Driving in France
France is a unique country insofar as it is one of the most popular destinations in the world, and that the overwhelming majority of individuals who visit France do not speak the French language. Going beyond even that is the fact that driving in France can be made difficult by that fact that most people do not understand French road signs and their meanings. This can make driving both difficult and confusing for visitors and will often result in travelers choosing to utilize public transportation instead.
With that being said, road signs and language issues are not a good reason to neglect all of the wondrous things that the French countryside has to offer people who are willing to travel off the beaten path. How about that quaint village that the railways don’t go to? What about those vineyards in Bordeaux that are far off in the distance that serve rare wine made from the finest grapes? How does one get to these areas unless they are willing to drive there? A world of possibilities will unfold before your eyes when you take a self-driven tour of France, you’ll just need to familiarize yourself with the most common French road signs.
Most main roads in France will have sign posts naming the cities or areas located in the direction you are driving in. These French road signs are typically designated by color: green is for major destinations via highway. Blue road signs in France are for Autoroutes (tolls). Smaller roads are better to use if possible. Speed limits on smaller roadways are comparable to the highways, although they are typically not as direct. They also lack the tolls that many highways have. Traveling on smaller French roadways will give you the opportunity to stop at small villages and towns along the way in order to buy local goods or to have something to eat. Definitely take along a GPS unit and also have a paper handy just in case if you know you’ll be driving on smaller roads.
Common French Road Signs and Meanings
Understanding road signs in France an extremely important aspect of traveling there. Here are some of the most common French road signs you are likely to encounter during your travels:
Traffic lights – These work the same as they do in the United States. Red means stop, green means go, and yellow (or orange, in this case) indicates that drivers need to slow down and exercise caution. Traffic lights are not as common in France as they are in other parts of the world, so you’ll need to brush up on other basic rules of the road.
“Priority to the right” – If there is no sign, you will always give way to traffic arriving from the right hand side. This is an important rule to learn. Many intersections in France are unmarked and you will need to follow this rule closely if you want to successfully navigate.
Warning signs – Red triangles indicate warning signs. For example, this French road sign is warning travelers who are driving in France of the possibility of an avalanche. Throughout France, you will see these red triangle road signs alerting drivers of animal crossings and other potentially dangerous elements.
Roundabouts – Priority is given to vehicles already in the roundabout and not those who are entering it. Typically you will see a sign saying “Cedez le passage” or “Vous n’avez pas la priorite”, both of which roughly translate to “give way”.
Road markings – Markings on the road are generally the same as would be found elsewhere. White lines separate the lanes. A dotted line indicates that passing is allowed and a solid line indicates that passing is not allowed.
Autoroute signs – These are blue signs which have white lettering and text “Axx” where xx is a number. These are found on entryways to Autoroutes.
Tourist signs – Brown signs with white lettering indicate information that may be of importance to tourists.
Highway signs – Green signs with “Nx” text where x is a number indicate national highways.
Local road signs – “Dx” or “Cx”. These follow the same numbering method as highway and Autoroute signs.
Trunk road – These are indicated by a yellow diamond with a white border. They indicate roads with priority. The sign indicating the end of these roads is the same sign with a black stripe across it.
Stop, yield, forbidden, turn only – All of these signs are the same as they would be in the United States or in most other countries.
Familiarizing yourself with these basic French road signs will get you through most situations but there is always a chance that something unexpected could come up and you don’t want to be caught off guard.
For more specific signs, you should pick up a local tourist information package at the local rental car counter, or stop into a government travel office as soon as you arrive in France to pick one up. Having an information package with you while you’re driving in France will allow you to cross-reference it and find any needed information.
Final Thoughts on Understanding Road Signs in France
For your safety, make sure you are always carrying the proper information and identification when traveling. This means making sure that you have both a valid driver’s license and the appropriate car rental insurance documentation.
Utilizing public transportation may initially seem as though it is the best option for traveling in France. There are, however, far great benefits to touring France by car. Don’t let unfamiliar French road signs be the deterrent that keeps you from deciding to go this route. One need not understand the ins and the outs of grammar to understand basic road signs in France, all of which can be learned in under an hour by most people.
Learning more about French road signs will not only enrich your overall experience in France, it will also prevent you from making the types of errors that are apt to leave you lost in a field somewhere wondering what to do next. Auto Europe has been a trusted source for all aspects of planning trips in France for over 60 years. We take pride in offering exceptionally low rates on car rentals, as well as offering various other travel services such as luxury car rentals and chauffeur and transfer services. Start putting your travel plans in motion using our secure, three-step booking engine or call us toll-free 24/7 at 1-888-223-5555.