of the point balance of your driver’s licence can only be made by an official letter which notifies the lost or the regain of points.

Therefore we advise you not to answer calls arriving on your mobile phone which informs you about an update of your point balance.

Further information.

Car insurance and car accident

See our article on car accident

Petrol

Generally fuel is more expensive along the “autoroutes” than at supermarkets.

Gas equivalence in France, the UK and Germany - respectively:

  • FR : Sans plomb, 95 ou 98, Gazoile, GPL
  • EN : Unleaded gazoline, 95 or 98, Diesel fuel, LPG
  • DE : Bleifreies Benzin, 95 oder 98, Diesel Kraftstoff, LPG

Credit cards normally are accepted. Generally you can pay at a booth, or by inserting your card into the machine near the pumps but please note that especially the small 24h petrol stations do not accept all foreign credit or debit cards at the automatic machine at the pump.

Speed limit on French roads

  • 50 km/h in built-up areas
  • 80 km/h outside built-up areas
  • 130 km/h on highways, 110 km/h when raining
  • 110 km/h on expressways, 100 km/h when raining

Radar traffic detectors

Please note! In France, there are fixed radar traffic detectors all over the country. They photograph vehicles not complying with the speed limits.

The positions of these speed cameras are indicated with this sign (see photo opposite).

  • If you exceed the speed limit, you may be fined from 45€ to 1500€.  Also note that depending on the speed, your licence as well as your vehicle can be confiscated when speeding equals to or exceeds 40km/h over the limit.

More information (FR)

Since the transposition of the Directive 2011/82/EU, EU drivers who have committed one of the 7 infractions mentioned in the Directive will receive the notification of the fine directly to their home in their own language. This regulation does not apply for UK, Ireland and Denmark.

Good to know: If you wish to object to a fine: you can use the form sent with the fine and contest in written to the address mentioned in this form. You may also contact the Police court located in the area of the Police or Gendarmerie which reported the infringement.

Safety measures

  • Safety belts are compulsory for all the occupants of the vehicle that is to say for both front- and rear-seat passengers. There must be one safety belt per passenger. In the event of a police check, there will be a fine of 150 € for anyone not wearing a safety belt.
  • Children must be at least 10 years old to sit on the front seat. Under 10 years, they must be seated in the rear and, as in the front, use a seat belt or an approved child seat.
  • Mobile telephones may not be used while driving, nor earphones or Bluetooth kits. In the case of a police check, you may be fined up to 135 € and the loss of 3 points (if you have a French driver’s licence).
  • Since the 1st of January 2013 all users of a two-wheeled vehicles for which the engine size exceeds 125 cm3 have to wear specific clothes including retro-reflective equipment (sanction: fine of 68 € and loss of 2 points if you have a French driver’s license).
  • Your car has to be equipped with a warning triangle and a fluorescent safety vest for a better visibility in case of breakdown or accident (compulsory since 2008).

Note: The non-respect of the obligation to have a warning triangle and a reflecting jacket can be fined 135€. From September 2008, cyclists have to wear it permanently when cycling by night outside agglomerations.

More information on winter tires in our article

Alcohol & drugs

  • France has very strict rules concerning drink-driving; the legal blood alcohol limit is 0,5g/l of blood. If during a police check, your level of alcohol is found at between 0,5 and 0,8 g, you may be fined up to 135 €.
  • If the level exceeds 0,8g/l, the punishment incurred is 2 years in prison and a maximum fine of 4.500 € can be applicable. 
  • The police also have the power to search for drugs. The smallest trace of illegal drugs can result in punishment. If banned narcotics are detected, the penalty could include 2 years in prison and a 4.500 € fine.
  • If the blood alcohol level exceeds the legal limit, and the presence of drugs is detected, the penalty could include 3 years in prison and a 9.000€ fine.
  • In any case, if the 0,5g/l limit is expired, the driving licence may be seized (up to 3 years) as well as the vehicle.
  • Starting on 1 July, 2012, in France every driver of a motorized land vehicle, must possess a single-use, unused and immediately available breathalyser ("éthylotest").

You should know: only two-wheeled vehicles with a capacity not exceeding 50 cm3 and 45 km/h are exempt from this obligation.

It is possible to obtain a breathalyser in most drugstores in France. You may want to purchase more than one breathalyser. A fine of €11 is foreseen since 1 November 2012 to any driver not carrying a breathalyser, but the fine is not yet applied.

Note: If you are resident in France, and driving with an EU or foreign licence, you will have to exchange your licence for a French one if you committed an infraction.

