Why you really do have to stop at the ‘Stop’ sign in France

The instruction on the French road sign couldn't have been clearer but The Local's Ben McPartland found out the hard way that ignoring a "stop" sign in France can come at a cost (not to mention the risk to your safety). Here's a reminder of what "Stop" actually means on French roads.

Why you really do have to stop at the 'Stop' sign in France
Care to guess what you should do at this junction? Photo Photo: ggkuna/Depositphotos

I can’t say I wasn’t warned.  My French partner has for a while now been warning me that I do actually have to stop at a “Stop” sign in France (despite my impression that most French drivers seem to be oblivious to them).

That’s not to mention the articles I have written for The Local about the importance of actually stopping at “Stop” signs.

And the sign even says “Stop” (in English, helpfully). The instruction couldn’t have been more obvious (unlike these baffling French road signs)

But I ignored all that advice whilst passing through a small village on the outskirts of Paris on Saturday. I did what the French call glisser un stop or more formally non respect de l’arrêté au stop.

READ ALSO QUIZ: How many of these French road signs can you identify?

In other words, I rolled very slowly through a Stop sign, making sure of course nothing was coming the other way.

I’ve heard stories about the Gendarmes lying in wait at “Stop” signs in tiny French villages, waiting to snare motorists ignoring the sign. But I didn’t think they’d be lurking in Sivry-Coutry on a cold, wet day in November.

But there they were. About 8 of them all waiting about 100 metres past the Stop sign, out of view of course.

One signalled for me to pull over and hand over my driving license and car registration details.

“Do you know why you’ve been pulled over?”

“No,” I replied innocently.

“For not stopping at the stop sign,” he replied.

I thought about playing the foreigner card.

“Look I’m English, I just didn’t understand the sign…. I thought Stop might mean something else in French, you know like preservatif doesn’t mean preservatives… car doesn’t mean car and a pub in English isn’t a pub in French…”

But I decided against it and accepted the verbalisation – not a verbal warning as the word would suggest but a fine.

“What’s the punishment,” I asked the gendarme?

“Four points and a €135 fine,” he said.

“Quoiiiiiii… that’s a heavy punishment.”

“It would have been a heavier punishment for the person you could have crashed into after not stopping at the stop sign,” the gendarme hit back.

Fair enough. He had me bang to rights, along with what seemed like every other driver who passed through the village at the same time – judging from queue of drivers waiting in their cars to be fined.

Lesson learned.

Rolling through Stop signs is a common driving offence in France, it seems.

In fact some 100,000 drivers in France were fined in 2016 for not respecting a Stop sign.

So in 2016 over 400,000 points were taken off people’s driving licences for the infringement.

The stop signs are there for a good reason; to prevent accidents.

They are often put in place at accident spots, where France’s often unsignposted rule of “priorité a droit” (priority to the right) – whereby drivers cede priority to vehicles coming from the right, hasn’t worked.

READ ALSO How does ‘priorité a droite’ really work when you’re driving in France 

But many drivers in France clearly feel it’s enough to slow down and check for cars approaching from other roads rather than stop altogether.

So what does the law actually say?

A French urban legend says you must halt for three seconds at a Stop sign, but that isn’t quite true. There is nothing in the law that identifies a specific duration. That said, the law states you have to come to an actual stop before the big thick white line on the road, meaning your wheels must not be moving forward.

And then stop long enough to be sure it’s safe to proceed.

Article Art R 415-6 in the Code de la Route specifically says: “At certain intersections indicated by a so-called Stop sign, all drivers must make a stop at the junction.

“They must then give way to the vehicles driving on the other road or roads. Drivers must only move on after the other vehicles have passed and if it is safe to do so.”

Not only does a failure to stop at a stop sign cost you four points on your licence but you have to wait three years before you get the points back.

Although I have since discovered you can take a voluntary two day course to earn back four points.  Note, the courses can only be taken once a year and they seem to cost between €130 and €200.

All this to say that it really is worth following the instructions on the “Stop” sign next time you see one. Not least for your own safety.

Member comments

  1. Please note that you also have to physically ‘stop’ on entry to a roundabout if the entry point on your carriageway is a solid white line; if there is a broken white line at your entry point, then you may roll through into the roundabout. Note that different entry points may have different solid/broken lines at the same roundabout.

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Contrôle technique: France to finally bring in roadworthiness check for two-wheeled vehicles

France is expected to pass a decree requiring roadworthiness test for motorbikes and scooters in the next two months, after several years of wrangling.

Contrôle technique: France to finally bring in roadworthiness check for two-wheeled vehicles

France’s Conseil d’Etat – the body that acts as the legal adviser to the executive branch – has given the government a two month deadline, from June 1st, to issue a decree introducing roadworthiness tests for motorised two-wheeled vehicles.

As such, France’s Minister for Transport, Clément Beaune, said he would announce a timetable and procedures for the test (contrôle technique) in the coming days.

As of Friday, it was still unclear when exactly motorcycles and scooters will be required to have undergone roadworthiness tests. 

The EU law on regular safety checks for two-wheel motorised vehicles with two, three or four wheels holding a cylinder capacity of more than 125 cm3 was supposed to take effect from January 1, 2022, but was kicked into the long grass by government decree following protests from motorcyclists’ groups.

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

Since then, there has been a lot of back and forth regarding the implementation of the contrôle technique, which is already required for cars and other four-wheeled vehicles.

Environmental groups, like Respire, told Franceinfo that they welcomed the decision to enforce a two-month deadline, saying they have been “fighting for two years to ensure compliance with European law”.

But for the French federation of angry motorcyclists (FFMC, or Fédération française des motards en colère), who has opposed the roadworthiness tests, there are concerns about the deadline of two months, and how it could be difficult to implement new regulations in such a short timeframe.

“It’s going to be implemented in a hurry”, Céline Aubrun, a representative for the FFMC, told Franceinfo.

As of 2022, an estimated 2.5 million people hold motorbike licences in France – and another 1.5 million use scooters and other motorised two-wheelers which do not require a full motorcycle permit.