new : penury of fuel - all 8 french refineries blockaded : useful maps
cathedral labyrinths and mazes in France
using metal in gothic cathedral construction
paying at the péage (toll station)
Germans in France
cathedral destruction during the French revolution, subsidiary page to Germans in France
on first arriving in France - driving
France is not England
Transbordeur bridges in France and the world 2: focus on Portugalete, Chicago,
Gustave Eiffel’s first work: the Eiffel passerelle, Bordeaux
a fifth bridge coming to Bordeaux: pont Chaban-Delmas, a new vertical lift bridge
France’s western isles: Ile de Ré
France’s western iles: Ile d’Oleron
Ile de France, Paris: in the context of Abelard and of French cathedrals
short biography of Pierre (Peter) Abelard
Marianne - a French national symbol, with French definitive stamps
la Belle Epoque
Grand Palais, Paris
Pic du Midi - observing stars clearly, A64
Carcassonne, A61: world heritage fortified city
Space City, Toulouse
the French umbrella & Aurillac
50 years old:
the Citroën 2CV:
a French motoring icon
the forest as seen by Francois Mauriac, and today
Les Landes, places and playtime
roundabout art of Les Landes
mardi gras! carnival in Basque country
country life in France: the poultry fair
what a hair cut! m & french pop/rock
Le Tour de France: cycling tactics
You land driving in
France from the ferry or train. You are very likely to be on motorways
for a good while as your first experience. Prepare!
Think ahead. Food is probably better in the supermarkets than
anything you bring with you.
Depending when you land, if you do not like
giving money away to shysters, then have enough fuel to
allow you to reach where you intend to first shop. The
Channel ports all have supermarkets, but the northern
retail centres [centres commerciaux] are usually
somewhat seedy: OK for that quick dash across for the
duty free, alright for a stop if you can afford the time
and do not mind the hassle. Or you can plan ahead, carrying
enough fuel to arrive at your first option further down
the motorway, at a supermarket just outside a town next
to the motorway. For road fuel prices in France.
So to finding that vital, elusive supermarket stocked
with cheaper fuel and decent food. You need to know the names
of several of the main chains: Carrefour, LeClerc, Geant or Casino,
Auchan, Super U, Intermarché, Champion; then look for their
Almost every substantial town has a ring road, or rocade, often despoiled by vast human beehives
for the poorer classes [habitations
à loyer modéré or HLMs - modest rent
housing], but enlivened with hoardings and large retail complexes
There, the various huge stores live often alongside cafés,
do-it-yourself [bricolage], garden centres [jardinier], many smaller shops and, of course,
the cut-price service station.
The French idea of signposting is rather slapdash and
idiosyncratic, 5mn gauche [5 minutes left] or droit [right]. Well, it sort of depends on your
speed, doesn’t it, and do they mean on this road
or turn right? Expect some navigational messing around
’til you locate the gold mine, not to mention ever-impatient drivers as you dither.
favourite game is that when you want to turn left (across
the oncoming traffic), you first have to turn right and
then double back. Good hunting.
how the French often turn across oncoming
Eventually you find the supermarket, not much different
from the English chains, except often a great deal larger
[called hypermarchés or grand surfaces] and with
much wider range of goodies. They are somewhat cheaper
than Britain, especially when the pound is relatively
strong. As of late 2014, it is the euro that is still overvalued.
Another wonder of French signposting concerns speed. The French government, helped by speed cameras, is now fining drivers left, right and everywhere to reduce fatal road accidents and, of course, make more money. Despite this, departmental and communal administrations prefer trying to instruct drivers to drive more slowly by signing. Here is one example seen on a road with a 110 kph speed limit.
As you can see, by the relative sizes of the discs, these signs are well within 100 metres of the exit from the main road. I’m surprised that they haven’t put a radar trap here.
Finding your way around towns often is not simple. You will often find yourself driving around in circles, trying
to garner directions from them forriners
who usually do not speak English too well. Of course, all the
roads are the wrong way around, the road signs ain’t great, and the French cannot drive. No, they seriously cannot.
France has twice the area of the
whole UK to spread out about the same population, but
until recently they still managed to kill twice as many
people. The moment my wheels touch France, I drop my speed
a full 10-15 mph. No, I’m not kidding! The French
are not just dangerous drivers, they are widely and generally
It is for this reason, and associated with the French problem of turning across oncoming traffic, there are more and more rond-points (roundabouts) and systèmes giratoires (multiple, connecting roundabouts, bridges and underpasses).
