France has a population similar to the UK, but over twice the land area - meaning that roads are generally much quieter that we are used to. Cities are busy, especially at peak periods.
You will notice that a lot of French cars have quite a few small dents! This is partly because they tend to be less picky about having cars in pristine condition, and also because French drivers are not too careful when parking.
Driving speeds and styles vary considerably across the country, and you may find yourself both frustrated by slow moving vehicles (and animals) in country areas, and scared by fast drivers in the cities. Paris especially requires determination to make progress during peak periods. The traffic circle (huge roundabout) around the Arc de Triomphe has between 7 and 11 lanes, depending on how little room you leave, and can be very intimidating the first time you approach it.
When driving in France, you will need to ensure you bring both parts of your driving licence - the Photocard plus the Paper Counterpart (D740). If you do not have a Photocard yet, only the paper copy is required.
You must be the holder of a full driving licence (not a provisional), and have passed your test. Even if you have already passed your full test, you must be at least 18 years old, or 16 for motorcycles up to 80cc.
If your visit is for less than 90 days, you will not require an International Driving Permit. If you are intending to drive in France for more than 90 days, apply for the International Driving Permit through the Post Office. The international driving permit is in addition to your driving licence, so you will need to carry both copies.
While a photocopy may be useful if your licence is lost, you should carry the original with you.
You should carry your vehicles Registration Certificate (V5C) with you, which should be updated to show your correct details. For security reasons, it's best NOT to leave the Registration Certificate in the vehicle while it is parked - it makes it harder to a thief to resell the vehicle if they do not have the documentation.
While a photocopy may be useful if your Registration Certificate is lost, you should carry the original with you.
It is compulsory to have at least third-party insurance for France, as for the UK. Most UK insurance policies will allow an element of European driving, often for a limited period.
Before leaving the UK, it is a good idea to contact your insurer, and check what your existing cover allows. You can also request a 'Green Card' which is an internationally recognised form of proof of insurance. You should carry proof of insurance with you while driving.
If your existing insurance does not provide European cover for the period required, most insurance brokers will have a suitable policy.
Your headlights will need to be adjusted to ensure that they do not dazzle oncoming users. If you will not be driving at night, you may not have to make any changes, but should be prepared in case you are delayed.
Standard halogen headlights and Autobulbs Xenon HID Conversion kits can be modified by the use of a stick on Headlight Beam Adaptors. Vehicles with factory fitted Xenon HID headlights may find there is an adjuster either on the headlights themselves or on the dashboard - check your manual for details. If there is no adjuster, you may need to visit a dealer for them to make the adjustments, and again to change them back after your visit.
Reflective Jackets or vests are now a legal requirement - you should have one for each passenger in the vehicle. At the moment this does not apply to motorbikes or trikes. The jackets should comply to the EN471 standard. In the event of a breakdown or accident, anyone outside the vehicle must wear one of the reflective jackets. Note that the jackets must be carried inside the vehicle, not in the boot. This is so you can put them on before getting out of the vehicle.
You should also carry a reflective Warning Triangle in the vehicle. In the event of an accident or breakdown, the triangle should be set up by the side of the road, at least 50 meters in the direction of of the traffic. If you have broken down in the outer lane of a dual carriageway or motorway, or attempting to place the warning triangle would place you in danger, do not use it. Remember to collect your warning triangle before leaving!
If you are planning on driving in mountain areas in winter, you must carry snow chains and fit them when conditions demand it. This is a requirement even if you have winter tyres already fitted. You need to be carrying chains in the mountain areas in winter, even if there is no snow!
Children under the age of 10 must not travel in the front seats, unless there are no rear seats, or all the rear seats are already occupied by children under 10. All passengers must use seat belts if fitted.
Child seats must be used for:
You may have a number plate that already has a valid 'GB' mark. If you do not, you will need to apply a GB sticker to the back of your vehicle.
You should carry a first aid kit in the vehicle. There is not a requirement for everyone to carry a fire extinguisher, but there is a requirement to be able to stop and assist in the case of a fire in your vehicle or another on the road. They are generally a useful safety item to carry in your vehicle if you have the space.
While there is no specific requirement to carry a set of spare bulbs, you do have to ensure all your lights are working all the time. Finding yourself in the middle of a country road on a Sunday evening with a faulty headlight or tail light could lead to a fine. The safest option is to carry a spare bulb kit suitable for your vehicle.
While HID bulbs last longer than their halogen counterparts, it makes sense to carry at least one spare Xenon HID bulb.