For members


What you need to know about driving on France’s motorways

Here's a guide to driving on French autoroutes, from foreign drivers who know a thing or two about it.

What you need to know about driving on France's motorways
All photos: AFP
France's motorways are generally excellent, but that doesn't mean using them is simple. Here's a guide from foreigners who use the motorways a lot. 
1. They're not free!
They may be called “freeways” in English but don't be deceived by the name, they're certainly not free of charge in France. 
Seasoned autoroute user Maximilian Loherstorfer advises first time users to plan ahead for the many toll booths (péages). 
“I drive from Germany to Poitiers (in central western France) pretty often, and it costs me something like €60 plus gas,” he tells The Local.
“To avoid any bad surprises, I'd advise people to visit for information on toll prices.”
Indeed, with some roads costing €8 for as little as 20 kilometres (we're looking at you A14) then it's best to know what you're in for. 
2. Use well known bank cards (or cash) at the tolls
If you have a card from a well-known bank, or indeed cash, you will be fine at the toll booths, although some bank cards can cause problems. 
Readers told us of problems with Amex, for example. 
And be warned that some foreign banks will charge for transactions, so a long trip can really hit your wallet hard. 
“If you pay by UK bank card you will incur a fee for every transaction, so its better to go via the coin booths,” says Julie Down. 
Tony Warwick said: “I would extol the virtues of a Sanef Toll Tag.
They are utterly brilliant (and discount the toll charges slightly).
“The biggest advantage is that you don't stop, or take a ticket – hence avoiding the Right Hand drive / Left Hand ticket machine contortions.
“Sanef Tags can be bought and set up in UK, mine has worked without any problems in regular use over last 18 months.”
3. Avoid the autoroutes at peak holiday time
“It can be a nightmare, especially around Paris,” says Loherstorfer. 
And he's right! When it's holiday season, roads are typically clogged in both directions at most big cities or on motorways towards the coast or the mountains.
It's best to leave VERY early in the morning if you absolutely have to drive, and be sure to check in with traffic website Bison Futé before taking off. 
Or you might be stuck in tailbacks like the one pictured below. You've been warned.
4. Stick to the speed limit
Several readers pointed out that there are lots of speed cameras in use on France's autoroutes, so it's best to keep to the speed limit (it's there for your safety after all). 
The upper speed limit is typically 130km/hr (or 110km/hr in wet weather), although many will typically go a little faster.  When autoroutes are wide open and empty it's easy to cruise past the speed limit without noticing, so beware.
Slip roads leading off motorways also have strict speed limits that should be observed, for safety if nothing else.
And it's not just the speed cameras that are out to get you, says Tony Wileman. 
“Be conscious you can be timed between the tolls and if you've been excessively speeding they'll know this and you could be reported and or fined,” he says.
Speeding motorists are a real problem in France, with “risky behaviour” said to be a key problem in France's 3,500 road death toll in 2015.  
In February last year France rolled out 5,000 dummy speed cameras in the hope of tricking motorists into driving more safely. 
5. The cars don't always merge at autoroute entry points
Foreign drivers should be aware that it's not always a straight-forward merge to get onto the autoroute in France. 
“Joining the motorway is different, they won't just let you on,” says autoroute regular Julie Down. 
“In some cases you will have to stop as you would at a give way sign here.”
6. Invest in a good Sat-Nav
You'd be surprised just how handy the Sat-Navs are these days, not just for finding the way, but for finding the cheapest way. 
“There may be parallel roads that won't cost, so plan your journey accordingly,” says Julie Down. 
Indeed, there are loads of pages on the internet about how to drive around France and avoiding the toll booths, like this one
Photo: SeppVei/WikiCommons
7. Buy your petrol beforehand
Petrol isn't cheap along the autoroutes, so plan in advance. 
“It's better to fill up your tank at a supermarket before you leave,” advises Loherstorfer. 
Indeed, there are around 4,500 petrol stations around the country, so you have plenty of choice if you're looking to economize. 
Here's a link to our story about the best apps for finding fuel in France. 
8. Take regular breaks (and you will enjoy them)
There's typically a high standard of service stations at the rest breaks across France (aires d'autoroute), which can be found every 15 kilometres or so. 

They often include clean bathrooms, plenty of shops, restaurants, and even playgrounds for the kids. 
“I always enjoy driving on the French freeway knowing that I'll be able to find some good food, a decent spot for changing the baby's nappy, or just relaxing,” says regular motorway user Maximilian Loherstorfer.
Just remember that these rest stops can get very busy in peak times, so plan accordingly.  
In France it's recommended that motorists take a 15 minute break every 2 hours. 
9. Beware of tailgating and other bad driving habits
The French are not known for being the most easygoing drivers, especially on motorways.
When The Local asked readers to point out the most annoying habits of French drivers, tailgating (or driving up your rear) was the clear number one. You can expect to be flashed at (with car lights) and beeped until you move lane.
Mike Walker on Twitter said that France's tailgaters “infuriate” him. He says that “you can sometimes see a line of cars that almost appear to be conjoined”.
And be careful because tailgaters can appear within a split second and take you by surprise.
Best thing to do of course is gently move over.
Beware of undertakers too. Not the folk who drive hearses, but the ones who overtake from the inside. Then there are the drivers swerving in and of lanes or off the autoroute at the last minute. Beware of them too. In fact just be aware.
And in traffic jams keep an eye in your mirrors for motorbikers and scooter drivers weaving their way through the standstill.
Drive safely!
10. You can't cycle on them
Although it may be tempting, given that they are often quite and offer the quickest route to get between cities, do not venture onto an autoroute with a bike.
It is against the law, as one Russian cyclist found out when she was fined €22 when French police finally caught up with her as she tried to pay at a motorway toll station.

