Everything You Need to Know About Driving in France

Breathalysers

From 1 July 2012, all cars in France must have a working breathalyser in it, ready to be used.  Our understanding is that while there will be enforcement of this law from 1 July, fines for not having a breathalyser won’t be imposed until November 2012.  That said, it’s a good idea to be compliant with the law from 1 July anyway.

The type of breathalyser permitted varies; a driver may have an electronic type which is blown into and produces a reading or a disposable type which can be used once and will change colour depending on the amount of alcohol in the user’s breath.  The disposable types are much cheaper (generally under €10) and suitable for tourists coming for a short time.  While we don’t sell them ourselves, they can be ordered from Alco Sense (www.alcosense.ie) on 01-4568650 @ €7.99 for a twin pack.  If in France after 1 July with your car, you can get one from any petrol station – they’ve been widely available in France since the start of the year.

Mandatory Equipment You Need To Drive in France

When driving in France, all drivers from Ireland must have:

  • Headlamp deflectors – stickers that are applied to the headlights to ensure they don’t point left (as this would blind drivers coming towards them when driving on the right-hand side of the road)
  • Hi-viz vest in the car – all motorists must have a hi-viz vest (conforming to European standard EN471) in the car so that they can put one on when getting out of the car in the event of a breakdown.  Keeping one in the boot is not enough and fines are imposed if it’s not in the car!
  • Warning triangle – all motorists must have a warning triangle (conforming to European standard ECE R27) for use during a breakdown situation
  • Proof of ownership – drivers in France must carry proof that they are the legal owner of the vehicle they are driving, so an Irish Vehicle Registration Certificate will suffice for this requirement.  Insurance documentation is also required, so a certificate of insurance (the document the insurance disc is removed from) should also be carried.  This documents must NOT be left unaccompanied in the vehicle as they could be used by thieves to re-register a car.

Recommended for France

  • Spare bulbs – not a legal requirement but certainly worth investing a few euro in, as the language barrier can make obtaining any car parts difficult.
  • First aid kit
  • Spare change – autoroutes in France are great but expensive, so ensure you have cash to hand for tolls.  These are charged much like a car park; you take a ticket getting on the autoroute, insert the ticket at the toll booth when exiting the autoroute and the charge is calculated on the distance travelled.  Tolls are much higher than Ireland, so be warned!
  • AA European Breakdown Cover – It’s worth considering what you would do if your car breaks down while you’re in France.  You may wish to consider AA European Breakdown Cover.  Rather than panicking or reaching for the phrasebook in desperation, with European Breakdown Cover, a simple phonecall to a 24 hour English speaking helpline will solve your problems. We’ll arrange help either through local garages, or with the help of the national motoring clubs and affiliate associations overseas.  Plus if you buy online today, you’ll get €15 off the cost of your policy!

Misconceptions:

  • You may hear about a requirement for a Green Card, an insurance document for use abroad.  The certificate of insurance meets this requirement.
  • Yellow lights – until 1992, all cars in France had to have yellow tinted lights.  This is no longer the case, but headlamp deflectors are mandatory.
  • Priorité à droite – some who have driven in France in the past may mention the idea of having to always give way to traffic coming from the right, even on roundabouts.  This was an old French law called priorité à droite (“priority to the right”) that has for the most part been overwritten by so many other laws that it only applies in small villages and minor roads.  So if the road has markings (dotted white line, sold white line etc.), obey them as you would in Ireland.
  •  IRL stickers – since 1991, the IRL in the EU flag on an Irish registration plate has shown the origin country for any Irish car outside Ireland but within the EU – a separate sticker is not necessary.  Callers often point out that they’ve seen cars with IRL and GB stickers and while ferry companies often provide them, they are purely cosmetic in nature and usually have the ferry company logo on them – an free ad for the ferry company!  That said, it’s worth noting that cars from Northern Ireland with no EU flag on the number plate must display a GB sticker when driving on mainland Europe – ferry companies usually have these in stock.

4 comments

  1. Hi – You’ve put together a great post here. Driving to France for a family holiday or a short break can be a fantastic way to save money, especially given the range of offers available for ferry/Euro tunnel crossings. It’s important to brush-up on driving etiquette aboard before traveling, and to take French toll road charges in to consideration when setting off on long journeys.

    Best wishes, Alex.

  2. enjoyed your post “Driving in France”
    I have been driving in France for two weeks every summer for the last 20 years, give or take. It all started on a kawasaki Z650 when I was in my teens with my girlfriend, then we went on a Honda CBX 750 ex police bike. When or kids came along I had no choise but to get a car. We have headed to France in all sorts, From a 10 year old toyota, to a santa fe, to even a 9 seater ex taxi hi ace van. each year we take a different route, a different hoilday every year, France is such a big place, you could spend the rest of your life exploring it, so put the family in the car, buy a tent, pick a campsite and of you go.
    Vive la France!!!!

  3. Your advice to Irish drivers re the new French law on Alcohol Testing is timely. However, a more comprehensive guide to the legal position and its practical implications for motorists would be most welcome.
    The basic idea seems to be that, via having a tester in the car, one can self-test (before driving, BUT some time after last consumption) for possible exceeding of the limit. This seems to make sense, but I’ve looked the official French web-pages – both Govt & Road Safety, and they are rather weak on the legal and practical implications.
    The following points might be addressed by the AA:
    If one has self-tested, and ‘passed’, the used tester must presumably be retained.
    Would it have any standing in the event of an official control later? Having used the only tester in the car, is one in breach of the law unless one has a second unused tester?
    [There has been criticism in France of the cost imposed on the motorist. Perhaps, if copying here, Govt might oblige the publicans to supply FREE to anyone who takes a drink on his premises.]

  4. You’ve put together a great post here. When purchasing a breath testing kit for driving in France – be sure that it displays the “NF” logo on the packaging to ensure that it’s a model which complies with the new French driving laws.

    Best wishes, Alex

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