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Driving in France can still be a pleasure

May 2019

Driving in France
Picture courtesy of the AA

Taking a car or camper van across to France has never been easier, with a choice of ferries and the Eurotunnel to speed us safely across the Channel.

Brexit or not, little can take away the pleasures of the quieter country roads in France. Pick the right route and driving really can become a pleasure again where you can meander through beautiful countryside and stop at gloriously individual cafes and hotels.

But while holidaying in France has always been a top favourite, in recent years there have been some changes to the laws and it is important to make a few preparations before you head off.

First of course they drive on the right. That might sound crazy...but ask amongst your friends and it is quite likely someone will have a tale to tell about a car whizzing off excitedly from the ferry to take the nearest roundabout the wrong way!!

Less obvious is the law requiring you to disable any speed camera detectors or your satnav. The French speed cameras are often well hidden, but the answer is to obey the speed regulations and to disable your satnav’s warnings. You can usually find out how to disable your satnav by researching it on google. Also be aware that on many of the two lane carriageways the speed limit is now 80kph, reduced from a previous 90kph. It seems, however, that some of the old 90 speed signs are still in place! It makes sense to keep a special eye out for all speed warnings and remember that as you reach the towns, the speed limit will usually drop to 50kph. If you break the limits, French police can fine you on the spot.

Headlights have to be adjusted before you drive in France...that makes a lot of sense as you don’t want to be dazzling oncoming traffic with your lights. You can today buy special stick on packs to easily adjust the beam, and modern cars often come with adjustable beams built in.

When you go to a petrol station, the fuel is clearly marked which makes it easier...but only if you know what the signs mean! A circle indicates petrol; a square means it is diesel and a rhombus shows gas.

A very important aspect is that it is essential you carry certain safety equipment in your car. While these are not all mandatory in the UK, they are legally required for drivers in France. You have to travel with a warning triangle and a high-vis jacket, ideally one for each passenger. This is of course useful if you intend to join in any French gilet jaune protests! You also need to take a first aid kit, spare light bulbs and a breathalyser kit.

There is now a clear air sticker as well that needs to be displayed on your car when travelling into certain cities. It costs €3.62 and there is an on the spot fine of €68 to €135 if you are caught entering one of these cities without the sticker. Find out more here.

While considering all this, don’t forget to check your insurance and breakdown cover for Europe, and of course you will need your passport, driving licence and proof of ownership.

It can all sound a little overwhelming, especially when you start reading all the additional tips on useful websites. But hundreds of British holidaymakers happily take their vehicles over to the continent each year, it just requires a little preplanning.

Of course rules do change, and so before you finally head off, it is definitely worthwhile checking you have done all you need to do on a reliable website, such as:

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