On Friday I made my first outing in the car since hurting my hand. I needed to pick up some French people from the station for a meeting and it took all my concentration to get to the station and back, dodging the cities traffic, trying to remember my way and most importantly trying to avoid being hit by another car! The whole experience reminded me somewhat of dodgems but I made it there and back in one piece.
Here are five handy tips for driving in France:
1. Stick to the right!
You must drive on the right hand side of the road at all times.
This is easier said than done for a Brit, even if this particular Brit learned to drive and passed her license in France! Even though I did not learn to drive in the UK it is not rare that I can find myself on the wrong side of the road when in France, heading directly towards the fast approaching lights of the car coming head on at me.
This type of error is most likely to occur at night, when I’m tired or when I’ve not driven for a while. The most scary experience was when I pulled out onto a country lane late one night after a day of exhausting meetings only to realise that I’d be looking the wrong way before pulling out and there was a gigantic lorry heading straight towards me! I now repeat my mantra every time I get in the car: “drive right, drive right”!
2. Beware of cars on your right!
In France, you need to give way to the right (priorité a droite)… This may be the same for other European countries I don’t know, but its not in Britain. When you’re driving along a road, you have to constantly be looking to the right to make sure that there’s not a car that’s going to whiz out in front of you.
How do you know?
Whilst looking constantly to the right you have to check whether the incoming road has a stop sign or a cedez le passage (give way) sign – you can also check the road markings (if they haven’t faded away): a continuous white line is a stop and a dotted white line is a give way so normally you should be safe – no whizzing cars. If you don’t see any of these then its best to slow right down and check that a car is not going to appear from no-where as they have priority over you and should you hit them its you or your insurance that’ll have to cough up!
There are so many accidents in France due to this rule its ridiculous. A lot of my French friends agree and no-one can tell me why this rule even exists. It just doesn’t make sense.
We have a priorité a droite on our street from the road that comes in just before the Boulangerie and nearly every week there is a crash. How dangerous can that be with everyone that has to cross the road to go and buy their bread? The parking space opposite is often empty as all the locals know that that’s the place that gets hit each time there’s an accident.
I tried to explain the Priorité a Droite rule to my parents when they come over and I managed to terrify my Mum who as passenger, is often in charge of checking for cars coming on the right.
Why don’t the French ditch this rule as it makes driving a complete nightmare – as if its not hard enough already!
3. Follow the car in front…This may not actually be a good idea but I’ve found it to be quite helpful as I find French road signs and junctions can be quite confusing. Complicated junctions often come hand in hand with point one, driving on the right, and I get confused which way round I’m supposed to take a junction. So, quite often I find it safer to follow what’s in front. If I’m unlucky enough not to have a car in front of me then I’m sorry for the car that’s behind me and hope they don’t follow!!!
4. Be assertive!
I live in Lyon. It’s a big city with loads of cars, loads of give ways and when driving here it is not a time to be polite! If you are too polite, then you will never get to go where you’re going as people will cut in front of you all the time. A combination of politeness and assertiveness is definitely necessary, do let one car in and then move forward. I wish a lot of drivers here would use this combinations as here in the city at least, arrogance reigns!
5. Remember, a car is a means of locomotion!
At your risk and perils, do not ever forget that a car is just a means of transport in France. People will generally have total disregard as to whether your paintwork will be damaged due to them slamming their door into your car. If you’re parked, people will nudge forwards and backwards, BANG BANG BANG, until they get either in or out of that ridiculously small space behind you. A bumper is a bumper – it is to be used to bump other cars and for no other purpose!
French roads are generally excellent and the motorway system is second to none even though the shortest trips can sometimes cost a fortune! If you can get over some of the hurdles and understand the system then France is your oyster to be discovered and enjoyed.
DISCLAIMER: The above driving tips are meant as tips only and not as a definitive guide to French driving rules!