Navigating Roundabouts in France

There are an estimated 320 000 000 roundabouts in France, about 60 times more than the country with the second most (Germany). Élisabeth Milepost, French Minister for Transport, has issued guidelines aimed at foreign drivers who don’t understand how roundabouts function in France. Information correct at time of publication, 1 September 2019.

Above : A simplified explanation of the French roundabout system – English version obtainable on demand from prefectures for a nominal administration charge of 205.07 € plus tax. Applications and enquiries must be made to the Guichet Permis de Conduire by registered post or by appointment online before 6 November 2017.

Key points about French Roundabouts

Herbert Bouchon from the Franco-British Association of Road Transporters says,  “Firstly, you must understand that the use of lanes, if there is more than one, is not strictly regulated.  Some drivers mistakenly believe that you choose one lane and stick to it until you exit.  However, long-standing custom in France has it that drivers may enter a roundabout in any lane they wish, then drift into another lane, then revert to the original lane before swerving abruptly to make their exit. The more adventurous may take several turns around the roundabout before picking an exit at random. It’s like a beautiful ballet where the moves of the dancers are improvised. We French are artists at heart.”

Driving instructor Jay de Gros-Couilles shows learner driver how to navigate a roundabout in Le Mans

“Secondly, you must relearn your use of indicators. Ideally, do not use the indicators at all as this puts unnecessary strain on the battery, particularly if you drive a Citroën. If you MUST use the indicators on a roundabout, for instance if you wish to amuse your passengers and annoy other road users, then try not use them until the precise moment you actually exit the roundabout. It is not important which indicator you use – left, right or both simultaneously, it is all the same. If you observe another driver using indicators, you must never assume an indicator means the driver intends to turn in that direction – we are a free-thinking people and are not bound by such rigid conventions.”

Officer Gabriel Andouille prepares to halt traffic for no particular reason on a roundabout as colleagues question the driver of a suspiciously “blue” car

Mr. Bouchon continues, “Finally, it is perfectly acceptable to use the roundabout itself, or the entry or exit of the roundabout to pull over, light a cigarette, make a phone call or answer a call of nature.  It does not matter if this forces other drivers to take avoiding action or stop completely.  Speed kills, so stopping on a roundabout is a safety measure endorsed by the authorities.”

Library picture of roundabout parking  © Association for Road Safety Education

Rights Of Way on French Roundabouts

The issue of rights of way at a roundabout in France is explained by Paul Trajectoire-de-Collision of the Association for Road Safety Education“We have a very simple system when it comes to rights of way on “carrefours à sens giratoire”, as roundabouts are correctly called.  The driver of the bigger vehicle has right of way, except when the other driver cannot see him, e.g. because he is lighting a cigarette or texting while re-tuning his radio. In those cases no-one gives way.

The driver of this vehicle has priority unless you are lighting a cigarette or texting on your phone

Of course these rules do not apply in Paris. Pierre goes on to explain that not all roundabouts are roundabouts. “Most French roundabouts are “carrefours à sens giratoire” but we also have a special type of roundabout in Paris that we call a “rond-point”. This is a system we devised for Parisiens because the normal roundabout is rather commonplace and therefore unsuitable for their sophisticated tastes“.

On a “rond-point”, he explains, there are no road signs or road markings and those already on the roundabout have no priority over those coming on, resulting in a free-for-all similar to Brownian Motion. The best known example is the roundabout of the Place de l’Etoile (Arc de Triomphe). “These also serve to show non-Parisiens how superior Paris drivers are, and to deter provincial peasants from driving in our beautiful capital city.”

Parisian drivers teach a lesson to a car with an “out of town” number plate at the Arc de Triomphe

Pedestrian Crossings and Roundabouts

Senateur LePot-de-Vin, chairman of the Committee for Placing Pedestrian Crossings and Stop Signs in Places You’d Never Expect to Find Them explains, “Pedestrian crossings are strategically placed at the exits of roundabouts.  This is the safest place for them, as drivers have not had a chance to accelerate before they have to brake because someone is meandering across the road like a blind escargot or has stopped halfway to chat with an acquaintance.”

Proposed roundabout/pedestrian crossing where pedestrians can meet and chat in the middle.

He continues, “To save costs our crossings are often made using emulsion paint. Whilst this renders them virtually invisible after a few days, it should not affect local drivers, and most other drivers ignore them anyway. Constant repainting also gives our municipal workers something to do, it keeps them off the streets as they say. Except it’s the opposite.

A perfectly repainted “passage piéton” one year after installation

Outraged Expats on Facebook

British Expats on Facebook are outraged by the new guidelines.  Ben Dover runs a Facebook group where people can whinge about important Expat issues such as the quality of paint and the price of Marmite in supermarkets, and bang on about the superiority of over  Ben says, “It’s outrageous! We are up in arms over this.  For years we Brits have been telling the rest of Europe how appallingly they drive and we don’t need them to tell us how to do drive badly – we can do that ourselves, merci. ”

Will this advice help you to drive more safely? Leave your comments above. Or below. Who knows. Above all don’t take it seriously.

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