Driving in France. Is it safe?

French car and caravan outside village church
French car and caravan outside village church

DRIVING around France can be a real pleasure. You will find quiet roads with views across the countryside, very few vehicles to get stuck behind and lovely villages where you can stop for a break.

But there are some rules of the road that are worth considering, because despite the French countryside appearing to be a driver’s paradise there were 31 deaths on the roads of the Dordogne in 2023.

Rent a car when driving in France

And before you set off during the holiday period you might want to drop in on the Bison Futé website, which offers up maps and pointers to potential traffic problems.

General rules of the road in France

You must be over 18 to drive in France and do not use a mobile phone behind the wheel, police officers are keen to put a halt to this habit and can issue heavy fines.

A key piece of equipment is the high visibility jacket, and you should have one each for all the passengers in your vehicle.

Also ensure you are carrying them in the main compartment of the car, not in the boot, as should you have to leave your car then you can quickly and easily put the jackets on and then move away from the vehicle.

Another important piece of equipment is a warning triangle that you can place about 50 paces behind your vehicle to warn oncoming vehicles that your car is at the side of the road.

Signposts on a French road

What are the speed limits in France?

Speed limits are clearly signposted at the roadside and they are:
· Built-up areas 50kph (possibly even 30kph)
· Ordinary roads 80kph
· Dual carriageways 90kph
· Toll autoroutes 130kph

Driving the countryside roads of France

Many of the countryside roads in France will be a little worse for wear and have patches of repair work and soft roadside verges.

Be aware that after periods of rain many of the roads will have a sheen of damp across them that sometimes brings vehicle fuel and oil to the surface.

So look out for ‘GASOIL’ signs at the side of the roads, this will signify that fuel or oil has been spilt onto the road, often from farm machinery, that if not noticed by the vehicle operator could have been dripping on to the road for a few kilometres.

Slow down and take extra care around bends and downhill because any spills can be very difficult to see on the surface of the road.

Major road closures or diversions due to bad weather, forest fires or other dangerous situations might be something you cross, with this in mind the French authorities recently launched the FR-Alert system to warn of local dangers.

Accidents on French roads

Country roads can also be dangerous with deaths and accidents sadly all too common, with Friday and Sunday afternoons being particularly high-risk.

In the Dordogne, the third largest département in France, there were 31 deaths and 150 people required hospital treatment after road accidents in 2023.

The major causes are speeding, drink and drug driving, and people driving whilst using their mobile phone.

In 2023 the gendarmerie of the Dordogne undertook 13% more traffic controls and increased by 27% on the previous year the number of licences confiscated – and they have continued their mass control of vehicles into 2024.

Stopping at the STOP sign

A comment on the site stressed the importance of coming to a stop at the STOP signs you will see at road junctions.

They are a favourite spot for gendarmes to catch drivers that roll through the junction even though there are no other vehicles on the road.

So the recommended procedure is to come to a stop, check that the road is clear and then change into first gear, ensuring you have taken the proper time at the junction and don’t run the risk of facing a stern lecture and fine.

Understanding priorité à droite

Another comment on the site mentions the importance of priorité à droite especially at a road junction with no markings, although some will have a red bordered triangle with a black X on it.

If you approach a junction and a car arrives from the right then it is this car that has priority over you, and so it is for you to slow down and let the other car drive away in front of you.

In the video above you will see an example of the driver giving way to a white van coming from the right as they both approach the junction (2 mins 50 secs).

Speeding on French roads

Remember at the start of this piece I mentioned the number of deaths on the Dordogne roads, one of the major causes is speeding and it is a problem across France.

Long sweeping roads can make driving a real pleasure, but some of the countryside roads are twisty and tight, often going in and out of wooded areas with bright sunlight, so if can be difficult to stay on the road and with soft roadside verges you can easily lose control.

A mother Sanglier and three piglets

Wild animals on the roads

You are very close to nature in France with deer and sanglier, or wild boar, often spotted in the fields and woods, but they also cover large distances and regularly cross roads.

Hitting any animal on the road is sad enough, but deer and sanglier can cause great damage to your vehicle and can be catapulted up into your windscreen.

So be on the look out for any animals early in the morning or around dusk as this is normally when they are on the move.

Deer can suddenly appear out of the woods at the side of the road, and if one passes in front of you be on the look out for others following swiftly behind.

Cyclists on the roads in France

Cyclists on the roads in France

If the quiet roads of France are an appeal to drivers, they also have a real attraction to cyclists.

France is a paradise for amateur cyclists and they should be given a wide berth by passing drivers, so give yourself plenty of time and space to get past individuals or groups.

Be aware of farm vehicles

Agriculture is an important part of the French economy so you will often see tractors and trailers piled high with straw, crops and fruit.

Again give yourself plenty of time to pass these vehicles, don’t be tempted to speed past them when heading uphill unless the road is completely clear and sharp bends can soon be on top of you and you will not know what is coming around them.

Village signpost in France

Stay right at all times

This is for UK drivers, but sadly almost every year there will be accidents on the roads of France due to a vehicle being driven on the wrong side of the road.

In the countryside this can be a real problem because many of the smaller roads have no central road markings so you can easily drift across and not be aware of your road position.

Stickers can be placed on your windscreen to ensure you stay right, like these on Amazon, and they are particularly useful at roundabouts.

But if you have been out all day and you are hot and tired, then just be aware of where you are on the road and remember to drive ‘with your bum in the gutter’ if you are driving a UK, right hand drive vehicle.

Petrol prices in the French countryside

Some smaller villages will have a petrol station, or a self-service station on the edge of the village, but you will often pay as much as 0.20 euros a litre extra in comparison to a larger town.

So if you know you are set to be driving a long distance, or filling up before heading back to the UK, head towards supermarket petrol stations where you will usually find the best prices.

Emergency telephone numbers

If the worst comes to the worst and you need to call for emergency assistance here are the numbers to use:

112 – European Emergency Number, available in English, for fire services, an ambulance or the police
18 – For the fire brigade, or Sapeurs Pompiers, who are often based out of larger villages in the Dordogne and can deal with medical problems and have the necessary equipment for road accidents
17 – Police and gendarmes if you are the victim of a crime such as robbery or assault
15 – Samu for non-urgent medical issues

Rent a car when driving in France

Categorised as Travel

By Craig McGinty

Thank you for reading This French Life, join me in living life the French way.


  1. 1. Please learn about the priorité droit. In an uncontrolled intersection (sign like an x) the car on the right has priority, even if you are going straight ahead.
    2 cyclists must be passed with 1.5 meters of space

  2. Pay attention to stop lines. Stop, change to first gear, start again. There’s nothing a flic likes more than passing out fines for just “rolling over” a stop line.

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