Large numbers of French towns are very cramped , which
can make parking a major problem, especially if you do
not know your way around. Most French people drive around
in tiny, little prams and the parking spaces are widely
designed to accommodate that sort of vehicle. If you are
going to hire a car and expect to spend a lot of time
in towns, you should consider the possibility of booking
a small hire car.
priority from the right
By the way, the bizarre priority from the right rule still
exists in France, a piece of Gallic logic created supposedly
to regulate who goes first when two or more roads meet, except those which
have the sign below, the driver emerging from the rightmost
road at an intersection has the priority to go cross that
intersection first, or even to turn onto another road.
So, you may find a driver stops on a larger road to allow
a car waiting on a side road (to the right of the main
road) to turn onto the larger road.  Also, French cars
will surprise you by jumping out of side roads and onto
roundabouts ahead of you, on the basis of having priority
from the right [priorité à droite].
You should learn to recognise this sign. On roads with
this sign, drivers have priority to when going across
intersections or turning onto another road. There is also
a version with a line through it, meaning “this
road does not have priority”, that is cars coming
from the right onto this road have the priority.
this is the sign to make your blood run cold
You are no longer are
on a road with priority;
surely a skull-and-crossbones would be more fitting!
Roundabouts are generally exempt from this rule (cars
should not just drive out onto the roundabout on the basis
that they are to the right of cars already going round,
although often they do) - note the cedez le passage/give
These mad priority signs, a positive clear sign telling you that idiots cannot jump out from
your right and a negative sign (that has a cancelling
line across) telling you that other drivers may jump out
ahead of you, appear to have been developed by French
bureaucrats attempting to correct the mess they had made
previously with the generalised priority from the right
Even today, I have had a driver stop on a main road to
let me out of a side road, with the usual screeching of
brakes as others try to stop behind him; while still a
considerable percentage regularly jump out onto roundabouts
against oncoming traffic. Doubtless, the powers cannot
admit to making this incredible foul-up, so I return you
to my original advice: drop your speed in France and recognise
that the French just cannot drive - assuming you want
to reassure you, it can become even more confusing. You
may see one of these skull-and-crossbone signs with a
number such as 400m in a block below the sign. It isn’t fully clear
whether this means that the dreaded sign applies to the
next four hundred metres, or it will apply in 400 metres
time for who knows how long. Here, perhaps, you are expected
to use your initiative. My response is to switch into
double terrified mode and pray vigorously, without, of
course, taking my eyes from drivers probably planning
The priorité à droite rule, known
in English as ‘the nearside rule’, was adopted
by the Paris International Automobile Convention in 1926,
then confirmed in Geneva in 1949 and in Vienna in 1968.
The priorité à droite rule started
in Paris, instigated in 1910 by a Prefect of police, M.
Lépine. Prior to this, the rules of priority on
the road were very complicated, right of way being given
according to the social rank of each passenger. Thus,
it is said that passengers had to get off a coach to compare
their titles and so decide who would pass first, according
to the degrees of nobility!
other driving ‘delights’
The Italians are mad, but good, drivers; the French are
generally just stupid. The Spanish live somewhere in between!
There is none of the habitual lane discipline you see
in Britain; straying across the white lines is optional.
As you are driving on the ‘other side’ of
the road, you may well have an instinct to go the other
way around a roundabout, or pull across to the now unfashionable
side of the road. If you are unaccustomed to driving a
continental, left-hand drive vehicle, you will have a
great deal more to cope with on top of that. So, if you
wanna live, drop your speed and drive much more defensively
than most sane people drive, even than in Britain.
Maybe this will start to change now, as even the French
central government has had enough and is heavily cracking
down on the situation. They are bringing in speed cameras , and are already becoming rather
keen as it is realised how much money can be made from
them. A whole raft of spot fines is now being enthusiastically
applied for the most trivial and ‘creative’
infractions, for instance: 80€ for forgetting to
turn off your fog lights. France is highly devolved, and so the local police get creative. A recent example was them lurking
in a side road with a white line in a nearly deserted village and watching to make sure that the wheels of any emerging car
completely stopped before proceeding - another nice little earner. If you are stopped, you’d better hope that the flic
has his quota for the day, or is after bigger game.
Another ‘creative’ infraction worthy of fining
and deduction of points is not using the direction indicator
when turning or overtaking, even on an almost empty dual
carriageway, and turning on or off a roundabout. Because
of this, the French will neurotically leave their indicator
going when driving on the outer lanes of a motorway to
show that they are still OVERTAKING, and then indicate when
they are going back to the inside lane.
Another French finickety neuroticism is only parking
in spaces facing in the direction of travel. That will
be another fifty euros, Monsieur - ker-ching. It is important
to realise that people from abroad, or from another French
department, are a delightful source of painless revenue,
subsidising local taxes.
On sunny days, during the tourist season, it is common
to see gendarmes gathering like flies around roundabouts
- so much better and more profitable than being cooped
While the motorways are generally of good standard, my
impression is they have narrower lanes, but I’ve
never checked. Once you are off the motorways, road quality
varies considerably. France is much more decentralised
than the UK, so every local commune [local authority]
makes its own decisions. This means you can be tootling
along a road with a good, well-kept surface and suddenly,
without warning, the quality can drop dramatically as
you move from one commune to another.
Other amusements you may run across:
- Barrelling down a motorway, or even a minor
road, one may suddenly be confronted by a fellow in a hard hat waving a
red flag. Slam on the brakes, hope you don’t skid or the idiot behind
doesn’t ram you - tailgating is a very popular hobby in France. Only to
discover that that the man is, in fact, a metal robot with a moving,
jointed arm, just there for decoration. It is not some panicking Frog
signalling a major accident.
- A distinct aversion to cat's eyes (not invented here,
or economising?) or white lines. This, of course, makes driving at night more difficult than it need be, especially
when the narrow side road anonymously grades off into grass and
then a ditch.
||Verges and deep ditches in shadow on a newly re-tarmacked main road. At the moment, there is one temporary
sign warning of dangerous banks, but this danger continues right into the distance.
This picture is in bright sunlight. However, in wet, gloomy conditions the contrast between road and verge is very poor.
||Ill-defined verges along a country side road, where the verges slope down to the ditches. The tyre marks
of lorries can be seen in the muddy verge, as can the tarmac starting to break up on the border of road and verge as vehicles manoeuvre
to pass one another.
Note that as well as the border between road and verge not being marked, there is no central marking on this narrow road.
- I have seen, on a large black and yellow roadside sign, absence
de signalisation horizontale. In English –
no horizontal signals, that is no white lines. It took
me an age to work out what it meant.
See how the white central dashes and white lines bordering the road peter out beyond the triangular sign.
No, I’m not joking. Drop your speed at least 10
mph, and live longer.
In France, you pay through the nose for most motorways
[autoroutes] (there are a few free motorways,
around large cities and in Northern France) but there
is one great joy and luxury that comes with this cost
– an immense variety of aires.
Read more about the autoroute network and the more interesting
aires in motorway
aires, introduction, also accessible from the drop-down
menu at the top of this page.
Answer to a frequently asked question
The distance from Bordeaux to the Spanish border is about
120 miles/200 km.
You drive on the A63.
1 January 2015: dropping fuel prices increased by taxes
As crude oil prices fell in 2014, fuel prices went down 17.7% for gazole (diesel in English) and 14.9% for 95 octane petrol. Is this the real reason why the French government has jacked up the tax on fuels again, rather than the official line of reducing air pollution?
80% of French vehicles use diesel fuel, and being more efficient than petrol-fuelled cars, they use 20% less fuel. This makes rather hollow the claims that diesel is more polluting. (Of course, there are still a small number of older, highly polluting diesel veheicles about, but most prefer to trade those in for more efficient, and so less polluting, newer models.)
From the 1st of January 2015, all vehicle fuel prices will increase by 2.4 centimes per litre (including TVA), an increase being termed as carbon tax. In addition, gazole will increase by a further 2 centimes per litre, making the total increase for gazole 4.4 centimes per litre. It is said that the additional portion of increased tax is to compensate for the collapse of the ecotax or environmental tax on trucks.
The ecotax was to be charged on heavy goods vehicles [poids lourds - PL], the original plan being to register the movements of heavy goods vehicles on non-motorway roads, then send bills charged a per-kilometre road tax.
173 costly gantries with cameras had been erected to record the HGVs' movements, by detecting an obligatory black box installed in the lorry's cab. However, riots, road blocks and lorry go-slow demos [escargots - snails] on major roads during 2014 has forced the tax to be abandoned. Now the government is wary of upsetting commercial drivers further by targeting taxes solely at them.
