France Driving

An 'Inception' street effect, paris, france

Somewhere in an alternate universe. Or Paris.

Driving in France from UK

Low cost hints and speed warnings

As flying becomes more troublesome and more expensive, driving to a holiday destination in Europe from England via ferry has becoming increasingly attractive, especially if the plan is to have a fairly mobile holiday anyway, such as exploring the Loire Valley or cruising the Côte d’Azur.

Ferry costs

For most 4 wheeled visitors crossing from England the best budget routes are the short ferry hops to France, though ferries do go further afield, to Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, North Europe, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Croatia.
The problem with those longer ferry routes is that they are not competitively priced, especially if you overnight in a cabin. Shorter means cheaper and the shortest possible is Dover-Calais so generally that route will be cheapest but tourists need to factor in their primary destination fuel and motorway (autoroute) costs too.

Check with Ferrysavers to compare prices of differing crossings or AFerry which also includes prices for the Channel Tunnel.

The Channel Tunnel from Folkstone to Calais is easy to use, fast and popular but a bit more pricey than ferries and will require booking a considerable time beforehand at busy times.

Motorway tolls+fuel costs

The cost of tolls from Calais to Avignon is about £125 and to Nice on the south coast (Côte d’Azur) £200. The website Mappy enables drivers to calculate the cost of tolls, fuel and the time the journey will take, so it may be cheaper to stay off some autoroutes if you have time to spare and would enjoy a more rural itinerary.

Traffic in France

The French government sponsors a useful traffic information site, Bison Futé, that not only gives current conditions but more importantly predicts levels at different times of the year on their ‘forecasts calendar’.
The bugcrew once drove from the Loire Valley to Cannes without much thought, setting off on the first Saturday of August. As we entered our 12th hour of stop-start traffic jams on probably the busiest day of the year we understood the benefit of forward planning.

Fuel

check the AA for prices of fuel in France vs UK. Diesel is a bit cheaper in France but unleaded petrol cheaper in England.
In France, like the UK, the cheapest fuel is usually found in big supermarkets and the most expensive on autoroutes. Even if the prices seem a bit cheaper in France it’s probably best to fill up before crossing the water in order to avoid the hassle of searching for reasonably priced gas.

Speed cameras

Red Alert! Unmarked cars are the latest weapon against speeders on French highways, with new-generation speed cameras built into the dashboard and radar behind the numberplate. A fleet of 300 ordinary-looking cars have started operations in 20 departments.
The cars are capable of detecting speeding vehicles and photographing them, without flash, while on the move at motorway speeds. The officers driving the Q cars will still be in uniform and for an initial period only drivers who overtake the police car will be penalised. The cars will then target drivers speeding at more than 10% above the road limit, which is above 143kph on most French (130kph) autoroutes, though busy highways are often limited to 110 kms so that means 121 kph is the danger number. However, remember that roadside cameras will still get you at just over the official limit!

France deploy a range of cameras to keep speeding down. The most common is a small grey box highlighted by slanting yellow stripes. This will often be forewarned by a large Speed Camera warning sign so if you see the sign then immediately take action.
However, government regulations encourage districts/departments to remove the warnings so you never know. . . Penalties can be upward of €60 and may be demanded on the spot.

Generally, if you need to speed then the autoroute is the best place to do it as the French stick with fixed or mobile cameras at the side of the road. Mobiles are evident on minor roads but unusual on motorways; a rare under-bridge/near turn-off is possible.
We have seen – rarely and in NW France approaching ferry ports – les flics (gendarmes) in small unmarked cars or vans at the side of minor roads with a hidden camera shooting out of the back of the vehicle!
Gendarmes usually wear light blue uniforms, are generally courteous and may demand cash payment.

Note that minor road speeds of 90kph can drop suddenly to 50kph or less on entering villages. Motorway speeds at their best are 130kph (dropping to 110 when it’s raining), sometimes 110kph on busy sections/dual carriageways and less on serious curves.

Even fixed camera radar-detection systems on the Sat Nav need to be disabled (of course SatNavs placed into the glove box will still give audio information) when travelling in France now.

Breathalysers

Drivers in France from July 1st have at least one unused breathalyser on board with the French NF certification mark.

Motorway speed limit: 130kph (110kph in the wet).
Drink-drive limit: 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood.
Other mandatory equipment: warning triangle, reflective jackets, breathalyser.

Lastly, do get European breakdown insurancewhich not only may save a wad of cash but will also save a lot of stress as most policies will have an operator service who will arrange a mechanic on the spot or tow truck, though you might need to explain your whereabouts in French to a grumpy trucker!

Car hire in France/Europe if you prefer to fly/drive

– rent a diesel car. The fuel is cheaper in most European countries including France.

– consider bringing a child seat or booster with you, some companies charge silly fees.

– carefully check the car for damage when picking it up.

– excess damage insurance can be hefty. If you’re confident in your driving skill fine, but beware French road parking habits which can be brutally casual though, to be fair, we believe that French drivers are more sensible these days than Brits and certainly less prone to Road Rage.
Consider buying excess car insurance policy before setting off. This will almost certainly be cheaper than adding it to the car hire fee and may include additional cover of big-ticket items such as tyres and windows. In the event of a problem the hire company will charge your credit card but the British insurer will then refund that excess.

– return the car on time, if not before. Later than 30 minutes and you may be charged as much as a full day’s rate and you won’t necessarily know about it until you see your credit card statement back home!

Bon Voyage!