Siri Mitchell


 driving in France




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Most of what you will want to see will be in the center of the towns you will be visiting, so follow signs to:  Veille Ville (Old Town) or Centre Ville (Town Center).



Signage in France is similar to signage in the U.S. You will be directed by signs indicating towns in the direction you want to go. Be aware that sometimes these towns will not be the closest to you in proximity, nor will they be the largest towns on the road or highway. If you are in doubt about what direction to go in, or in how to leave a town, follow signs to the centre ville or to the gare (train station). At these places, there will always be signs posted.


If you see a town in every direction listed, except the direction you want to go, follow signs for autres directions (other directions). It may happen that after you turn to follow a sign, you may not see a sign for another five or ten minutes. The accepted practice is that you follow the direction of the previous sign until another re-directs you.



A no-parking area is indicated by a circular blue sign with a red diagonal slash. Be aware of large doors that provide entrance to old city buildings or apartments. If they are big enough for a car to drive through, cars will drive through them. Treat them as a driveway and provide enough clearance on either side.


Some cities have large designated parking areas. If they are marked Parking Payant or simply Payant, you will need to pay for parking. There will be horodateurs (parking meters) around the perimeter or inside the parking area. Feed coins into these meters to obtain a ticket. This ticket should be posted on your dashboard. These phrases may be seen on a meter and are important:

sauf Samedi, Dimanche et jours feries (this means you do not have to pay on Saturdays, Sundays or holidays). sauf (except __. Sometimes you will have to pay from 7h00 – 19h00 sauf 12h00 – 14h00). Many parking areas are free during lunchtime from 1200 – 1400.


At manned parking areas, you may either pay a person outright for parking or you may take a ticket from an automatic distributor and pay as you leave (in the style of American parking garages).



National auto routes charge tolls for their use. Signs warning of péages (toll booths) will be posted. At some booths, you will take a ticket from an automatic dispenser and at others, you pay. It is best to use cash and to pay a person. Lanes at which you can pay with a credit card are marked with CB or carte bancaire. You will be able to see people staffing booths, or see a sign with a person above lanes which are staffed.



Essence – gas

Sans plomb – unleaded

Gazole – diesel

Gas stations operate in much the same manner as they do in the U.S. Payment is generally made after you fill your tank.



Sometimes you may have to pay to use a bathroom, sometimes you may not. The standard price is 0.5 Euros. If you need to use a bathroom while you are driving on an auto route, try to stop at a gas station rather than a rest area. You may also want to carry a small package of Kleenex or a small roll of toilet paper with you as you travel. Some toilettes (bathrooms) may be used by both men and women and/or share washbasin/mirror facilities. It is always perfectly acceptable to stop along the side of the road even in non-emergency situations.



Most towns in France have been built helter-skelter over the last millennium. The predictable result is that they are constructed around charming, winding, often one-way streets. Making a wrong turn is not the end of the world, but it is not as easy to correct as in the United States (i.e. a series of three right or three left turns). Patience pays off.


Roundabouts are a godsend. It doesn’t matter if you weren’t able to get a good look at the signs the first time around. You are not obligated to make a choice. Go around again for another free ride. Priority in roundabouts is given to those already in the roundabout. Except for the roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris (here cars entering from any of the 12 major avenues have priority).


Priority in France is given to drivers coming from the right. It doesn’t matter if you are on a four-lane road and they are on a dirt road. Certain roads are given the priority via signage. Beware!


Should you be on an auto route, drive only in the right hand lane unless you are passing. If you foresee congestion or experience a sudden slowing, it is considered polite to turn on your hazard lights as a warning to drivers behind you.


Bonnes routes!



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Last update: 03/07/2016