The government had been in a legal battle with the gantry constructors over cancelling their contract. This specified the constructors were to receive a portion of the revenue to be generated in payment for footing the construction bill. The conclusion of this battle is that the French government will be paying out 839 million € in all, 580-590 million € by February 2015, then 30 million € annually for 10 years. This agreement includes paying the salary for a year of the 220 white-collar employees made redundant, many of whom hade taken out mortgages on the basis of an excellent, government-funded salary. However, this may not be the end of the story as far as the company concerned, Ecomouv, says their receipts would have been more like 2 billion € over 10 years.
Update, February, 2015: The final amount to be repaid is just under a billion euro, at 969 million euro. Another reason why fuel prices will not drop to their cuurent natural level.
The ecology minister, Ségolène Royal (n° 3 in the government and ex-long term partner of unpopular President François Hollande) has proposed that these unsightly gantries now be used by the gendarmeries and customs (at further cost), rather than be dismantled at a suggested cost of between 7 to 13 million euro.
fuel prices in France
Prices from French roadside or from motorway service stations are higher than those at supermarkets.
It's Spring in France and the annual season for demostrations and disruption to normal life. Students, fearful that sinecure jobs will never be available for them, and workers, scared that their fringe benefits and guaranteed jobs will evaporate with the introduction of a new Labour Law, blockade refineries and shipping ports, strike at nuclear power stations and on the railway networks. They appear to be trying to grind the country to a halt, weakening the economy further.
Fuel has been running low, or running out, in service stations, and the suppliers have hiked their prices abruptly, gazole jumping almost 7.5% overnight, despite crude oil prices remaining steady. The data maps linked from here are fairly reliable. In fact over the last 24 hours much of the Hexagon has paled from angry red to pale orange as fuel supplies are being re-established.
But we cannot expect prices to return to saner levels soon.
average fuel prices
[Prices in white seen
on the road, last price/date in grey,
those in from sudouest.fr]
|on 31 January 2016
95 or sp 95/E10
|| 1.23 €
||1.47 € 1,45 €
||1.39 € 1,35 €
||1.21 € 1.16 €
||1.43 € 1.38 €
||1.33 € 1.28 €
||1.16 € 1.08 €
[AA figures for April 2016]
1.39 € 1.54 €
| 95 octane
1.33 € 1.43 €
1.33 € 1.43 €
prices calculated at
£1 = 1.27008 € £1 = 1.36081 €]
Note that the differential between
supermarket and motorway fuel price varies over time.
The cost of diesel [gazole] higher at French roadside service stations, and even higher at motorway
ones. You can currently save approximately
15-20% by buying from supermarkets, relative to motorway fuel stations, or about a penny a mile, by buying from supermarkets. 
But if you drive on the tolled motorways, the tolls
will cost you over 10 centimes a mile ,
approximately two-thirds the fuel cost, but see
on autoroute tolls, January 2011.
Because of the recent fuel price rises, motorway
tolls are now a smaller proportion of the overall
cost of motorway driving, though obviously, the
monetary cost of going by motorway is always higher
than travelling by main roads.
Thus, driving on the tolled French motorways is
somewhat a luxury. Some motorways are not tolled,
especially around large cities and in northern France.
However, driving long distances through France
off-motorway can be very tiring and tiresome - winding
through village after village, and cramped and crowded
towns. There are long stretches where overtaking
is difficult and lumbering lorries are routine.
It can add much time to your journey, while not
improving the nerves or the mood. To add to the
fun, given the French standard
of signing, in the larger towns without a bypass
it is also all too easy to become lost, especially
Due to the rapid run up
of the price of oil, previous figures that were in this
section are now history. Those figures
are being kept at end
note 9 below for reference purposes.
planning with GoogleMaps.
a large road atlas, such as the one published
by Michelin, for your preliminary trip planning.
Once you have determined the general route, then
use on-line planners which
can give detailed information on distances, toll
and fuel costs, and the location of speed cameras.
more local maps, use Institut Geographique
National (IGN) Blue Series maps. IGN is the French equivalent
of the Ordinance Survey in the United Kingdom. Blue Series maps
are 1:25,000 or 1 cm to 250 metres. The maps can be bought in
a local Presse/newspaper shop or supermarket. However, this is
a little haphazard, especially for the high-scale versions, as
these places usually only hold maps local to them.
