Staying Safe on the Roads on Holiday in France
This article take a sideways look at how to stay safe on the roads in France whether you're walking on foot or driving by car. It is written very much from a foreigner's perspective (notably a Brit and therefore includes a large slice of irony and sarcasm!). The list is not exhaustive, please check the French highway code (code de la route) for a complete list of rules and laws. It is meant as an "aide memoire" for people going on a walking or cycling holiday in France
Keep one step ahead of the Law
Keep up to date with the regulations for driving in France. 2 new French laws introduced in 2012 have subsequently been abolished or postponed, so it is definitley worth checking out the very latest regulations before you leave for France on holiday. In 2012, a law was brought in requiring all motorists to carry a breathalyser test and non compliance would incur a fine. In 2013 the fine for this offence was postponed indefinitely, so in theory you are still required to carry a self-test breathalyser when driving in France but there is no current legislation demanding a fine for non-compliance. Plus the French government announced that the law that made reflective equipment compulsory for motorcycle riders and passengers (which came in in 2012) from 2013 had been abolished!
Since 2012, it is also illegal to carry any device that detects the presence or location of speed cameras. The law is aimed at speed camera detectors and sat-navs. It is unlikely that the French police will turn their attention to atlases but you never know! So unlike the UK, there are no longer warning signs for speed cameras, so keep aware of the speed limit.
Drive on the right
Yes, I no its obvious but it is the cause of many accidents each year. Its often after a few days of driving on the right, especially when you're tired returning from your day out walking, that you pull out of a small car park onto a rural lane and go into auto-pilate - And before you know it, you're playing chicken with a 12 ton lorry! Make yourself a reminder if you think you may forget.
Walk on the left
Just as you drive on the right, so when you have to walk along a road on your walking holiday, you need to face the traffic, and therefore walk on the left hand side.
Priority on the right
In France when you enter a built-up area, and typically not on main through roads, then you will need to give priority to the right. This is not easy to remember (for the French as well as foreigners!) as it is more and more uncommon. This gives the right of way to motorists turning onto the road you are on, and in the direction you are travelling, from the right. You will need to give priority when there are no markings on the road coming from the right, such as those that would indicate that this other person should give way or stop. If in doubt, give way - at least you'll only get funny looks or beeped at.
Pay attention to pedestrians at traffic lights and roundabouts
Yes I know you're very careful, but in France you'll need to be extra careful, as pedestrians trying to cross the road are given less help by the crossing system and by French motorists (although I have found that unfortunately this does seem to spread to non-French people resident in France as well- sorry - when in Rome and all that!) Anyway, at traffic lights at a t-junction or cross-roads, when you have a green light and turn left or right, the pedestrians crossing these roads will have a green man light and therefore priority. Make sure that you're aware of pedestrians trying to cross the road and of other cars who pull away from the green lights and then almost immediately stop to let people cross. I'm sure you don't want to practice your pigeon French on trying to fill out an accident report form! There are very few pedestrian crossings which stop the traffic completely to allow pedestrians to walk across the road.
Pedestrian crossings are numerous in France, sometimes so much so that there's as much white as black on the road. However, they are rarely marked with anything at each end and often have no central island. Drivers often don't stop - so don't just start walking - unless you're feeling very brave that is. (I should point out that the French pedestrians don't help themselves by crossing at the rare points along the road with no zebra crossing). Lastly, the French often put crossings just at the exit from roundabouts, the point at which most drivers are looking to accelerate, so take extra care as both a motorist and walker.
What you need to have with you in France
When driving in France you'll need a full driving licence, insurance and car registration documents. You also need to have with you a warning triangle, headlight adapters to driving on the right, and a sticker showing your country of origin.
Slow down when its raining
It's the law. In rainy conditions speed limits are reduced by 10kmph except on the motorway, where it reduces by 20kmph from 130 to 110kmph.
Towns and villages
Ever wondered why France has signs saying when you've left a village? It's not because you may have missed some amazing architectural gem and you should do a quick u-turn but because it indicates that the general 50kmph speed limit which applies in built up areas no longer applies. So be warned, keep below 50kmph until you see the sign and not before.
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