VIVE LE FRENCH DRIVING CODE
March 28, 2011 8 Comments
I know that I have written before about French drivers, but I have realised that I missed out some critical rules that visitors to France will need to be aware of if they are to visit France and survive on our roads.
You can spend an incredible amount of time and effort researching, reading and learning the French road code and the severe penalties that can be involved for their infringement, as outlined here (Travel guide: the enforcement of driving rules in France).
This is strongly advised before leaving home, but unless you are aware of some of the unwritten French road code, you will find it hard to understand why you seem to be an object of abuse, and why you are often being pelted by stale croissants.
The most important additional road rules ….
1. You can carry any item on the roof of your car, irrespective of its size compared to the size of your car, as long as it is attached to your car by a bungee cord, and you can still drive and keep your left hand in contact with the item at all times.
If the object is a mattress you will have right of way on all roundabouts (See Vive le French Driver posted 15 November 2010). Any piece of timber or pipe cannot exceed 5 times your car length and must have an item of clothing attached to at least one end. If the attached item is a pair of knickers, the driver is available for dating.
2. Rules of the road do not apply at any time to people using their automobile as part of their job, in particular mailmen and baguette delivery ladies.
Both these trades are considered critical to the well-being of the French populace, which cannot function without the availability of the latest TV Guide or fresh bread for lunch.
3. You must wear seat belts at all times both in front and back.
The fine for not doing so is € 135. Exceptions to this are if the offender is visibly pregnant and labour has actually begun or if the offender is wearing an original French designer outfit such as a Chanel suit. Note that there are considerable additional fines if these are found to be Asian knockoffs, and that all Gendarmes have done extensive training in Haute Couture being able to recognise a fake Dior at 100 metres.
4. The phrase “Courtesy on the Road” cannot actually be translated into French.
If you do show courtesy you will immediately be recognised as a foreigner and will be treated with disdain and taken advantage of. Tailgating, overtaking on the right, sudden lane changing, unrecognisable hand signals and flashing of lights are signs of artistic creativity and should not be taken personally unless they include a raised middle finger.
5. Rental Car Companies will never deliver the car that you have ordered.
It is not unusual to have ordered an 8-seater family mover to be given a 4-seater Renault Clio with a roof rack fitted with 4 hand straps. This is because no matter what you order you will be given whatever car is the furthest in the yard from the rental office. Rental companies do not pay high wages, and watching foreigners who have just flown in, and are tired and badly jet-lagged, manhandle their luggage over 1 kilometre in the rain is one of the few perks of the job.
6. You must always give way to the right, even if you are on a main “Route Nationale”, and the car on your right is coming out of a lane that has only been used by small goats for the last 100 years.
Most times smaller roads will have a solid white bar painted across them which means that the car on the right does not actually have priority, but most French drivers stop on this line with their rear wheels, rather than with the nose of their car, making sure that you have to come to a screaming halt as they will totally block your ability to proceed anyway.
7. French drivers who do not have a GPS and/or are slow map readers have the right to stop anywhere they wish, particularly in the middle of a roundabout, to peruse the road signs to try and find some indication of how and where they should proceed.
This inalienable right loosely translated to “The Law of the Moron” is a throwback to World War 2 when the French Resistance would twist road signs round to confuse the invading Germans, and this is still done as they are the single largest nationality of visitors to France. You will often come across German tour groups looking confused and screaming “Wo ist das verdammte Chateau Margaux ?” or similar phrases.
8. Any white lines on a French freeway (autoroute) are not painted there to denote a separation in individual lanes.
The lines themselves are actually motorbike lanes which have no speed limitations. Motorbikes will weave in and out of traffic in the belief that whilst they are actually on one of these white lines they are protected by Blessed Sebastian of Aparicio, the patron saint of motorbikes. This is misguided as Sebastian lived in Mexico in the 16th century, and the fastest thing that he ever saw was a randy mule heading back to its girlfriend in the stables.
9. It is never safe to cross a road in France, even if you are at a pedestrian crossing, have a flashing orange warning light and the little walking green man symbol in your favour.
To avoid possible injury you should keep walking along your side of the road until you reach either a pedestrian underway or pedestrian overpass. By law the French government have decreed that there must be one of these at least every 100 kilometres so, for the sake of survival, it is well worth the extra short amble.
10. Last but not least … when driving in France you must have all relevant documentation, plus safety items, at all times or face severe fines.
The documentation includes registration (carte grise), valid driver’s license, auto insurance papers including the window sticker (vignette), accident report sheet (Constat Amiable), a valid passport or national identity card, your airline tickets to prove you really are foreign, medical insurance certificates, a printed and laminated copy of the Marseillaise, some discount vouchers for Intermarche or Carrefour supermarket chains and a letter from your closest relative, church, synagogue or mosque agreeing to repatriate your body in case of a fatality. The extra safety items include warning triangles in case you break down, fluorescent safety vest within reach in the car, spare bulbs for all lamps and reflectors, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, spare pair of glasses if you wear contacts, a euro or “jeton” to be able to get a trolley anywhere, a copy of Paris Match anda sign in French saying “I am lost. Please do not shoot me” (Je suis perdu. Veuillez ne pas me tirer.)
So please do come and visit us in France. It really is a beautiful country with wonderful people and with many organised tours available where someone else will do the driving for you.
If you do decide to drive here “Que Dieu soit avec vous”.