Mappy is an excellent, if slightly clumsy, on-line road planner. It
also gives you the option of checking your toll costs for using
Map24 is another online route-planning site, with several Java-powered
interactive facilities. Although in French for the map of France,
Map24 is mostly intuitive to use and can even be fun. It is possible
to look at the map related to your chosen itinerary in various
degrees of three dimensions [VUE 3-D], as if low-flying over the
land. The amount of zoom can (almost too) easily be changed [ZOOM];
while when at least one intermediate way-point is specified, you
can select which part of the journey to study [NAVIGATION].
Remember to prepare
your car to be both legal and safe in France.
speed cameras and more
Front and back-flashing cameras
From Monday 14th September 2015, a new generation of speed cameras is coming into full service, with fines being issued to vehicles flashed.
|The camera must be positioned to one side of a road, at car level.
The three windows are larger.
Top left box - the flash, top right - the two cameras,
bottom left - the radar.
|Looking into the top right box, there are two cameras.
The new cameras photograph both front and rear number plates. One version of the cameras photographs one car two times - as it approaches the camera and then again as it goes past and away (there is little further information available on these cameras). In the other option, the cameras photo the number plates of approaching cars in one lane, as well as those of cars going away on the further lane of a two-lane road.
|Camera flashes in one direction
||Same camera flashing for other direction.
Regarding the first type of two-direction camera, the justification for photographing a car's registration twice is that 38% of photographs are legible, so this will double the chances of having a usable photo. It also means that the authorities can have a photo of the driver's face, which could help in cases when the car's legal owner was not the offending driver.
For the cameras that will photo cars on either lane of a two-lane road, it doubles the number of possible finable victims.
These cameras can only be mounted at one side of a road, at ground level. They do not function on gantries, nor in the centre of a dual carriageway road or motorway, not on a pole (like traffic light camera installations).
Kindly, "information panels are systematically installed" in each direction on the roads controlled by such equipment. And they are different to the current
warning information panels. So when you see a new-type sign, you will look at both road sides to spot the camera.
|One-direction speed camera sign
||Two-direction speed camera sign
To begin with, the new two-direction cameras will be operating in 20 departments:
In all, 111 cameras will being put into service now. This will increase to 200 by the end of 2015, and a further 500 is expected in 2016.
Many of the cameras are existing cameras that are having their software up-graded. As a result, the cost of the new system is reported to be 'only' 15,000 €.
france's speed camera cash cow
These cameras are being introduced now because the number of deaths on the roads is increasing again. However, only a quarter of fatal road accidents are caused by "excess speed", so these cameras appear to be more jackpot-paying slot machines (machines à sous) than accident-prevention devices. A French driving magazine has done some research, and found that 52% of speed cameras are not put in accident-prone zones. Why? Well, they do not make as much money. Cameras in accident-prone zones only flash 4,774 times in a year, while those in non-accident prone zones flash 12,000 times.
There are over 9 million automatic road cameras operating in France. When a vehicle is flashed, the traffic control computer systems have to co-ordinate with other data systems holding driver's and vehicle details in order to be able to fine and deduct points. According to a government report, 46% of offenders have no points deducted. If a person is driving a company car, the company most often pays the fine. There is a 12% likelihood that later the driver will be billed. Lastly, a good percentage of cases fail for 'technical' reasons.
Mind you, it's still a good thing to drive at a moderate speed, both for your nerves and for helping to minimise carbon dioxide emissions!
From today, all radar alerters and GPS systems,
like TomTom, that can alert the user to an approaching
speed camera, must have been updated to indicate
“Danger Zones”, rather than individual
cameras. The fine for using such a machine that
has not been updated is 1,500 € and the loss
of 6 points from your driving licence.
A “Danger Zone”, and its warning on
alerters and GPS, may start 2 kilometres before
there is any camera. Their length may be 300 metres,
2 km, or 4 km. The ‘danger zones’ may
- where there is a fixed radar,
- where there are particular dangers - a
dangerous bend, level crossing, traffic jams, road construction,
- where there have been several accidents before.
Until your GPS is up to date, disable the radar
camera detection facility. Then you can update your
GPS software later. If you are stopped by the police
or gendarmes, you must be able to present a certificate
that you machine has been updated, otherwise it
will be considered to be a radar detector and you
will be liable to that 1,500 € fine and 6-point
information concerning TomTom [English translation
of French TomTom web page].
