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Driving in France

I'm a little nervous to drive in France. If I am not driving in Paris, except to rent a car and return it, am I really nervous for nothing?

Posted by
3551 posts

I suggest you rent your vehicle at airport or out of Paris. you will be just fine driving. I have rented for years and have had no prob. except in confusing cities like Florence, London. I see you post from LA.
you have mastered driving if you drive LA, freeways and roadways. A navigational system may be a help if you do not have a co-driver to help with exits off freeways. these exits can be few and far between and on toll roads it matters.

Posted by
31433 posts

Lisa,

You may want to invest in an International Driver's Permit, which must be used in conjunction with your regular Driver's License. You can obtain these at very reasonable cost at any AAA office. I don't believe this is mandatory in France, but it will provide a translation of the terms of your home license and includes a chart showing road signs used in various countries.

If you're travelling on motorways, many of these are toll roads so be sure to keep some change at hand. I'd also strongly suggest using a GPS unit, along with good quality Maps (Michelin). I've found that GPS units aren't always "perfect" so it's always good to have a "backup".

Be sure to familiarize yourself with the parking signs, etc. so you don't find a ticket on the vehicle when you return from a day of touring.

Happy travels!

Posted by
24 posts

Thank you. Will my Costco navigation system that I use all the time here do the trick in France?

Posted by
24 posts

Thank you all. This is all very helpful information.

Posted by
31433 posts

Lisa,

Which brand / model is your present GPS unit? That should indicate whether it is equipped with Euro maps.

In many GPS units, Euro maps can be added but this is often prohibitively expensive (sometimes cheaper just to buy a new GPS!).

Cheers!

Posted by
711 posts

Lisa.. We have driven in France for over 15 years and it fairly easy. The bigger roads are mostly tollroads, so, as someone has said ,save your change and keep in a bag for the tollways. We always fly into Paris , take a cab to Orly, and get our car from there.At Orly they have many car rental places, but make sure you rent ahead of time from here. It is cheaper. We used to rent a car with a GPS, but they charge for it now so we take our Garmin 350. We had to buy thre France map, but it is very up to date and has all the new round-a-bouts. There is nothing better than driving the back roads of France. We love to drive in Burgundy, stopping to have a picnic by the canal. We try not to drive in bigger cities, but we like the small villages anyway. Have driven all over France- no problem.

Posted by
12040 posts

Outside of the cities, France has one of the best, easiest to navigate system of roads in the world. Outside of urban areas, traffic is generally light as well. You will be fine.

If you feel you need it (I personally don't think it's necessary because the roads are so well marked), you can request a rental car pre-loaded with a GPS.

Posted by
24 posts

I really appreciate all these good thoughts and encouragement. I'm not going until this summer but I'm already excited!

Posted by
875 posts

One of the most helpful things about having a GPS and driving in France was the instruction of which exit to take at each roundabout. Much easier than trying to read all the little signs while you are going around in a circle!

Posted by
188 posts

We found driving on the motorways in France to be quite easy even without a GPS. The smaller roads took us past some cute little villages and wonderful scenery but we figured out that the narrow winding "D" roads through the "mountains" stood for Dangerous--drivers coming from the opposite direction often crossed the centre line into our lane as they sped around hairpin turns. Once we discovered that, we could be somewhat prepared for the next curve!!

Posted by
24 posts

Funny, Tricia! And continuing thanks to all who have weighted in. I am feeling much better about this whole driving thing now.

Posted by
8 posts

Rent outside of Paris and just use Micheilin for guides, you can preplan your basic route then print out a days drive be prepared for motorway tolls to be paid by change or a credit card. If you can drive in the US you can do it in France,

Posted by
51 posts

I lived in France for a year and did a lot of driving while I was there. I think it's actually easier to drive there when you don't know your way around. They have really great directional signs and always let you know exactly where you are!

Get used to roundabouts, cause there are a lot. I love them because traffic flows more smoothly and you feel like you're getting around faster. Just know the people already in the circle have the right of way. The French have a more aggressive driving style than Americans, but just study your road signs beforehand and you should be fine. Also know that on the autoroutes, people are constantly changing lanes, but they use their turn signal a lot more than Americans when doing so.

