Driving in France is quite a different experience to driving in the UK and it takes a little bit of getting used to.
Although the majority of the driving rules are similar and you will be able to drive with your EU licence, you may find that it is the little cultural differences that make the difference.
You will be able to find lots of information about the major legal differences in terms of insurance, behaviour and expectations, so let us look at the little variations that take a while to work out!
In France, you are expected to keep your insurance documents in your car at all times. If a gendarme stops you for some reason, you can be fined if you do not have proof of insurance, your EU driving licence and proof that you have a valid controle technique, the French MOT certificate. When you insure your car in France, you will usually be sent a plastic wallet along with your documents. Use this to keep your paperwork safe and put it in your glove compartment.
Flashing Your Lights
In the UK, we are used to flashing our lights to other motorists to mean 'after you' - such as if you are at a junction or someone is pulling out of a car parking space. In France, flashing your lights means the exact opposite - 'I'm coming through' - which can cause all sorts of trouble when you first start driving there. After many years of driving in the UK, it becomes your natural reaction, so be aware when in France that flashing your lights means fellow motorists will stay still and expect you to move, not the other way round.
As French motorists drive on the right, their headlights are directed slightly to the right to reduce glare for nighttime driving. UK cars are the opposite, so the glare is right in the direction of oncoming cars. You are expected to purchase stick-on glare reducers, although these are criticised for not solving the problem. Be aware that you may be dazzling on coming cars when you drive at night, even if you have these reducers. You may first realise this when on coming cars flash you, as though to warn you to turn off your fog lights.
This is the equivalent of the UK MOT, although it is only required once every two years, from four years after the car was first sold. There are a number of garages in every town that conduct the test, with prices ranging from €40 to €70, with the necessary changes on top of this basic cost. If you have an English car, your controle technique may require you to make changes to your headlights, to avoid the problems mentioned above.
Priority to the Right
In France, there is a curious road rule that priority is given to cars on coming from the right. This makes perfect sense at roundabouts, but is less effective on straight main roads. This rule means that there can be a long straight road, with cars whizzing down it, but priority is still, given to cars pulling onto this road from side roads. This takes a bit of getting used to.
Fantastic website, really useful, well set out, good links etc. This particular section could do with updating since the new laws about having to have a breathalyser and a hi viz etc etc in your car. Also, there's a new thing where you can be fined a massive 1500 euros for having a sat nav that shows where speed cameras are! Well worth knowing about. There are updates you can get for your sat nav that sort this issue out.
Hez - 10-Nov-12 @ 12:55 PM
InFrance,at the risk of repeating myself flashing headlamps in the uk means the same as in France ie, a warning that you are there. The fact that some idiots in the uk interpret flashing headlampswrongly way is irrelevent.
Flash - 21-Aug-12 @ 8:15 PM
I live in France.Flashing car headlights means I am coming through and not the 'go ahead' signal that it is in the UK.Driving in France is much more aggressive than in the UK.At the junction off the A8 at Antibes it's like being on the dodgems at the fair - minus the bumping.There is always lots of horn pipping and scowling but it's amazing how few accidents there are.If that happened in the UK they would have to close off the area for half a day to sort out the carnage.
InFrance - 29-May-12 @ 12:58 PM
Regarding Flashing your lights, what a ridiculous and irresponsible comment to make, the rules are broadly the same in both countries.
Flashing headlights. Only flash your headlights to let other road users know that you are there. Do not flash your headlights to convey any other message or intimidate other road users.
Never assume that flashing headlights is a signal inviting you to proceed. Use your own judgement and proceed carefully.