For Garmin users, “on their website, customers
are encouraged to update their GPS for free”.
- As at 5 April 2012, there are
- 2765 danger zones with cameras,
15742 other danger zones
239 very accident-prone zones.
- But ‘danger zones’ are being chosen
by the Préfet of individual departments
and so can be pretty arbitrary. It is said that
they are increasing by 50 or more a month.
Speed indicator powered by
a photovoltaic panel.
The speed indicated is very unreliable. In this
case, the speed being driven was about 75 kph.
Note that sometimes there is a speed camera not
long after the speed sign. Heaven knows whether
speed cameras are just as unreliable.
As well as these immediate speed detectors and cameras, there are also being installed measured-distance speed radar systems that flash up a driver's car registration number and the words TROP VITE! (too fast). So far, these gantry signs are operated by the motorway concessionaires, for "the drivers' education". It is expected, later in 2016, that government-controlled distance/time speed detectors will start to be introduced, with associated fining capabilities. It is unclear whther these speed detectors will inform drivers that their soeed has been recorded. It's all part of driver intimidation.
proposed fierce hardening of driving strictures
It is being announced in French
newspapers, by September 2011, many new rules
proposed to penalise bad drivers. These new strictures,
no doubt, would help Nicholas Sarkozy in the run
up to the next Presidential election in 2012, while
much increased fines would help the French Treasury,
which like so many others is suffering in the current
financial malaise. A greater constraint on speeding
will also control fuel consumption.
- Signs forewarning of radar
cameras to be removed from the roadside, whether
for fixed or mobile cameras.
Also, by the end of 2012, a further 1,000 radars
are to be deployed, including 3rd-generation mobile
radars operated from cars that are travelling
amongst the traffic on the road.
- Gadgets warning of radar locations to be banned,
such as those made by Coyote, Wikango or Inforad,
although it is unclear how this will apply to
GPS that also give radar alerts.
- The government no longer to publish maps of
- Fines for speeds in excess of 50 kph above the
speed limit to incur a heavy fine (3750€),
a possible prison sentence and a loss of 6 points.
- Using mobile phones to be illegal while driving,
though hands-free kits will still be allowed.
- Stopping on the hard shoulder (the bande
d’urgence) now forbidden, attracting
a 135€ fine.
And don’t forget that wearing a fluorescent
waistcoat is now mandatory if you are on the roadside
outside your car.
During 2006, the frequent contradictory, badly placed
road signs have even come to the notice of the French
TV news and the government. Now it is official, you can
expect to see consecutively speed signs of 70kph, 90kph,
50kph within a few hundred metres/yards of each other.
In contrast, French speed cameras are well forewarned
all changed, see
Although we had been informed that the large prominent signs (below) would be removed progressively, this did not happen, so drivers should qtill keep a look out on seeing such a sign.
Although the location of each speed camera is no longer
identified by the French government on their web sites/maps, information can be. If you
generate an itinerary using Mappy,
it will locate (approximately) where there are any speed
cameras on your route.
Also, various motorist groups do provide them, usually
by region. Here is one such fixed radar/camera web site, which is being kept up
to date. [For other similar pages, try searching on “radar
routes france carte”]
French road sign warning of a speed
camera ahead, now being withdrawn
However, although the warning sign is prominent,
the camera that follows is often placed discretely - under a bridge,
behind a road barrier, near a roadside planting. Also be aware
that French fixed cameras are not set on high supports as in the
UK, but are attached to a short support near the ground. There
is no reason in France to receive a speeding ticket from a fixed
camera, the signs like that photographed above are very prominent
and usually several hundred yards before the camera - see a sign
and make damn sure your speed is comfortably below the local speed
limit. You can even take pleasure in watching the cars rushing
past who are then flashed by the camera.
French fixed radar speed cameras
left: photographs front
of vehicle; right:
photographs rear of vehicle
As well as the 1,000 fixed cameras on French roads, installed
since October 2003, there are also many mobile cameras
used by gendarmes. These may be set up at the roadside,
or looking out from the back of a police estate car. These
cameras should also be signed by a smaller, mobile warning
sign. Remember les flics are out to meet targets and to make money. Therefore, they may
‘forget’ to put out the sign.
French speed cameras send two photos and
accompanying data to a central processing point that, after assessment
that the driver was speeding, automatically sends out the paperwork
demanding the fine.
Fines are on sliding scales, depending
how much above the local speed limit the car was going. Be aware
also, that the fines are accompanied by a deduction of one or
more points from the driving licence, again on a sliding scale.
you receive such a demand, it has to be paid first (with the amount
doubling if there is delay) and any dispute can be made later.
as a foreign visitor, you may well escape paying a fine, unless
you are caught by a roadside gendarme who demands an immediate
fine, or unless your car is registered in another European Union
country that has a bilateral agreement.
wet/other adverse conditions
km/h / 81mph
||110 km/h / 68mph
||100 km/h / 62mph
||90 km/h / 55mph
km/h / 49mph
km/h / 31mph
||50 km/h / 31mph
- For town speed limits, the delimiter is the town
name plaque. On leaving the town there is another plaque with a black
diagonal line through the name. This marks the return to the open road
- In some villages, the speed limit goes right
down to 30 km/h, or even 20 km/h.
Euroland is gradually moving to reciprocal recognition
and shared data record storage of car registration. The
first countries that are moving towards such arrangements
are Germany, Holland, Spain. This situation will be complete
when the proposed European driving licence is in place.
April 2010: Permission has
been given for a further 3,000 surveillance cameras to
be installed in towns. The French police are using them
to watch for ‘bad’ actions by drivers, in
particular stopping or parking in illegal locations. As
towns become more crowded with traffic and parking is
often reduced to provide more pedestrianised areas, finding
somewhere to stop is becoming more irksome. Note that
fines can be 2000€ or more.
website (in French, but pretty intuitive to use) provides comparative fuel prices for each department,
or towns within a department, as well as price on each
motorway [autoroute]. It also indicates the price movements.
- Based on approximately 45 miles
per gallon, or 10 miles per litre.
- Breakdown of vehicle fuel prices after 1 January, 2015 (translated from diagram at francebleu.fr).
- Motorway tolls are often
being raised, amounting to roughly an additional 50%
in recent years. Because tolls cost nearly as much as
the fuel you will use on the motorway section of your
journey, your travel expenditure on motorways can be
almost as much as double the amount you paid at the
pump. Note that increases in fuel prices are now (2011)
running ahead of toll
price increases, so tolls will not be such a large
proportion of autoroute driving costs, though those
have increased widely during 2010-2011.
|[Based on supermarket diesel prices
during May 2008,
and average fuel consumption of 9 miles/litre,
approx. 41 miles/UK gal.]
||imperial [UK] gallon
imperial (UK) gallon
- Remember, the difference will change according to the current
- Getting lost is all too easy! This
is fairly frequent in France because French authorities
often seem to be allergic to upward-pointing arrows
for straight ahead (mustn’t point - it’s
rude, and you are pointing to God.
Or is it Descartian logic? Going up is impossible!)
- Directional road signs in France
are not set out to the standard of, say, British ones.
There is a real preference for putting road signs ...
- facing the opposite direction to the way you
are going (so, for instance, two circuits round roundabouts are
- or after whatever is being signed (so
retracing is necessary),
- or hiding behind trees etc
- without including the road number
- using the name for the most obscure little village
instead of the one for the nearest big town
- During a French driving lesson, a yak was told to slow down to a virtual halt at every side road on the right that did not have a white painted line across it (the indication that drivers on the side road must stop before moving onto the more important road). Having slowed down, the yak had to look right, up the side road, to make sure that there was no car there about to require to be let out before the yak could advance.
- Here is a page with links
to maps of automatic radar positions in France generally,
and in the Paris region, together with a verbal list
of the positions, and more are being placed all the
time. There is also a FAQ (in French).
the online route calculator, as well as giving the motorway
toll charges, shows fixed radar camera positions on
the calculated itineraries. There are also hand-held
and vehicle-mounted versions in use, which the government
map and Mappy cannot show. The goverment are also introducing
technology to nab you for travelling too close (less
than 2 seconds gap).
|Evolution of diesel
[gazole] prices at
supermarkets in France since 2001
||early May 2008
||late May 2008
information and figures for reference:
Petrol is, approximately, the same price as in the UK,
but diesel is, approximately, 25% cheaper. Well, it
is from the supermarkets.
Buying fuel from supermarkets is approximately 15-20%
cheaper than on the motorways. You will save, perhaps, the equivalent of up to 1p
per mile if you use supermarket petrol, and with diesel
you can save most of 3p per mile compared to the UK
[prices during July 2004].
