I’ve had a few enquiries recently from people who haven’t driven in France before, and asking whether roadsigns, rules of the road etc. are very different from the UK/USA/other countries. In reply I usually direct them to the “Driving in France” page on our main website, but I thought it might be useful to reproduce an excerpt of the main points here.
A little plug: don’t forget that if you’re on a driving holiday in France then we provide possibly the best B&B accommodation you’re likely to find in Southern Normandy and Pays de la Loire.
French Road Signs
Most French road signs are the same as in the UK but here are some common road signs in France that are rare or unknown in the UK, USA and elsewhere.
Fixed radar camera ahead. There will definitely be a camera coming up shortly – no bluffing. NB These warning signs are being removed in 2011 and there are never signs for mobile, hand-held “controles de vitesse” by gendarmes, though the presence of gendarmes ahead may be indicated by flashing headlights from drivers coming towards you.
Radar detectors are illegal but GPS based warning systems are allowed.
Stop really does mean stop. These are commonly used as a cheap “traffic calming” measure and so may appear in places where a “give way” sign would be more appropriate, or where logic would dictate that you would normally have priority over a side road. Unless you’re 100% sure there are no gendarmes around (make sure there are none hiding behind a bus shelter or sitting in a car up ahead) bikers should stop and put both feet down, and cars should come to a complete halt for a few seconds before moving off again. Failure to do so will result in a hefty on-the-spot fine – no excuses, even though you can probably see for miles that there is nothing else approaching the junction and there is no real need to stop.
Roadside parking for more than 24 hours in the same place is forbidden (unless it is a long-term parking facility). If you do, your car may be towed away.
Disabled parking Cars parked in disabled spaces must display a blue GIG – GIC parking badge.
Free parking bays or free car park. There is usually a separate bay for motorbikes.
Blue and red sign indicates you are entering a “No Parking” zone. The same in black and white with a bar through indicates you’re leaving said zone.
If dates are shown in the top right of the sign, then parking IS NOT allowed on those dates but is allowed on other dates.
If dates are shown in both the top right and bottom left of the sign, it means that parking is allowed on one side of the road for the first half of the month but is not allowed on the other side of the road, and the reverse in the second half of the month. Nice and simple. Not.
Paying parking zone – could be meters or pay and display machines. Usually there will be some non-paying bays for motorbikes. Parking is often free between 12.00pm and 14.00pm and after 19.00pm until 8.00am but check on the ticket machine / meter.
Limited free parking zone, usually for 1-2 hours. Cars need to display on their dashboard a disc which indicates what time the car arrived. A “disque de stationnement” can be bought for a couple of euros in many a bar/tabac and most supermarkets with a motorist section.
These blue signs are found inside the parking zones indicated by the previous signs. They mark the actual parking bays or car parks. Slang for a parking ticket is a “prune”.
Coming to a junction, the main road on which you are travelling bears left ahead.
Lights on : usually seen at the entrance to a tunnel – turn your lights on.
Lights off : usually seen at the exit from a tunnel – a reminder that you can turn your lights off if you wish.
Autoroute speed limits. Normally 130kph (about 80mph) in dry weather, 110kph (about 70mph) in wet weather, in which case dipped lights should also be turned on.
Rest area on motorway with drinks available – possibly also a cafeteria for snacks, but not guaranteed.
Whereas this motorway rest area has a proper restaurant.
24 hour petrol, payment by credit card – these are sometimes found at péage exits. Some péage exits also have toilets next to a parking area. Otherwise there’s always the side of the road, French-style.
As you come on to a toll paying (péage) section of road – mainly motorway – you will see this sign if you need to take a ticket. Most toll roads require you to take a ticket, unless it is a section of toll road with a fixed fee as you exit.
This marks an automated Télépéage lane on a toll road. Some lanes are for télépéage “badge” or bleeper holders only – don’t go in these lanes unless you have a bleeper or other signs indicate that they also take cash or credit cards.
Pay attendant in booth at exit from toll road. Cash or credit card.
Pay by credit card at machine at exit from toll road. You can use these with UK credit cards without problem and they are usually quicker than queueing at the pay booths at busy times. Stick your ticket in and then your credit card – the machine will charge the appropriate amount and spit the card back out. Press button to request a receipt if you need it.
Usually seen on a main road as you leave a town or village, this means that the main road that you are on has priority and that all traffic joining from side roads must give way.
If you’re on a main road you do not necessarily have right of way over side roads – there are MANY “Priorité à Droite” junctions where you have to give way to traffic coming from the right, particularly in villages and on country roads. If there is no roadsign or road marking to indicate otherwise, traffic coming from the right always has priority unless it is coming from a car park or a private road. When three cars reach such a junction from different roads at the same time, you’ll often see everyone stop, unsure what to do.
Black streaks of rubber on the road surface due to hard braking at the approach to a junction are another sign of “P-à-D”.
End of priority zone. Traffic from the right has priority unless there are road signs or markings indicating otherwise.
You are coming to a junction where priority to the right applies – give way to the right.
You are coming to a junction where you have priority.
Viewpoint – usually there is some parking space nearby. If not in a hurry, this is often a good spot to stop and stretch legs – take note, you may sometimes have a way to walk to reach the viewpoint. Most give a panorama over the countryside/down a valley etc., whilst some have an orientation table indicating places within view.
More information here: Motorbiking and Driving in France