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Driving in France

Planning something like the 3 week driving tour described in Ricks book. I have done a lot of reading on driving in France and it seems fairly strict. I have driven quite a bit in Italy and it was easy. Had a few questions:

  1. For tolls is chip credit card the way to go? Seems that Rick prefers using cash but not sure why.

  2. In Italy I rented a GPS along with the car, it was an absolute necessity. We also had a tablet with Sygic maps as a backup or for walking. I'm thinking perhaps the tablet is sufficient (I will have a passenger) and perhaps jot down some notes and reset ODO before each leg of trip. The GPS audio and speed alerts in Italy (it was a Tom Tom) were very annoying and I could not be bothered to figure out the settings.

  3. Regarding priority to the right, it seems this only applies to rural roads where not indicated. Does this mean if you are continuing straight and a car is stopped for a right to enter the road that you have to yield to them? It seems it would only apply if the other car is already moving onto the road?

I assume the rental car company provides the required safety gear (vest, triangles) and if they do not provide the breathalyzer probably the single use units are a good idea. Also seems that speed enforcement is strict and fines are massive so I'll make a paper with speeds and affix to dash. I was kind of surprised that I did not get a speeding ticket in Italy, not because I'm a intentional speeder but because the concentration required for routefinding causes inattention to speed limit signs.

Also, I always get add on insurance for the rental as the default is very low.

Thanks for any tips

Posted by
16890 posts
  1. Many US credit cards are chip & sign protocol, not true chip & PIN, and so they still may not work in some gas pumps or toll booth machines. Cash is more reliable and most toll booths have a choice of either automated or manned station to accept the cash and give change. Different toll booths/regions are administered by different companies.

  2. Some rental cars in France (such as the Economy model, VW Polo that I rented last year) come with both GPS and speed limit alerts built in. The sounds was not on when we started and we never turned it on.

Posted by
1409 posts

I drove in France this summer for 2 weeks.

  1. Chip credit cards in Europe are different than US chip credit cards. US cards need a signature generally. Chip cards in Europe do not, so toll booths MAY NOT accept a US chip credit card. So, having cash is a safety net.

  2. GPS....depends on where you are driving in France. Obviously, if you use toll roads (expensive) you probably won't need it. However, I encourage it in the countryside because phone service can be lacking and unless you have great detailed maps, you can get very frustrated with getting around.

  3. I assume you are talking about roundabouts. Actually you are yielding to people on your left. All other traffic laws are pretty much the same as the US.

  4. I never go over the speed limit in Europe. Fines are too high. All roads are marked and if in doubt stick to about 70 kph. (About 40 mph).

Posted by
3943 posts

I agree with the points that Laura made. Our CCs (Canadian) are true chip and PIN so we had no problems, but most US ones are chip and signature and won't work in some toll booths. So have cash ready.

Our rental came with GPS and had speed limit alerts built into the dash display. We also had downloaded Google Maps. We found both to be accurate. As for GPS audio- spend the extra 5 min with the rental agent to change the language to English.

Taping speed limit reminders to the dash seems unnecessary and likely futile- you're likely to miss some, and then what? If you have a passenger, ask them to handle the route finding. As a driver, it's your responsibility to be aware of and pay attention to all traffic signs, including speed limits.

The rental should already be equipped with all legally required safety equipment. The breathalyzer thing isn't a thing- it's not enforced.

Don't forget to get a new IDP for the trip if your last one has expired.

Posted by
15 posts

I got the impression from some websites that speeds are not posted on rural roads and change with the weather, hence the notes but from below if not sure keep it below 50 or so on rural roads.

Unless otherwise signposted and on dry roads

130 km/h (80 mph) on toll motorways
110 km/h (68 mph) on dual carriageways and motorways without tolls
80 km/h (50 mph) on other roads
50 km/h (31 mph) in towns. Town name starts the limit, a bar through the town name is the derestriction sign

On wet roads

110 km/h (68 mph) on toll motorways
100 km/h (62 mph) on dual carriageways and motorways without tolls

Speed limit of 50 km/h (31 mph)

On motorways in foggy conditions, when visibility is less than 50 m.

Posted by
2916 posts

As to credit cards, I have an Andrews FCU chip card with a PIN, and for the last few years it's always worked at tollbooths. But to be safe, I always go to a green arrow lane, which accepts credit cards and cash.

As to #3: "Does this mean if you are continuing straight and a car is stopped for a right to enter the road that you have to yield to them? It seems it would only apply if the other car is already moving onto the road?" You only have to yield if that car doesn't have either a stop sign or a yield sign. If it does, you have the right of way.

Posted by
5648 posts

Regarding priority to the right, it applies to any unsignposted intersection (more on applicable signs below). Road size is irrelevant. That typically includes:
- Towns and cities, especially Paris, where few interesctions are signposted
- Small rural and suburban roads

- there are many situations and signs that override priority to the right
-- if there is a yield or stop sign on one of the roads at the interesection
-- on roundabouts, where you yield to drivers on the roundabout (there's always a yield sign)
-- on main roads, a diamond shaped sign with a yellow outline means that the road you're on has priority. Similarly, a triangle sign with a thick upwards arrow crossed by a thin line, means that you have priority at the upcoming interesection.
- there is a sign that warns you of an upcoming prority to the right: a triangle sign with a large X.

