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Driving in France

My husband and I have rented a car in France from Lyon up to the Battle fields and then on to Paris where we will drop it off before seeing the city. What are French drivers like? The road conditions? Things to be aware of as drivers in an unknown territory? Road types to avoid? Etc. Your input would be appreciated. Thank you.
Helen

Posted by
6 posts

Helen,
While I haven't driven extensively in France, I have taken several trips by car within the country and have always found the drivers to be friendly and the road conditions good. The only place I freaked out a little was on the peripherique in Paris, finding that the comfortable speed for native drivers was higher than mine and that I couldn't read road signs fast enough. Check the back of most good guide books and there's likely to be signs to watch for although I found most to be self-explanatory. A good Michelin map of the specific region is also extremely helpful as the French have a very intricate road system. Still, there's something wonderful to see on even the tiniest pig trail. Enjoy your trip! Janet

Posted by
655 posts

Helen....French highways are excellent and their secondary roads are very good. It is hard to evaluate French drivers because we don't know what you are accustomed to.

Posted by
8293 posts

Helen: My husband and I have driven extensively in France and we have always enjoyed it. We prefer the secondary roads (the D roads on your map) to the autoroutes, mainly because they are more interesting and you pass through towns and may even be lucky enough to enter a town on market day. French drivers are fast but reliable, i.e., they abide by the rules of the road. Be sure to equip yourselves with very detailed maps of the region(s) you will be in. As to road conditions, they are excellent, much better than in the part of Canada where I live. Bonne route !

Posted by
26 posts

Well Norma, here in Ontario the road conditions aren't that much better and French drivers sound as though they are far more polite than what I'm used to. Thanks

Posted by
12040 posts

Although France's autoroute system is not as extensive as the German autobahn, I found driving in France almost relaxing, especially in the rural areas. Then, I hit le perpherique...

Posted by
10344 posts

A French traffic law that has been said to cause the most accidents involving American drivers is the "priorite a droite" rule: the driver merging from the right has the right of way, even when he is on a small road and merging from your right onto a main road. It has been said that French drivers "ruthlessly" insist on taking this right of way. But it does not apply in traffic circles (there are a lot of them) and in other situations there may be a sign, "cedez la passage" (I believe) that can negate this rule in specific situations.

Posted by
4555 posts

Hmmm....I always thought the rule was that, at an uncontrolled intersection, the driver on the right has the right of way....whether it's the U-S, Canada, or France?

Posted by
149 posts

Hi Helen, I have driven extensively all over western Europe on many trips in the past 30+ years. My favorite country to drive in is France; the roads are excellent and so are the drivers. Driving in Paris is no more difficult than driving in San Francisco or NYC, but keep a good map handy, and stop often to plot your route. Don't worry about driving and have fun.

Posted by
5668 posts

If there are two of you--a driver and a navigator--you should be fine. I did well on my own on the small roads. I ran into trouble on the autobahn type roads. I missed an exit and was stuck for miles. It reminded me of the Indian Tollway or the New York Throughway where the exits are so far apart. I went to the TI in Chartres to get directions to the town on the north side of Paris. The thought of driving through Paris was terrifying! The attendant ran MapQuest, said "Mon Dieu that won' t work!" and proceeded to then give me directions that had no route numbers or east/west direction. It was all by location. She said have faith, and you will get there, and I did. (She routed me around the south and up the east side of Paris, for those of you who might be wondering.) So, my advice is to plan your trips and know the intermediate destinations.

Pam

Posted by
3313 posts

Norm - the rule is a bit different. If you're driving on a street and another street intersects from the right, the driver on that street has the right of way. So they'll barrel right in front of you.

Posted by
4555 posts

Sorry Doug....I thought that's exactly what I said.

Posted by
313 posts

Helen, France was my first European country to drive in and it ended up being quite easy.

I drove nearly everywhere except that section between Lyon and Paris, but I expect it should be about the same. The autoroutes were very easy, and the medium sized roades. The smaller roads, though more scenic became tedious because of the traffic circles.

If you look in Rick's France guidebook, he gives a short summary of what you need to know to drive in France. I photocopied, enlarged, and laminated the symbols and a few of the phrases and kept it handy until I could remember it.

Also, it does take a co-pilot and at least one good map. The names (numbers) of the smaller highways don't help you too much, as they change quite often (not like I-5 that goes border to border) and most of the directional signs direct you to the next town, so you always need to have an idea of what's coming up ahead.

But other than that, it was easy and really the way to get to see specific things.

