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Driving in France Tips for French Roads

French Lessons welcomes Rachael for the second year running as our annual guest contributor. Last summer, she explained how she dealt with her impounded car at the local fourrière (pound). This year her automotive theme continues, as does her – ahem – fast wit.

A few months ago, I was invited by the French government to attend a Stage de sensibilisation à la sécurité routière – a Speed Awareness Course – mainly because they put a new speed camera on the motorway from Monaco to Nice.

A driving license in France starts with 12 points. After that, for minor infractions, you lose one point. I’ve lived here for 17 years, and my record has remained unblemished.  But every Thursday, I drive to Monaco, and after six weeks, I suddenly had only six points left. 

Continue reading here for this hilarious post by Rachael about the mandatory “driver’s re-education” class that she had to take to regain the points she had lost on her license. Unfortunately, the course content was lacking, but she discovered a new restaurant.

Driving in France

Global Positioning System (GPS) or Satnav (for our British readers) is an indispensable tool for driving in any foreign country. This built-in (or handheld) technology may mispronounce some city, street, and monument names, but it might save your relationship. However, be aware that GPS is not infallible. For example, the system doesn’t always recognise seasonal (summer only) roads and might not work well in tunnels or dense urban environments where the satellite signals are weak.

Speed – French drivers (and other Europeans) drive fast, but there are sign-posted speed limits of 130 km/hour on the superhighways, 80km/hour on most roads between towns, and 30-50 km/hour in urban areas. There are speed cameras, and having a radar detector is against the law.

The more minor roads designated with an “N” are the national roads, and the “D” are the departmental roads; these typically have yellow number signs.

Autoroutes (superhighways) are toll roads. You get a ticket at the entrance to the roadway and pay when you exit. Credit cards are accepted.

Seatbelts are a requirement, and every person in the vehicle must use one, or you face a stiff fine.

The minimum driving age is 18 years old.

Sorry, no phones. Using your cell phone is not only a bad idea. It’s not allowed.

Despite the national reputation for enjoying wine with every meal, drinking and driving are not tolerated. The legal blood alcohol limit when driving is 0.5mg/ml.

Every car (including rentals) must be equipped with a fluorescent safety vest and a warning triangle in the event of a breakdown. The vests may look silly but could indeed save your life.

Is your driver’s license acceptable in France? Although the quick answer is yes for a short visit to the country, it is even better to apply for an International Driver’s License. There are many countries in Europe where your foreign license is not acceptable as a form of identification.

Vinci manages the autoroute toll system, maintenance and general safety. During peak holiday periods, the traffic on the roads can vary widely from minimal to stopped. The road conditions are classified as green (flowing), orange (minor backups), red (lots of traffic) and black (more stopped than go). This Vinci Autoroute link is a tool to forecast the potential for traffic on your day of travel.


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Jemma Hélène

Jemma was born and raised in the US Midwest. A banker by trade, she slogged away at a Swiss investment bank in the UK and South Africa before moving – for decent spaces of time, anyway – to the South of France. At a similar stage, she also moved to the right side of her brain as a writer. She has published articles in Maclean’s, SuperYacht World, and various travel and university presses.

At this point Jemma lives mostly in Canada, but she spends the whole of every summer in the Côte d’Azur town of Antibes. From this seaside town of ramparts, situated midway between Nice and Cannes, she has penned her blog French Lessons since 2007. Each post captures a snapshot of the remarkable, real life of the French Riviera. “Consider these pages my summertime gift to you,” she tells her readers.

When not engrossed in things French, Jemma is - not in any particular order - writing a book, making music, performing motherly duties, expanding sustainable education in places that have less of it, promoting Canadian writing, and travelling off-the-beaten-track: over 90 countries, and counting.

You can reach Jemma through her blog site at French Lessons.


  1. Mrs DeWahl
    September 23, 2018 at 3:03 pm — Reply

    GOOd read on Provence

    • September 25, 2018 at 12:38 am — Reply

      Thank You

  2. October 20, 2018 at 10:06 am — Reply

    Very funny! Now where’s that recipe for no-bake cake…

    • October 20, 2018 at 11:26 am — Reply

      LOL! Thanks Keith.

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