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Driving in France – How to keep that ‘Joie de Vivre’

Driving In France

Although the weather seems to have picked up a little of late, nothing beats a good summer holiday. France is a hugely popular destination for Irish people. Beautiful scenery, scorching sun and miles of coastline. It is also close enough that lots of us decide to bring our own cars and drive there. No baggage restrictions, no airport panics. Load up as much as you can and away you go.

If you’re planning to drive in the land of cheese and wine this year, whether it’s your first trip or you are returning to the country, it’s worth taking note of our advice.

Before you set out on your journey, it’s important to get your car serviced. You may be travelling long distances and as the old saying goes “prevention is better than the cure.” A thorough service can help avoid a costly breakdown. And my oh my, a breakdown in France can be costly. Make sure the person servicing your car checks your tyre pressure and thread depth and tops up your oil and water. There are also some compulsory items that you will have to take with you when driving in France.

What you’ll need:

  • A driving license for each driver (learner permits don’t count).
  • Passports.
  • The original registration document (not a copy) or a Vehicle on Hire Certificate.
  • Motor Insurance Certificate.
  • A self-test breathalyser is required by law in France, however there is no current legislation demanding a fine for non-compliance. It needs to be unused and certified with the NF mark. It should also be in date; breathalysers have a validity of 12 months, so if you got one last year, you will need a new one.
  • If you breakdown, you will need to have a reflective jacket. Keep it in the passenger compartment as you are required to have it on when you get out of the car, having it in the boot will not suffice.
  • You are also required to have a warning triangle if you breakdown. If renting a car, check with your car hire provider to see if they will provide safety equipment.
  • Most Irish vehicles have Europlates. However, if you don’t you will need to display an IRL sticker.
  • For the kids; you will need a child car seat or a booster seat for children under the age of 10.

Breaking down

Don’t, if you can avoid it. Breaking down in France can be extremely expensive, it can cost as much as €179 just to tow you off the motorway, which doesn’t even include the price of fixing your car. If you do break down we have our own emergency call centre in Lyon and can attend to you just as well as if you were in Ireland. Cover can include replacement car and recovery of your own car all the way back to Ireland if that’s what you need. For greater peace of mind our advice is to upgrade your AA Membership to include European Breakdown Cover. It costs just €119 for over 2 weeks cover. To get a quote, click here.

When packing for your holiday, it’s important that you do not overload your car. Breakdowns caused by overloading are common. Overloading may damage your suspension, burn out the clutch, wear tyres or cause punctures. If you are planning on bringing less over in order to have room for more booze on the way back, it’s worth noting that carrying five cases of wine is equivalent to having another passenger in the car.

Motorways – les Autoroutes

Motorways are generally larger, wider and have more lanes in France than they do in Ireland. Vehicles also drive faster on French motorways – the speed limit is 130 kmph. In built up areas, general road speeds are 50 kmph, outside of built up areas the limit is 90 kmph and its 110 kmph on urban motorways and dual carriageways. However, lower speed limits apply during wet weather. It’s important to keep an eye out for speed signs as you continue on your journey as holders of EU driving licenses exceeding the speed limit by more than 40 kmph will have their licenses confiscated on the spot by the police. Road signs indicating the location of speed cameras have been removed in France and if you’re taking your Sat Nav with you, you will be required to turn off the ‘fixed camera point of interest’ function.

Tolls – ‘Le Péage’

The roads in France are certainly better than they are in Ireland but this has come at a cost. Driving in France is hugely expensive. Although the cost of fuel is marginally cheaper in France, you are likely to be driving long distances so fuel costs will stack up. The distance from Cherbourg to Bordeaux for example is 693 km, almost 3.5 times the distance from Dublin to Limerick. Tolls in France are also extremely costly. For example, if you drive from Le Havre to Paris, the toll will cost you €19.30, which is roughly a euro every 10km. The price goes up by almost 70% to €32.70 if you’re towing a caravan or a trailer.

This is obviously steep but on the bright side there are always alternative routes (NRA in Ireland please take note!). There are ‘secondary’ toll free roads that very often are near motorway quality themselves and are a much cheaper option. Use the AA RoutePlanner to plan your journey – it can save you time and certainly money.

Les Gendarmes sans Merci

Do not take any silly risks with driving laws in France. You may be used to a somewhat casual relationship with the Rules of the Road here in Ireland. The French are no angels themselves; their road safety record used to be worse than ours in the bad old days. Even so people who are used to dealing with a sympathetic Irish Garda are in for a rude surprise if they expect the same in France. Local police can be extremely unsympathetic and they make no allowance for visiting tourists.

The drink drive limit is the same as ours – 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. But the penalties are even more severe and can include confiscation of your car. Likewise they can be very hard on speeding, phone use and other indiscretions. The safest and best option is to abstain from alcohol altogether if you’re the designated driver. In France, any apparatus with a screen should be positioned in a place where a driver won’t see them and this includes mobile phones, iPads and DVD equipment. It is illegal to touch or program a device unless parked in a safe place.

When travelling long distances, you will inevitably need a rest. France has oodles of service stations, equipped with cafes and restaurants. When you have refuelled yourself and your car, it is a good idea to check you’re tyre pressure again and have a look under the bonnet at your oil and water supply too.

Breaking down is never fun but to make it a little less traumatic try or European Breakdown Cover. See the AA website for more information.