If the above sounds confusing, it's because it is, BUT in practice there are very few situations where this is an issue.

I'd recommend you print out a sheet with all the signs, as they're not obvious!

Posted by
6530 posts
  1. We’ve always used cash, including on our last driving trip, 3 years ago. It’s a good way to use up coins, although you’ll sometimes get coins back with your change.

  2. A Michelin (or other) printed map has always been extremely helpful - bookstores and some service stations sell maps. GPS is becoming more and more of a modern necessity, it seems, but a printed map and a place to pull over and study it is still helpful.

  3. balso has just covered the Priority on the Right situation, above. Our approach has been to keep up with traffic, not go too slow, but to expect the unexpected and be prepared to hit the brakes or steer safely away from a problem. Maintaining a safe distance from the car ahead of you is key.

  4. (bonus) Where in France are you driving? Things were easygoing up north, on our trip in Brittany last time, and also earlier in Normandy - not like we were racing at Le Mans or anything. But often in Provence, to the south, we’ve had a lot of tailgaters, even though we were doing the posted speed limit. Sometimes they’d pass, and sometimes they just seemed to want to tailgate. Hope you don’t get that.

Also, be sure what fuel your car takes. Unleaded gasoline is called “sans plomb,” and diesel is called “gazole.” The Autoroutes have an occasional “Aire,” a pull-off rest stop that often comes complete with a restroom, filling station, cafe/restaurant, or just a parking spot to pull over for a moment of respite.

Posted by
687 posts

just finished a podcast episode from Join Us In France, I think it's episode 14, from 2014. Husband and wife (she's French, he's a US ex pat with her in France) and go over TONS of this, including alcohol consumption/BAC, right of way, standard speed limit, etc.

Posted by
613 posts

GPS will show you how to get from A to B. A Michelin Map, (ideally 1:200,000) will show you the best (scenic) way from A to B. We've driven more that 50,000 km in France and only once used a toll road (about 30 miles). Driving the side roads is the way to see France, toll roads are to dash from A to B, but if that's what you want to do, compare the cost of going by train.

The yield to traffic on the right applies if you are not on a priority road (see international road signs for how a priority road is designated).

Essential for driving in France: Michelin Map as mentioned, Michelin Green Guide, and, for eats and rooms, Michelin Red Guide.

Posted by
15365 posts

What you wrote in your last post is what I learned as well. Forget the miles, your speedometer will be in kms. Using GPS your navigator can keep track of your speed. I do find it a little hard to keep to the speed limit because I'm focusing on the unfamiliar road, unfamiliar car, signage in a foreign language and sometimes enjoying the view. I'm always aware of the speed limits and sometimes find I have to use the breaks to slow down. Having a paper taped to the dash wouldn't help at all. Making a habit of looking at the speedometer often is a much better plan.

On the tollroads, there is a lot of electronic monitoring and most vehicles don't speed. On other roads, locals will go a lot faster, presumably because they know where the speed traps are. I just kept to the limit, pulling over as often as I could to let them pass me.

GPS is really helpful on less roads and getting in and out of larger towns and cities. I used the built-in GPS (before I bought my Garmin) when I drove through Burgundy and Alsace and the detailed (and huge) Michelin map was useless. I came to junctions where the signage was poor, couldn't tell which direction was which. Route numbers aren't posted on the roads like they are in the US so if you take the wrong turn, you may not know it for quite a while. On the Riviera this year, my car had built-in GPS, but I just used the Garmin I brought with me. One problem I had in Burgundy is that there are multiple towns with the same name in France. I finally figured out to use the zip code closest to where I was.

In Portugal this year I used my own Garmin after I couldn't figure out the built-in GPS, even after 15 minutes to find out how to change it to English and the guy from Europcar didn't know. I used google maps using data on my phone as a back-up after Garmin sent me on a couple of bad routes.

On multi-lane roads, you can only use the left lane for passing.

I had no trouble using cash for tolls in France. Most machines also take notes and give change. I read recently that they don't enforce the breathalyzer law because they have limited shelf life, requiring folks to buy new ones every year.

Posted by
466 posts

We have driven in France the last two years and found it to be very easy. The car we had this year was a Ford Focus and it showed the speed limits on the dashboard. Plus google maps does as well. Most rental cars have Apple CarPlay or Android auto so you can plug in your smartphone and use its mapping software.

Posted by
2 posts

Just drove throughout France for 3 weeks.

  1. Some posters swear by using cash at tolls. Good for them. Personally that would be tedious for me and luckily my U.S. Costco Visa worked in every toll. Have cash just in case though.

