Following on from my piece in last month’s Chalet Organ about the practicalities of driving to La Tania, this month I am covering the legalities. It’s pretty comprehensive (and therefore pretty boring!), but there’s a very large caveat that I may well have missed something.
Feel free to read the whole lot (you will find it riveting. Not unlike a Jack Reacher novel), but for those of you who are perhaps more discerning of their time, you can jump to the bit you want by clicking on the links below.
- Alcohol limits
- Documents you must carry
- Headlight beam deflectors
- Insurance ‘green card’
- Low emission zones
- Priorité à droite
- Reflective jackets
- Spare bulbs
- Speed limits
- Warning triangle
- Winter tyres (or not)
- Autoroute (divided highway): 130 km/h (110 km/h when it’s wet)
- Two-lane divided road: 110 km/h.
- Roads with at least two lanes in the same direction with no divider: 90 km/h.
- Two-direction roads with no median: 80 km/h, but can be 90 km/h if the local traffic authority allows
- Roads within town limits: 50 km/h. It is unlikely that you will see a sign indicating the start of the 50km/h limit, so you need to be aware that it applies between the town (or village) sign and the exit of the town (same sign, but with a diagonal red line through it). Within towns you will often see a ‘50’ sign with the word ‘Rappel’ beneath, which is reminding you the you’re in a 50km/h limit zone.
- Roads in city centres and near schools are 30 km/h zones and are indicated with a sign
As well as fixed speed cameras, the gendarmes use mobile ones which can measure your speed whether you are heading towards or away from them. These mainly patrol the autoroutes, but not always. It is illegal to use any radar detecting devices in your car, including satnavs that warn you of speed cameras.
From the 1st November until the 31st March each season in mountainous areas (including Savoie and Haute Savoie) it is compulsory for light vehicles (including cars), utility vehicles and motorhomes to carry the following:
- removable anti-skid devices (metal or textile (‘snow socks’) snow chains) allowing them to be fitted with at least two drive wheels, OR
- be equipped with four winter tyres. For the next 2 winters, from 2022 to 2024, the term ” winter tyre ” will cover all tyres identified by one of the markings ” M+S ” , ” MS ” or ” M&S ” or by the joint presence of the marking of the ” alpine symbol ” (recognized under the name ” 3PMSF ” (3 Peak Mountain Snow Flake) and one of the markings ” M+S ” , ” MS ” or ” M&S “. From 1 November 2024, it will only cover tyres identified by the joint presence of the “Alpine symbol” marking ( recognized under the name ” 3PMSF ” (3 Peak Mountain Snow Flake) and one of the markings ” M+S ” , ” MS ” or ” M&S “.
If you have more than three years’ experience the limit is 0.5 grams per litre. Both are lower than the English, Welsh and Northern Irish limit of 0.8 grams per litre (the Scottish limit is 0.5).
For drivers that have less than three years of experience, the alcohol limit is 0.2 grams per litre.
Although the decree published in the Official Journal on Thursday 1 March 2012 requires drivers to be in possession of a chemical or electronic breathalyser in their vehicle, police are not enforcing this and users are not subject to any sanction in the event of the absence of this device in the vehicle during an inspection carried out by the police.
However, rather bizarrely, the official advice is to carry two! I think this is less to do with the law and more to do with the ability to check your level of inebriation before you decide whether to drive.
A high visibility vest (one per passenger, including the driver) must be carried inside the passenger compartment of your vehicle in case of a breakdown. French police seem to be quite keen on this rule and will stop British-registered vehicles to check they have them. You must make sure that a vest is within easy reach of the driver, so that you can put it on before getting out of the vehicle (that’s part of the law!)
A warning triangle is a legal requirement in France. If you’ve got a relatively modern car, you probably have one as standard, but best to check.
It is advised that the triangle be placed up to 50 metres away from the vehicle, upstream of traffic.
You must carry a spare bulb kit for your vehicle. The law is similar to that in the UK, in that it is illegal to drive a vehicle with defective lights. In the UK the police are (usually) satisfied to let you replace the bulb as soon as possible, whereas the French police deem it necessary to replace it there and then on the grounds of safety.
Headlight beam deflectors are compulsory in France if you have a right-hand drive car with UK lights. This applies even if you intend to drive only in daylight hours.
The headlights of modern cars are designed to produce a flat beam that kicks up to the left in right-hand drive cars and the right in left-hand drive, so that the verge is illuminated. Obviously, if you are driving on the opposite side of the road, this will dazzle oncoming traffic. It is this part of the beam that deflectors are designed to deflect.
A word about masking tape. The law in France says only that your headlights must not dazzle oncoming traffic. In this respect, it’s fine to use masking tape, assuming you can position it correctly. The problem is that headlights produce a lot of heat, some of which will be absorbed by the tape, which could potentially damage your lights. Beam deflectors are designed to avoid this.
All drivers are prohibited from wearing headsets and headphones whilst driving, be it for music purposes or for phone calls. This does exclude motorcycle helmets that have integrated systems.
Paris has a Low Emission Zone which means that petrol and diesel cars registered before 1997 are banned from 8am to 8pm on weekdays. From 2020, only vehicles made in or after 2011 are allowed.
Clean air sticker: You need a Crit’Air sticker displayed on your car when travelling to certain cities. It costs £3.60 and drivers face an on-the-spot fine if they don’t have one.
- A valid driving licence covering you for the vehicle you are driving.
- An up-to-date passport (with at least six months left to run) for each occupant of the vehicle
- Vehicle insurance documents – definitely your insurance certificate – proving at least third-party cover. You do not need a green card
- A valid MOT certificate if your vehicle is over 3 years old
- V5 registration document or a VE103 document for rented/hired vehicles
You may also need to display a UK sticker on the rear of the vehicle (replaced the GB sticker from September 2021).
It’s illegal for children under 10 to ride in the front of the vehicle. Children under 10 must be in the back seat and in a child seat if they weigh less than 15kg. Over this weight they can use a seat belt with a booster seat.
Yes, this old rule which still applies at some junctions, so be warned. If you see the yellow diamond with a white border sign, then priorité à proité does not apply to the road ahead
You also need to keep an eye the road markings. If there are no signs to indicate otherwise and no road markings, then priorité à droite applies to traffic bearing down on you from the right.
Although many drivers now realise it’s dangerous to pull straight out into a road of oncoming traffic, keep your eyes peeled for vehicles appearing from the right. The rule is usually indicated as you enter or leave an area: