France at a Glance
Regulations for Drivers in FranceRoman Bonnefoy
Even though French drivers have a reputation for bending the rules, this does not mean the police are idle.
Getting a French Driver’s License
While driving in France, remember to abide by the road rules to drive safely and stay out of trouble. You must be at least 18 years old to drive in France, though there are certain exceptions for older teenagers driving under supervision. Most rental car companies only rent their vehicles to people 21 years old or older.
If you move to France from another EU country, you do not need to apply for a French driver’s license. Your valid EU or EEA license enables you to legally drive in any EU member state.
If you do not come from an EU country, you are legally allowed to drive in France with your old license for up to one year after moving to France. The license must be still valid, must not have been suspended, and must be accompanied by an official French translation.
France has an agreement with certain non-EU countries whose residents do not need to take a theoretical or practical driving test. A list of these countries can be found on the French Foreign Ministry’s website (scroll down to „liste des pays“).
At least three months before your foreign permit expires, you should go about applying for a French license. The process is not as daunting as it may seem.
You must apply for the French driver’s license within one year after receiving your legal residence permit; otherwise your license becomes invalid. The application takes place at the local préfecture or sous-préfecture. Remember to bring the following documents:
- completed application form for a French driver’s license
- proof of identity (e.g. passport)
- original and copy of your visa and residence permit
- four passport photos
- medical certificate
- original and copy of current driver’s license
- an official translation of your driving permit into French
Taking a Driving Exam in France
If you cannot simply exchange your foreign permit for a French driver’s license, you will have to take the theoretical exam, as well as a practical test. The theoretical exam is a multiple-choice test with 40 questions to be answered under time constraints (90 minutes altogether). If you get 35 out of 40 answers right, you have passed the exam.
To prepare for this test, you can purchase a study book called Code de la route in most bookstores – only in French, though. You can try free tests online; however, the accuracy of questions is not guaranteed.
If you want to prepare more thoroughly and your French is not up to scratch, contact the Fehrenbach Driving School in Paris. They ship an English-language booklet, as well as an English DVD.
After you have successfully passed the theoretical exam, you are entitled to take the practical driving test (35 minutes). You have five attempts in three years. Even if you are an experienced driver, it might help you to take a few practice lessons and ask your driving instructor what the examiners usually pay attention to.
Once you have passed the two exams, you’ll get a probationary driving license for France.
Traffic Rules in France
Once you are legally allowed to drive in France, you must obey the following road rules:
- The speed limit in France usually follows this scheme: 130km/h on motorways (autoroutes), 110km/h on major roads (urban motorways and two-lane highways), 90 km/h on country roads, 80 km/h on the Paris Ring Road, and 50km/h in towns and cities. If the roads are wet, a reduction in speed of at least 10-20km/h is required.
- Seatbelts are required for all passengers, and it is the responsibility of the driver to ensure this. Children under the age of 10 must sit in the back of the vehicle with appropriate child restraints. You should not put small children in rear-facing child seats in the front seat, due to the dangers of airbags.
- Hand-held mobile phone usage and text messaging while driving are illegal, and you will be fined instantly if caught.
- The legal blood alcohol level is 0.5‰. Be aware that fines may reach up to 9,000 EUR. You may also have your driving license suspended, or may even face a prison sentence of up to four years.
- You must carry a reflective jacket and a warning triangle in your car at all times.
The French driver’s license is based on a points system. With a regular license, you start off with 12 points. New drivers, however, only have six points. If they don’t commit a traffic violation, they get two more points per year. Thus, they can upgrade to a dozen points within three years.
Anyone who commits a traffic violation loses points (up to eight points for several traffic violations at once). Once you lose all points, your license will be revoked. You can figure out how many points you have left by visiting the local préfecture in person or by accessing the online system Télépoints.