  2. I brought my personal Garmin GPS with the Europe Maps. That way I was already familiar with using it. I also preloaded our destinations & tourist sites that we were visiting. Just get in & hit go. Our car (Volvo XC 40) had a GPS. We used it for an overview of where we were headed. The advantage of the built in was it was able to differentiate between the D roads. Our Garmin thought all D roads were the same. They are not. Some are just a little wider than a single-track in Scotland. Speed limit was 80 on those goat trails, there was no way you could do 50 so using the in Dash GPS & our own Garmin we could figure out the best route if we were pressed for time.

As other posters have commented, the roads are seldom marked in road numbers. I'm pretty good at driving & navigating but using a GPS let me concentrate on driving.

In towns or city centers, most streets are narrow & one-way (sometimes a circular route through the town). The GPS knows this & will get you to your destination. A map, good luck.

Our Volvo also had the speed limit in a red line on the Speedometer. Very handy. Almost always right, just double check.

  1. The one thing that was the most difficult for me, Stoplights. I really had a hard time at first with this. Stoplights don't hang over the middle of the street like they do in the U.S. The stoplights are on the side & seem to hide. You really need to be paying attention for them (actively looking for them), something I never do at home. I got better but they will still catch you if you aren't looking for them. Best thing is to follow a car, if possible, through towns or cities. I would have missed some if I wasn't following a car that stopped at a red light.

  2. If you can drive in Italy, France will be easy. Great roads, just a few tailgaters.

Posted by
613 posts

Scott notes "just a few tailgaters. " Its not unusual for Americans driving in EU to be bothered by tailgaters. EU drivers don't consider this unsafe or impolite, but essential to be able to pass you in a short break in traffic. If it bothers- you, speed up and they will most likely fall back..

Posted by
818 posts

Cash at the toll booths makes life so much easier. We tried using a credit card a few times and because of the language difference we never felt secure that we were doing the right thing......also the drivers behind you don’t seem too patient as you try to understand where to put the card, etc so the cash was always easiest and fastest.
I feel like an ad for Hippocketwifi but we have driven in Europe at least 6 times......the first 4 times were with a European Garmin that we bought on EBay.......the maps are small and her pronunciations are so hard to understand........never felt like the road she called us to use was the one that appeared in our view.......SO.......we rented through Hippocketwifi our own portable wifi that we now carry with us everywhere......and I use the Apple maps feature on my Ipad and ViaMichelin........we have the maps ready anywhere we go, no matter how far out on a country road we are and we feel so much more secure driving now. This last trip to Eastern Europe 2 months ago proved that the portable wifi was a necessity.......on 2 occasions my hubby had to drop me out on the outskirts of a town where cars were prohibited......because of the portable wifi I was able to walk into these towns, find our hotels, talk to the owners at the front desk and get directions on parking, unloading our luggage, etc. There is a security that comes with knowing your wifi will be working for you 24-7, no matter where you are! We left our Garmin at home on the last trip and were glad we did!

Posted by
2916 posts

"Its not unusual for Americans driving in EU to be bothered by tailgaters. EU drivers don't consider this unsafe or impolite"
We have British friends who owned a house in France for 20 years, and when we were driving with them, they regularly complained about French tailgaters. French tailgating is nothing like American tailgating; some French drivers might as well be attached to the back of your car. Fortunately, the practice seems to be decreasing in France, although it's still there.

Posted by
7 posts

Tolls: We used credit card for several tolls then one it didn't work once. Had to call (and we don't speak French) and they shut down lane and we had to backup and go through cash line. We have been using cash since then. It is kind of random since each toll area can decide what cards to accept.
Gas: We also had issue one time with our credit card. Normally no issue but we always keep cash handy just in case.
Paris: Picked up car in the city once. Never again. It was a nightmare. Leaving from CDG is not bad.
Car: I reserve early and always try to get an automatic. Doesn't seem to be as much of an issue anymore as they seem to be more widely used by rental companies. I can drive stick so not an issue but automatic makes things easier. Last cars we have had always have GPS built in. I don't order with it or pay extra but very nice. We also have my wife's phone (so she can keep tabs on kids and mother) as a backup. She can also look ahead for food, gas, etc.
Speed Limit: I believe we have driven numerous times and haven't rec'd a ticket for speeding or parking yet. I do use cruise control and set the speed limit. It usually shows up on GPS now so not as much of an issue as before. Road speeds do change a lot, especially on the smaller roads. I had one car that let you set a max speed which was interesting. Use in Switzerland where there were lots of cameras.

We really prefer a car outside of larger cities. We take our time and spend as little or as much time as we want. Also we change our daily plans on the fly as we find local events. We also like not having to tote around our luggage or look for a locker to store it. That being said we are looking at England next year and I am scared to drive there (other side of road) and most likely will take trains.

I think think Rick's itineraries are too quick paced for me. Although sometimes nice to go to an area for a few days (Loire Valley/Alsace) and get a feel for it. We loved both and went back to see more on other trips for example.