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Driving in France, some of the laws North Americans may not be used to..

I stumbled across a website called Trip Savvy, I've never used it before and so I can't confirm it's reliability but I was interested in some of the driving tips/rules/laws it lists for France.
https://www.tripsavvy.com/driving-in-Paris-what-you-need-to-know-4177689
The website says it's for Paris but some of the regulations are 'around' Paris as well, I'm not sure if that means the region has different laws than the rest of France? I wanted to share some of the quirky ones that North Americans may not be used to. Any comments on some of these that you have experienced firsthand?

  • A valid passport for the driver and all passengers travelling in the car. As a Canadian I know this is actually the law in California if I'm driving there, but I've never actually been pulled over to confirm if it is enforced.
  • Proof of valid car insurance. I'm sure that's fine if you take the Rental insurance, but it has me wondering if I'd need to show proof if I used my own insurance. My credit cards offers rental insurance as does my personal car insurance. Have to wonder now if I should be printing out a copy to take with me?
  • A full set of replacement bulbs for headlights and taillights. Shouldn't be a problem if I rent but it does have me wondering about laws at home for my own car that I may have never paid attention to.
  • If you wear glasses, you must keep a spare pair IN THE CAR. I always travel with a spare car, but it's never occurred with me to keep them with me at all times.

  • A breathalyzer test for your car. The article says it's rarely enforced, anyone experience it with a rental?

  • Permissible alcohol blood level is below .002! That means if you
    have a beer at midnight, you could still blow over after 6 hours
    (not confirmed, I googled a couple of articles).

  • Cell phone AND Hands Free devices are not permitted while driving.

Posted by
4190 posts

Hi,
Not all of this is fully accurate
- carrying proof of identity ie passport for foreigners is the law at all times. In practice, you're unlikely to run into issues if you walk around with, say, just a driver's licence.
- proof of insurance means proof of insurance for damage to third parties. There is a green card in the corner of the windshield to prove that.
- breathalyzer: was talked about but never went into force
- blood alcohol limit is 0.5g/l. No idea about American unit equivalent. It means 2x125 ml glasses of wine for an adult, more or less.

The above is not meant as legal advice of course.

Posted by
2251 posts

You must yield to vehicles entering the highway.

Posted by
8889 posts

Agree with Balso

  • The requirement to have a passport is nothing to do with being in a car, it applies at all times
  • The legal requirement is for third party (public liability) insurance. This is included in the rental price. There is no legal requirement for insurance to cover damage to the car you are driving or to yourself. That is your problem.
  • Rental cars will always have the necessary equipment for the country they are rented in, there are sometimes different requirements in different countries. It is not just headlamp bulbs. You must carry a yellow reflective jacket, the infamous "gilets jaune" that spawned a protest movement.
  • The Breathalyser requirement was never implemented. It was not fully thought out.
    • Breathalysers have a "use by" date of just over a year. So you would need to buy a new one every year. There was not enough manufacturing capacity to produce that many.
    • The idea was if you had been drinking, you could use one to check if you were legal. But, even if you passed, you would then not have a working Breathalyser in the car, so you could not legally drive that vehicle. In practice people wouldn't use them.
  • Yes, you can still be over the alcohol limit the following morning.
Posted by
1078 posts

As far as the glasses are concerned, this is only required if your DL picture shows you with your glasses on(I always remove my glasses for the DL and the IDP picture).

Posted by
8889 posts

You must yield to vehicles entering the highway.

No (assuming by "highway" you mean an autoroute or a main road).
There is the "Priorité de droite" rule. This states that on minor roads (rural or urban) at a road junction any vehicle coming from the right has priority over you, and you have priority over any vehicle from your left.

On main roads this rule is superseded by the priority sign (yellow diamond, click here for picture). The main road has priority over any side roads. This lasts until the "end of priority" sign (picture).
You often see the "end of Priority sign at the start of a village (Priorité de droite applies in the village), and a new priority sign when you exit the village.

None of this applies to an autoroute, that always has priority over joining traffic.

Posted by
467 posts

blood alcohol limit is 0.5g/l. No idea about American unit equivalent.

For once (thankfully!) the American unit is basically the same. Blood alcohol content is normally stated as a percentage in the States (the most common limit being 0.08%), the calculation being the grams of alcohol per 100 ml of blood. So a BAC of 0.08% = 0.8g/l, and the French limit of 0.5g/l would be a BAC of 0.05%.

Posted by
2424 posts

As far as the glasses are concerned, this is only required if your DL
picture shows you with your glasses on

That seems odd, are you sure? Different laws for different locations possibly, but in Alberta you cannot wear glasses for your DL photo (you're also not allowed to smile, same rules for Passport photos).. My DL and the IDP also indicate that I'm required to wear prescription lenses. It seems to me that if the police check that requirement then you would be required to prove you are wearing contacts; if not glasses, and in turn then prove you have a spare set if the law requires that.

Posted by
2337 posts

Rules like these have convinced me that public transport (bus, train, plane) is 95% of the time a better solution than driving in Europe. One other reason: When I do not rent a car, I do not spend time concerned about damage to the vehicle.

Posted by
6730 posts

I'd love to hear a single example of someone being fined or arrested for not having spare glasses in the car.

ON the other hand when we were stopped once, we were asked for the IDP and the cop actually seemed slightly disappointed that we were able to produce it.

