Travelling by car in France: beware of road traffic offences

Speeding, unpaid tolls, unauthorised driving in environmental zones... When you travel on French roads, can you be prosecuted in your home country for an offence committed in France? What do you risk? Read all about the most frequent pitfalls of French traffic offences and their consequences in this article.

 

  1. You can be prosecuted in France
  2. Offences in France with a foreign permit
  3. Speeding in France
  4. Unpaid motorway tolls in France
  5. Pollution stickers in France

For more details about driving and traffic rules in France, for example if you travel often or plan to move to France, read our article Driving in France.

You can be prosecuted in France

Each EU country has its own traffic regulations. You must therefore follow theFrench rules when you are driving in France. If you commit an offence, you are subject to the traffic rules of the country where you committed the offence and therefore to the corresponding penalties.

France practices cross-border information exchange with 19 EU countries, which allows you to be identified and to receive the ticket directly from your home country’s authorities. Here is the list of offences for which you can be prosecuted in France:

  1. speeding
  2. failure to wear a seat belt
  3. crossing a red light
  4. drunk driving
  5. driving under the influence of drugs
  6. not wearing a helmet
  7. driving on a prohibited lane
  8. driving while using a telephone or any other unauthorised communication equipment.

If you commit a serious offence, you may be subject to the same fines and prison sentences that apply to French nationals. The fine must either be paid on the spot, or, if France and your country have signed an agreement, you may be notified by post. For a prison sentence, if you have not already been arrested on the spot, you will be notified about the offence and its penalties via letter sent to your home address.

Good to know: if you have committed one of the 7 offences listed above, you will receive aninfringement notification letter written in your language. Any resident of an EU country (with the exception of Ireland or Denmark) has the right to dispute a letter written in French, and can request the letter to be sent in their own language in accordance with article 5.3 of directive 2015/413.

The letter must contain the following information:

  • details of the infringement (nature, date, time, place, national text infringed, etc.),
  • the amount
  • the deadline for payment
  • the procedures for contesting and appealing.

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 French Police or Gendarmerie which reported the infringement. Beware of the generally short deadlines for lodging objections!

Offences in France with a foreign permit

If you do not live in France, you will have to contest or pay the fine via the French government site if a telepayment number appears in the document received. If the licence is suspended, it will be returned to your home when the suspension is lifted. Make sure that the address on your licence matches your current address.

Speeding in France

Speed limit on French roads

  • 50 km/h in built-up areas
  • 80 or 90 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 as well as mobile speed cameras all over the country. They photograph vehicles not complying with the speed limits.

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

Mobile speed cameras are installed in a vehicle stopped and positioned on the roadside. Their location changes all the time and therefore they are not indicated.

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)

Unpaid motorway tolls in France

Most motorways in France are subject to tolls and have barrier tolls, which allow you pay before the barrier opens.

In 2022, however, a section of the A79 motorway in France which connects the cities of Montmarault and Digoin, became completely barrier-free. Instead of a barrier, you will notice several detection gates that arch over the road and scan the number plate on your vehicle when you pass through the gate.

Be careful! These free-flow motorways are not free of charge. Pay attention to the road signs at the entrance to the motorway. If you travel on the A79 motorway for the first time, you will receive a notice of payment by mail to your home address afterwards. The holder company’s name is Aliae.

You must pay within 72 hours. If you haven’t paid after this deadline, a fixed amount of 90€ will be added to the toll fee. After 60 days without payment, the fine will increase to 375€.

Good to know: to avoid any payment delays, you can register your email address on https://paiement.aliae.com/en/ and you will receive a notification every time you travel on the free-flow motorway.

How to pay on free-flow motorways?

  • Automatic payment with an electronic toll tag attached to the vehicle’s windscreen. This means of payment requires a monthly subscription to the service Bip&Go (valid in France, Spain, Portugal and Italy). The gate detects the presence of a toll tag in your vehicle and the toll expenses are automatically withdrawn from your bank account at the end of the month.
  • Online payment on Aliea’s website (https://www.aliae.com/en). You pay for each journey, within 72 hours, by entering your number plate and your bank details.
  • Plate registration. You register once, enter your number plate and bank card, and all future toll expenses will be automatically withdrawn every week.
  • With cash or card at one of the payment machines spread across rest and service areas, toll stations and interchanges. You must pay after you crossed the A79 motorway.

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, Marseille, Reims, Montpellier, Nice, Clermont, Toulouse 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 4.76€ (shipping costs are included within the EU) and you will receive it within approximatively 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.

The certificate is valid nationwide, but depending on the local situation, local authorities may decide to implement additional driving restrictions. Road signs at the entry of cities make the scheme 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 “crit’air 4” air quality stickers are no longer allowed to drive in Paris from Monday to Friday between the hours of 8am and 8pm. Consequently, only vehicles with crit’air 1, 2 and 3 can drive in the Paris city center without any restrictions.

Drivers who disregard 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

More information about driving in Paris, especially during the Olympics and Paralympics 2024.

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Innovation Council and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Executive Agency (EISMEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.