Parking in France

  • Parking ticket machines ("horodateurs") are common throughout France. In larger cities and especially in Paris, these ticket machines are increasingly operated with credit cards. Unless indicated otherwise, parking is free of charge from 7pm to 9am and on weekends (Saturdays and Sundays), public holidays. Smaller towns often offer free parking from noon to 1.30pm. The tariff and time limit are written on the machine.
  • Some cities also operate with disc-parking or "zones bleues" where you will have to display a parking disc or clock disc showing your time of arrival. You may then have one or two hours of free parking time, depending on the city and zones.

Important: illegally parked vehicles may be wheel-clamped or towed.

  • In France there is the post-parking fee (FPS) which replaces the €17 fine for unpaid or insufficiently paid parking. The amount of the FPS varies from one commune to another. It must be paid within 3 months, or you can contest your fine via the government website if a telepayment number appears in the fine received.

Pollution stickers in France

The Air Quality Certificate is a French label called “vignette crit’air” that indicates the vehicle's level of pollution. The higher the certificate number, the more polluting the vehicle. If you’re the owner of a vehicle registered in France or abroad, and you’re planning on driving in the French cities of Paris, Lyon, Grenoble, Lille, Marseille or Strasbourg, you will have to display this round sticker behind the windscreen of your vehicle.

There are 6 categories of stickers, each one corresponding to a more or a less polluting group of vehicles. The classification is based on the type of vehicle, its motorization and the European norm of pollutant emissions it respects, known as “Euro norm”. Battery-driven vehicles are attributed a special sticker for their zero emissions feature. However, the most polluting vehicles are not part of the classification and they aren’t entitled to an air quality certificate.

You can use the simulator of the French government to find out your vehicle’s environmental class.

Obligations and penalties

The Air Quality Certificate is compulsory for any type of vehicle (cars, heavy goods vehicles, buses, two-wheeled vehicles…) if you wish to:

  • drive and park in restricted traffic zones (French low emission zones) designated by the local authorities;
  • drive in case of access regulation if an emergency scheme has been implemented by prefects during pollution episodes.

In these cases, only the most eco-friendly vehicles (bearing the number 0, 1, 2, or 3, depending on the tolerance level set by the authorities) will be allowed to drive in the restricted areas and benefit from parking facilities. The most polluting vehicles won’t be allowed in the area.

How to get your Air Quality Certificate

You can apply online for your Air Quality Certificate. You will be asked information about your car that you can find on your registration document. The certificate will cost you 4.21€ (shipping costs included within the EU) and you will receive it within approx. 10 days (make sure the address entered on your registration document is up to date!). If you haven’t received it in time before your departure for France, use instead the invoice as proof of your purchase. An electronic invoice must have been sent to you by e-mail 3 days after you ordered the certificate.

A video tutorial is available which describes the procedure to fix the certificate for any type of vehicle with or without windscreen: www.certificat-air.gouv.fr/en/aide-certificat

The certificate is valid nationwide, but depending on the local situation, each local authority can decide to implement driving restrictions. Road signs will be set up so that the scheme is clear for all users.

Fines for French and abroad vehicles

Not observing traffic restrictions and not being in possession of an Air Quality Certificate in restricted traffic zones or during differentiated traffic periods is subject to a fine of €68 for light vehicles and €135 for heavy goods vehicles. Any vehicle is concerned, whether it is registered in France or abroad.

If you do not pay within 45 days, the fine is increased to 180 euros and 375 euros.

Driving in Paris

Since July 1st 2019, vehicles with air quality stickers “crit’air 4” are no longer allowed to drive in Paris from Monday to Friday between 8am and 8pm. Consequently only vehicles with crit’air 1, 2 and 3 can drive in Paris city center without any restrictions.

Drivers disregarding this new rule will be subject to a fine of 68 €.

It will also be forbidden to drive the following vehicles :

  • Motor bikes older entered into service before 1st July 2004
  • Diesel cars entered into service before 1st January 2006
  • Gas cars entered into service before 1st January 1997

Two-wheeled vehicles

Since July 1st 2017, a new plate size has become compulsory for motor vehicles with two or three wheels and for quads.

Consequently, any motorbike, tricycle or quad owner registered in France should now have a registration plate in accordance with the new regulatory size of 210x130 millimetres.  Users of such vehicles who are found with nonconforming, illegible, removable or improperly positioned plates, will be fined 135€.

This single plate size concerns new vehicles, whether they were bought brand new or second-hand, as well as vehicles already registered. The standardization of French registration plates aims at simplifying police control and implementing an equal treatment of all users towards radars.

Good to know: by 2021, all vehicles registered in France, regardless of their type, will be registered in the new Vehicle Registration System (SIV), replacing the former French registration system with numbers for each department. The new SIV plates will be made on the following pattern: 2 letters – 3 numbers – 2 letters (for instance, AM-961-AJ). All registration plates should be changed prior to December 31st, 2020.