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For members


What to do if you get a speeding ticket while driving in France

If you suspect you have a speeding ticket coming after driving in France, here is what you should know. 

What to do if you get a speeding ticket while driving in France

In France, you can receive a ticket either by being pulled over by a police officer or from a fixed speed camera. In the latter case you will probably notice the flash from the camera, and there is a good chance you might receive a speeding ticket by post from French authorities in the coming weeks. 

For those looking for information about French parking tickets, click HERE.

How much will the fine be? Are there other consequences?

The amount of the speeding ticket (Avis de Contravention in French) depends on how many kilometres above the speed limit you were driving.

If your infraction is for under 20km/h in a speed zone where the maximum is above 50km/h, then you will receive a fixed fine of €68.

For speeding in an area with a maximum speed limit below or equal to 50km/h then your fine will be €135.

Speeding between 20km/h to 50km/h above the speed limit will also lead to a fine of €135, but you may be subject to point removal from your licence, and possibly a road safety awareness course requirement too. 

For speeding 50km/h above the speed limit, you can incur a fine (amende in French) of up to €1,500.

If you were ticketed while driving a rental car, then your rental agency may impose an administrative fee for passing along the ticket from French law enforcement to the listed address on your contract.

READ MORE: France’s speed camera cars: Where are they and how can you spot them?

What about points on my licence?

If you have a French driving licence, speeding violations will lead to points being automatically deducted from your licence. Keep in mind it may take a few weeks for this to process.

A French driver’s licence (permis de conduire) is made up of a maximum of 12 points – if you lose 12 or more points through accumulated offences then you lose your licence. You can check how many points you have on your licence by going onto the government website “Service Télépoints” (HERE). In order to access the service, you will need to have your file number and confidential code on hand. 

People who are either not resident in France or who are residents but are using a non-French licence face a slightly mixed picture when it comes to points on their licences.

Non-EU citizens who are resident in France need to either exchange their licence for a French one (if their country has an agreement with France that allows them to do this) or take a French driving test within one year of arriving in France. The situation for those with UK driving licences is slight different – full details here.

If you are resident in France and have not yet exchanged your licence, then you may be asked to do so when you receive the fine in the mail.

For non-EU citizens who incurred their speeding ticket while visiting France, whether or not you receive a point on your foreign licence depends on whether your country (or state) has a reciprocal agreement with France. Likewise not all countries have reciprocal agreements with France, so you may never receive the fine notice in the post.

Here is the sliding scale for points deducted for speeding offences:

  • less than 20 km/h – 1 point
  • more than 20km/h if the speed limit is under 50km/h – 1 point
  • between 20km/h and 30km/h – 2 points
  • between 30 km/h and 40 km/h – 3 points; driver’s licence suspension for three years; prohibition to drive certain motor vehicles for up to three years; required completion of a road safety awareness course
  • between 40km/h and 50 km/h – 4 points; driver’s licence suspension for three years; prohibition from driving certain motor vehicles for up to three years; required completion of a road safety awareness course.
  • more than 50 km/h – 6 points; licence suspension for three years, possible confiscation of the vehicle (if you are the owner); required completion of a road safety course. If you have more than on offence of speeding greater than 50km/h above the speed limit then you could be jailed for up to three months and be prohibited from driving certain motor vehicles for up to five years. Your vehicle may also be immobilised and impounded.

If you have a French licence, then you may be eligible for a point recovery courses (Stage de récupération des points du permis de conduire in French). You can find more information HERE

When do you have to pay the ticket by?

In France, fixed fines should be paid within 45 days after the sending of the bill. Typically, if payment is made within 15 days (30 days for online procedures), then you may be eligible for a reduction (minoré) in the fine. If the payment is not made within 45 days (60 days for online procedures), then the amount will be increased (majoré).

If you were ticketed while driving in a rental car, then the rental car will first receive your fine. They will pass along the rental contract to French authorities, who will then send you your fine by post. 

How do I pay the fine?

You can pay in a few different ways. First, you can pay online by using the French website Amendes.Gouv.Fr (HERE) – you will pay your credit or debit card.

Next, if you pay while the fine is still minoré (within 15 days) then you you can pay by a check. You can make it out to the Trésor Public (or the Direction Générale des Finances Publiques, depending on what is indicated on the fine). It must be accompanied by the fine you received in the mail.

You can also pay in person with cash, check or credit/debit card at a public finance centre, but you must do so while the fine is minoré. Cash payment is limited to €300.

What if I don’t pay my fine?

Throwing away the fine will not help you, even if you live outside of France and you got the ticket while on holiday. The fee will increase with time. For example, your original fine was €68 then it can rise up to €180 if not paid within the required timeline. If your original fee was €135, then it can be raised up to €375.

According to Euronews, recent legislation by the European Union has made it so that if you fail to pay a speeding fine in one country, you may be blocked from renting a vehicle in another EU country. Therefore, you should be advised to pay your fine as soon as possible, and within the required timeframe.

On top of that – if you fail to pay a fine that was incurred while using a rental car, the rental agency can also charge more administrative fees if they need to process and send more information to you. 

Can I contest the ticket?

Yes – you can appeal against a speeding ticket either by post or online. The appeal process used to be a lengthy one which involved sending a string of documents to the French Prosecutions Officer, or officier du ministère public, based in Rennes.

Technically, you can still choose this option – sending your appeal and supporting documents to the address in the top left corner of your ticket. However since 2015 it has also been possible to appeal online, and this process is a lot more straightforward.

EXPLAINED: How to appeal against a French speeding ticket