Parking spaces are smaller, and a lot of times its a parallel space so brush up on that if you're not used to it. The concept of personal space is much smaller in France and it applies to spaces between vehicles as well, so dont be alarmed if theres only a few inches between parked cars or someone seems to be 'tailgating'.

Rick Covers the important driving info, so make sure you read that section in one the France guidebooks.

Bon Voyage!

Posted by
119 posts

I used Michelin's site to get maps on our trip this summer. It not only gives you hours, kms, but possible fuel and toll road costs, which is great info to have.

It's been a long time since I've driven in France, but from what I recall the roads are much better than here in the U.S.

Posted by
66 posts

Just to add a couple of crucial things to prevent any catastrophes.

  1. French road signs - they are different. You can see some of the commonest and can download a pdf file of the most important ones and some rules here:

http://www.normandie-chambres.co.uk/bikers_motorbikes.html#signs

  1. "Priorité à droite" - you have to give way to the right unless signs indicate otherwise. Even if the road from the right appears to be a side road. So PLEASE brush up on the signs and rules for this one. It is a potential killer if you're not aware of it. Some people manage to get through a holiday without knowing the rules - but that is by luck, not judgement.

But otherwise, yes, driving in France is a real doddle. I haven't had an accident in nearly 30 years of driving here (including the last 5 years as a resident).

Posted by
8293 posts

James, how do the police know a car is being driven by an American?

Posted by
81 posts

An idea to make it slightly less daunting is to ask for an automatic gear shift. It's not common but if you ask in advance it's possible. It removes one thing to care about.

Posted by
66 posts

Yes, good point - I forgot that so many American cars are automatics!

Posted by
365 posts

James, to the extent that I can even decipher your confusing posts, do you have anything factual to back up this sharp-eyed and vindictive French highway cop theory or can we safely dismiss it as anecdotal. Maybe. I mean, at best.

I'm just askin'.

Posted by
8293 posts

James is just having us all on. Pay no attention.

Posted by
66 posts

Maybe those wily gendarmes look out for Hawaiian shirts and baseball caps. ROFL.

Posted by
365 posts

Phil, even LOL would be a stretch. ROFL is completely out of the question. If you ever get up there on open-mike night you better have your A-game polished up or it's gonna be brutal.

Posted by
1 posts

I don't know about the blue cheese thing, but what James says is true. Warnings are now being issued by US agencies and educational institutions to any US folks who might be traveling to/through France. The essence of the warning: US drivers not holding International Licenses may have their cars seized and held pending payment of a fine as high as 500 Euros. I am traveling to nearby Germany soon and my university issued just such a warning last month(just in case I decide to make a side trip to France). I understand an article on this appeared in the European edition of Stars & Stipes about 2 months ago, to serve as fair warning to US military and civilian government employees.

Posted by
365 posts

The University of Coeur d'Alene is issuing warnings to tourists heading to France? Sacre bleu!

This thread should not have been rejuvenated because of the tripe therein, but since it has can we please talk about chez bleu some more?

Posted by
3313 posts

RR's post is not true. France does not require an IDP. I would normally not add to an out-of-date post but this was egregious information. It should not have been posted.

Posted by
365 posts

Here's the quote from Stars & Stripes: "It should also be noted that a USAREUR-issued driver’s license is valid in the country where it was issued and that an international license is required for driving in other countries, according to USAREUR."

Evidently, military personnel stationed overseas are issued some kind of funny-money driver's license and they need an IDP to travel outside the country in which it was issued.

Rumors are exciting, but facts interest me more.

Posted by
3313 posts

But Neil, that still doesn't sound right. An IDP is not a valid drivers license for any purpose. It's merely an agreed upon translation defined under a United Nations convention.

If the US military issues a driver's license for service personnel that is not valid outside of the country in which it is issued, an IDP wouldn't be a substitute.

I've heard that there are travel limits on US military stationed in Europe and know nothing about the matter. But this is not an IDP question.