But if you drive on the tolled motorways, the tolls
will cost you approximately 8p a mile (about the same as the fuel cost).
- From 1 July
2008, it is a legal
requirement [linked page
in French] that vehicles driving on roads in France are equipped with:
- • At least one reflective, high visibility
(dayglo) waistcoat, kept easily accessible in the
occupants’ part of the vehicle, not in the
boot (trunk). Sensibly, you would have one for each
occupant. Often, they clothe the seat backs for
• A reflective warning triangle, to be put
out about 30 metres from the car (or more, if necessary).
It is obligatory to use the triangle on the motorway,
except if doing so might put the driver’s
life in danger. If you aren’t sure, don’t
- putting it out near racing cars and lorries is
too dangerous. (Yes, contradiction is common in
French law.) Wait behind the
autoroute safety barrier, away from your
car. Turn on the hazard warning lights if they are
[The fine for non-compliance with either regulation
is 135€, but remains
at 135€ if found guilty on both counts [linked page in French]. If relevant, the fine is
reduced to 90€ for prompt payment.]
in Spain, two such triangles are required.]
• Note, this has now been cancelled. It really was a ridiculous law. However, we are leaving the information as a reminder of how French bureaucracy overpowers common sense.
“at least one breathalyser kit”. However, the Highway Code does recommend that “for drivers who choose the disposable breathalyzer, it is advisable to be in possession of two breathalyser tests: one to test and a back-up”. The kits must be “unexpired, unused and in accordance with NF” [French official norms].
There are two types of kit: the expensive [100 € or more], electronic kit which is reuseable; and the cheap [1 to 3 €], throwaway, chemical kit. In France, one of the places to buy these is in the local pharmacy.
Cars and other vehicles with two or more wheels (mopeds, 50cc or less, are excluded) will be checked before they even hit French roads, with random checks in the Channel Tunnel and on cross-channel ferries.
Since 2006, drink-driving has been the greatest cause of the over 4,000 road deaths a year, greater even than those caused by speeding. Drink resulted in nearly a third of road deaths, a number “virtually unchanged for 10 years” and “far superior” to England (17%) or Germany (10%), with similar levels of alcohol consumption.
- Since it is illegal to drive in France with any
dud lighting, a complete set of bulbs is a sensible
addition, as well as making sure that you still
have the vehicle’s user manual to help in
changing the lights. But note, large numbers of
French vehicles do not have all their lights functioning.
A torch and functioning batteries, a first aid kit
and a fire extinguisher in good condition could
also be considered wise additions. Also required
for British drivers is a GB sticker put on the left
rear of the car near the number plate, unless you
have number plates that incorporate a small GB plaque.
[This is a legal requirement, so you could be fined
if you forget.]
You must also redirect your headlights so they point
away from oncoming traffic, which will be approaching
towards the left of the driver instead of the right.
Plastic ‘headlight redirectors’ are
easily obtainable from car accessory or motorway
shops. They are a little tricky to put on correctly
the first time, so take your time and check the
instructions and your result. If you buy fairly
solid ‘headlight redirectors’, you can
remove and save them for next time you visit the
continent. Electricians’ insulating tape is
effective for retaping the plastic to your headlights.
The tape is waterproof and so will keep sticking
through French summer thunderstorms.
And do not forget that you must have your papers
- passport, driving license, international insurance,
car registration document (called la carte grise in France) with you, close to hand, when you drive.
If stopped, these are what the traffic gendarmes
will ask for first. It is also required that you
have your identification documents with you, when
you go out in France.
- Michelin Tourist & Motoring
A4 spiral Atlas of France 2008
£8.44 [amazon.co.uk] /
Note that these are details
for the spiralbound version of the atlas. There other,
non-spiralbound versions available.
Americans may decide to wait to purchase a road atlas,
if they need one, once they have arrived in Europe.
- You can order IGN maps online
website [in English] by clicking this map on the
left of their page:
The instructions on each succeeding page are in English
and easy to follow. Note that postage is currently 4.70€
(the UK is classed as a EU country “near to or
with a border with France”).
index page for monthly fuel price reports.
price report archive 2000 - 2010.
- Although frowned on by the flic and fineable, on country roads outside villages a common solution is to have the front fog lights lit. These have a wider sideways spread than dipped heads, and in combination, make unmarked, unlit side roads flanked by ditches a much safer proposition.
Where to stay
Michelin red guide…maps hotels and much else