Posted by
3313 posts

Norm - I didn't state my response correctly. I agree that we (and I assume Canada) cede the right-of-way to drivers on the right at uncontrolled intersections. But we usually don't for one-way streets entering at a "T" intersection - or on an onramp or a roundabout. That's what I think the principle is in France unless there are signs to the contrary.

It's a subtle difference, but one that is surprising in practice.

Posted by
31 posts

Just got back from a trip with my parents, and we had no problems driving in France. The signs are excellent. As long as you know enough of the city names in between your destinations, you can actually navigate by signs and not by road names. I dont think we knew the name of the road we were on for the majority of the trip, but never once got lost. The tolls are unbelievably depressing though- really, really high. And the only place there are no tolls is Brittany, which it doesn't look like you have on your itinerary.

Posted by
23 posts

Helen:

We just returned from France, and found the roads to be excellent. The drivers were about the same as in the US. You might consider having some Euros ready for toll areas in certain areas of France.

We used a GPS the entire trip, and it saved us many times. Roads are not always marked, and keeping up on a map can be difficult. We used a Garmin Nuvi, and the audio instructions were excellent!

Gas was around $6.00 a gallon. A stick shift car will save you money on rental price and miles per gallon.

Have a great trip...
Steve

Posted by
4555 posts

Doug....well, with the exception of a traffic circle, the principle of yielding to the driver on the right applies to all uncontrolled intersections in Ontario, including T intersections. But you're correct, the French do take it all the way....since roundabouts are counter-clockwise, the traffic coming in to the circle is always from the right and, therefore, has the right of way.

Posted by
4 posts

We have driven quite a bit in France and really enjoyed the experience. I hope you do too! One website that has helped enormously (since we are planning a trip again to France in June) is www.viamichlein.com. It gives you choices of routes (scenic, fast, avoid tolls,etc.).It tells you how long the trip will take, what exits to use, where the speed cameras are, and how much it will cost for tolls and gas.

Posted by
75 posts

My family and I have driven probably 2500-3000 miles in France. For the most part it is extremely enjoyable driving, especially the first time. I strongly agree with the post suggesting GPS use - it's a life-saver and stress-reducer. I use a small laptop plus Microsoft Autoroute, but there are several dedicated GPS devices out there with great software.

You'll see that French drivers like to follow closely, even at high speeds. Just try to get used to it, there's nothing that can be done, it's their way.

Roads are usually excellent. If by "Battle fields" you mean Normandy, the rural roads in Manche are narrow and aimless (it seems) but charming.

Along with the GPS system, we buy maps in-country. The best in our opinion are the kind that come in a roughly 8" x 11" spiral bound book. Available at gas stations, they are detailed and easy to use in the front seat.

There are lots of round-abouts in France. Cars in the round-about have the right of way, except for Etoile in Paris.

Posted by
1158 posts

I drove in France for about 2 weeks in 2002, most of the time on the side roads because the high-ways were way too expensive. However the roads are good and the drivers are not bad. I mean they might do many km/hour on highways and this might be scary for some people, but in general the driving is pretty "quiet". I had no problems for the entire trip.
There were a lot of roundabouts along Loire Valley, but we got by with a map. We missed the road only one time.
I don't use a GPS, I am fine using maps, but it's up to you. You can rent a GPS in Europe, or I heard some rent a car companies offer GPS's for free.

Posted by
365 posts

Helen, do yourself a favor and purchase the Michelin France map book, 1:200,000 scale. You'll appreciate this kind of detail greatly, and you'll have the whole country in one map book. Trying to cobble together appropriate mapping for all the areas you wish to visit would be much more of a hassle.

Unless you're in a huge hurry, I would strongly recommend staying on the minor highways (and smaller.) With a good map, getting lost is rare and temporary and you'll see so much more driving through little towns.

Posted by
875 posts

We just spent the last week of our trip driving in France (although not in Paris...I'm not that brave). We found the roads to be in excellent condition and the French drivers to follow the speed limits and rules of the road. It was a very enjoyable experience. We had a TomTom GPS which was very helpful out in the rural areas where many times there were no road signs. We had to buy the 95 octane gas which ranged from 1.39-1.50 euros/liter. I felt safer driving in France than in America!

Posted by
26 posts

A big THANK YOU to everyone who replied. We feel much safer now that we know the conditions etc.
Helen

Posted by
178 posts

Helen, we did a circluar trip around France last summer for four weeks. We had no problems with the roads or the drivers. However, one point that I should alert you to is that we paid a lot in toll roads. Very expensive.

Posted by
27 posts

The roads are excellent and driving easy, doesn't take much getting used to, really. A good map is a must. Finding parking will be your main problem. Have fun!