Summer is here, which for many people means a holiday across the channel to France.
In fact, Brits made 8.5m trips to France in 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics.
But if you’re among this year’s visitors planning to travel by road – whether to visit the country or merely pass through – then it is important to know the differences between driving in the UK and in its near-neighbour.
The obvious big difference between driving in the UK and France is of course that you will have to drive on the right once you get off the ferry, plane or Eurostar. But that’s certainly not the only change to be aware of.
What you need to have with you
French law requires that all drivers have the following items in their vehicles at all times, so it’s vitally important that you get kitted out before you head off:
- Reflective jackets - you’ll need one for each occupant, not just the driver
- A warning triangle
- Headlamp beam deflectors
- Breathalysers/alcohol test
- A GB sticker, or Euro registration plates featuring the GB initials
- Spare bulbs
Licence and insurance
You will need to be at least 18 years old to drive a car or motorbike of over 80cc, or 16 if riding a motorbike at a lower cc. While international driving permits are recognised, they aren’t required.
As for insurance, you will need to have a minimum of third-party cover so you should check whether your UK car insurance policy covers you for driving your car in Europe.
It’s important to have your licence documents with you, as well as proof of ID, such as your passport.
Leave the hands-free kit at home
The French authorities have banned the use of all mobile phones, including those used with a hands-free kit or via a Bluetooth device.
It’s just not worth the risk - if you’re caught, you could be hit with a €135 fine, so save those calls for when you’re not on the road.
Turn off your speed camera detectors
Many satellite navigation systems come with speed camera detectors, warning you if you’re approaching a camera.
However, this function is illegal in France, so you will need to turn them off. If you don’t, then you could be fined a massive €1,500.
Check your satnav manual to work out how to turn change the settings, or else contact the manufacturer before you leave British shores.
Be open about pollution
If you’re planning to drive through Paris, then you will need to buy a pollution sticker to stick on your motor. All cars driving in the capital are required to display a clean air sticker which details how much the car pollutes.
These can be snapped up online for just a couple of pounds and are well worth it - if you don’t get one, you could be hit with a fine of up to €135.
The French may love a glass of wine, but their laws on how much you can drink before getting behind the wheel are much stricter than in the UK.
You are allowed just 0.5mg of alcohol in your blood per 100ml in France - about one small beer - compared to 0.8mg in the UK.
If you have less than three years of experience as a driver, the limit is even lower – just 0.2mg.
The speed limits
Earlier this year the French government announced it would reduce the speed limits on its single carriageways from this July. As a result, the top permitted speed is falling from 90km/h (around 56mph) to 80km/h (50mph).
French motorways are privately managed. As a result, if you break down you aren’t allowed to ask your own breakdown firm to come and get you. Instead you should use one of the orange emergency telephones which are situated every couple of kilometres to call the police or the breakdown service that handles that area.
The charges for assistance on the motorway are set by the government each year. For vehicles that weigh 1.8 tonnes or less, it costs €123.90, rising to €185.85 between the hours of 18:00 and 08:00, at weekends and on bank holidays. For vehicles weighing up to 3.5 tonnes, the charge is €153.21, rising to €229.82.
As the motorways are privately managed, you can expect to pay tolls to use them.
These can be paid for with cash, though generally they will also accept Visa or MasterCard. The toll costs can soon add up, so it’s worth researching the cost of your journey, and how much you can save by avoiding the motorways, in advance.