At My Next Memory, we love to arrange the perfect French vacation for our travelers and that includes plenty of self-driving trips.
Having your own car is probably the most free and enjoyable way to travel, but it does take some practice to be at ease driving in a foreign country.
Here is some advice for you, to make your French road trip easier, and safer!
Which papers and documents do I need to rent a car in France?
You need to present a valid Driving License when taking the car. If your driving license does not include a photo, the company may ask you to also show a valid photo ID.
You must be over 18 years old to rent a car and over 21 to rent a car for more than 8 passengers. You should also have driving experience of more than 2 years.
Finally it is preferable to have the credit card used for making the reservation.
Which car would you recommend I pick for my vacation?
You of course want a car that can fit all passengers and luggage. That being said, roads can be narrow in rural France. So if you can stick to something handy, that might be a good choice (for parking too by the way).
4X4 and SUVs are fancy but totally unnecessary in almost 98% of the places you will visit. Let’s say it’s an esthetic choice only
Last month I was driving a small Peugeot 208. This is ideal for solo, couple travelers and for mountain roads!
What type of fuel?
This is usually specified by the car rental company when they hand over the vehicle to you. Diesel is more polluting but cheaper than Petrol.
Manual or automatic?
This can be a very important decision depending on where you plan to drive. If you are mostly driving on highways or in urban areas, an automatic car would make sense.
However, if you are driving in the countryside, and especially if you drive on MOUNTAIN ROADS, we strongly recommend you take a manual car (provided you are experienced with manual transmission). Manual cars provide a much better control over car speed and reactions, which is better for small, complicated roads.
What to know when driving in France?
Road types and corresponding speed
Roads are indicated in signboards. And it’s not Christmas out there, but each color actually has a meaning!
– Blue background is for highways (expect a toll) , limited at 130 km / hour (110 km/hour when raining)
– green is for main ways, limited at 110 or 100 km/hour
– on white background are the small roads only, limited at 90km/hr or 50km/hr when driving within a town. Note that within towns honking is reserved for emergencies only. BTW Honking is not very well received in France….
Why talking about speed limits? Well, obviously for safety reason, it’s important that you drive safely. But also because France has a lot of well-hidden, automatic speed detectors: on the road sides but also above traffic lights. And those machines now can flash the car plate and the rental company may charge you even after your trip.
So avoid risk, avoid fines, respect the speed limit 🙂
Driving on the highway
Generally speaking, you are expected to stay on the right lane, at the proper speed limit and take the other lanes for overtaking only.
In practice, you will see that many French people don’t have that discipline. Unlike the Germans, French are pretty messy on the highway, taking over from any side, driving wayyy too close or way too fast or way too slow (yes, we’ve had that guy).
Do watch carefully whenever changing lane, and put your signal to indicate that you intend to change lane.
You will also see that many French people do not have a safe distance on the highway. For yourself, keep a 2 white lines distance between you and the car in front. This is the minimum safety requirement to allow for proper braking in case of any incident.
Do give yourself a break and take some rest every 2 hours. Even better, change driver if you can. Falling asleep is the No.1 cause of accidents on French highways.
Driving on mountain roads is a lot of fun and for sure is always scenic in France. However you can quickly end up on very narrow and winding roads where you should be extra careful. Here are a few tips to help you:
– look on your GPS how serious the turn is to adapt your speed
– the car going up has the priority: in places where the two cars can’t cross, the descending car should stop and make way
– you may honk a little in extremely narrow or dangerous places to signal your arrival
– do slow down under rainy weather
– do not stop anywhere to make pictures. On many scenic roads, there will be small dedicated parking space for you to stop.
– during winter, check with the car rental company whether your car is equipped with chains that you may need to install on your tyres whenever required (if there is too much snow for example).
There are 3 types of crossings in France:
STOP or TRAFFIC LIGHT: you have to stop and wait before you go
LET WAY: you don’t have the priority and must let other cars go. But if you have visibility and there is no one coming, you may just slow down and go.
NO INDICATION at all: means that whoever is coming from the right side has the priority.
How to take round-abouts ?
Round-abouts are a very French specialty and they replace traffic lights in many urban areas. If you are not experienced, we recommend that you always take the round about staying on the right lane.
Typical signs announcing the round-about
The round-about works in an anti-clockwise direction.
YOU DO NOT HAVE THE PRIORITY until you are on the round-about, so look carefully on the left and enter the round-about whenever there is space. Note that if there is no one, you do not have to mark the stop, you may just slow down and drive continuously.
Put your signal and exit the round-about in the desired direction when needed.
You can also stay on the roundabout as long as you need to figure out where to go
With these little tips and advice, you should be all fine to enjoy your road trip and avoid any bad surprise on the road !