Posted by
2916 posts

Rules like these have convinced me that public transport (bus, train, plane) is 95% of the time a better solution

That's fine if you want to limit yourself with respect to where you can go. Or you're in a city.

As to priority on the right, when I first learned about that rule (before I learned about it I almost had a disastrous accident), I started to closely monitor the situation whenever I saw a road entering my road from the right, even if it was a tiny road. I quickly realized that in about 95+% of those situations, the road to the right had either a stop sign or a yield sign, so that I had the right of way. Not that I no longer pay attention to that rule, but most of the time a quick glance is sufficient.

Posted by
31524 posts

"As far as the glasses are concerned, this is only required if your DL picture shows you with your glasses on(I always remove my glasses for the DL and the IDP picture)."

That wouldn't work with a B.C. driver's license as for those who wear glasses, restriction 21 on the license mandates "Corrective Lenses Required". That restriction is also noted on the IDP, so French (or other) police would be aware of it. I always carry a spare set of glasses in the vehicle at home and when travelling.

Posted by
28131 posts

My credit cards offers rental insurance as does my personal car insurance.

Really? I've never heard of a US or Canadian car policy which provides cover in Europe. Maybe times have changed?

Posted by
2424 posts

Nigel. I was surprised too. I called the credit card company out of curiosity and was told I was covered internationally, with some exceptions in some hot spots. I then called back again and spoke to someone else and it was confirmed again. I tend to call before every trip that I'm going to rent a car just to make sure I'm familiar with what is covered.

Posted by
8512 posts

Indeed Nigel. In fact, we can opt to upgrade to a higher level of insurance with each rental period.

Posted by
676 posts

That's fine if you want to limit yourself with respect to where you
can go. Or you're in a city.

Touché Robert. Lots of other common sense recommendations here that seem to contradict at least the tone of the article. The fact is, there are a lot of laws and "rules," that don't play out in real life (i.e., the breathalyzer kit, which is technically still a law, but has no enforcement method). And I have yet to see a single person post on this forum (or elsewhere) that not having an IDL has once caused them a problem or penalty in France (which is not a law, but a certified translation of your DL is—and still not enforced).

Keep in mind the reason for articles such as these—it is not to truly help you out, but to generate web traffic and a reason for existence of the web site hosting it. So take them and posts here with a grain of salt. Just because you "read it on the web..." isn't worth much. (Nor is just because you read it on a RS forum—my post included...)

Posted by
385 posts

No-one's driver's licence photos show them wearing glasses anymore. If you wear glases for driving, you should have a spare pair in the car: it's easy enough to know if you wear glasses for driving if you're stopped whilst driving - you'll be wearing glasses. I don't know of anyone who has been done for it, but I bet it gets invoked if the policeman decides he doesn't like you.

You should always have the counter sheet for your insurance: that's the white page the green insurance tag is torn off to be put in the windscreen. I have been asked for that.

Blood alcohol content must be below .005 https://www.securite-routiere.gouv.fr/reglementation-liee-aux-risques/reglementation-de-lalcool-au-volant

Breathalyser rule was deemed uniforcable and is unimplemented - to be ignored.

Entering and crossing roads - all but the most minor roads will be signposted, as will roundabouts. The only notable exception to the rule these days is the Paris periferique, where traffic entering has right of way. (Although there are one or two minor locations where it still applies, it's usually in places where the traffic isn't moving anyway)

Entering and crossing roads - all but the most minor roads will be signposted, as will roundabouts.

That may be so in the lower reaches of the Loire -- I'll take your advice on that -- but it's inaccurate, by my observation, for Bourgogne and the Auvergne (i.e., the upper reaches of the Loire). It's quite common, for example, in rural Bourgogne to encounter roads subject to priorité à droite. Even in towns (especially in towns) you will come across unmarked intersections that resort to the priorité à droite rule, even on roads that are far from minor.

Posted by
2916 posts

I called the credit card company out of curiosity and was told I was covered internationally, with some exceptions in some hot spots.

Yes, that's true for credit card insurance, but not for your home auto insurance. I know my policy explicitly states that the coverage area is only North America. There is one poster here who has mentioned that her auto policy covers her in France, but I've never seen any other similar info.

Posted by
2424 posts

An insurance update. I started digging further into my rental car insurance on my personal policy and my credit cards and I'm glad I did. My personal insurance only covers me in Canada and the US as Robert had suggested above. I had called my primary credit card provider previously and confirmed I was covered worldwide. However, I spent the weekend reading some documents and then calling again and found out that it only covers me for Collision. It doesn't not cover me for 3rd party liability and comprehensive-stuff like broken windshield or theft. Even more concerning, I called AM-ex which I have a back up credit card which I know used to cover me for rental car insurance as it used to be my primary card, and I was informed this morning that they no longer cover me for rental insurance. Moral of the story, before you go, check and ask questions, don't assume.

Posted by
8889 posts

3rd party cover is a legal requirement in all countries in Europe. It is always included in the rental price.

What is not legally required is insurance against damage to the car you are driving, plus "comprehensive-stuff like broken windshield or theft.". That is between you and the company you rent the car from.
Most people just take the renters CDW to cover that. In Europe it is not covered by any other insurance (not your own car insurance, nor personal insurance), nor by credit cards. That is why CDW is the default, most customers need it. If you don't take it, they are liable to put a large "hold" on your credit card, as that is the only way they can prevent you refusing to pay if you damage the car.