The Good, the Bad and the Parking!
The minimum legal age for driving in the UK is 17 years, but in France it is actually 18 and driving under age is a serious offence incurring a hefty fine and the possibility of having your vehicle impounded.
It is always advisable to have the telephone numbers of the emergency services with you in the vehicle.
The French police don't take driving offences lightly which can result in heavy, on-the-spot fines paid in euros or travellers cheques.
The offences include:
In the larger cities of France, many petrol stations remain open 24 hours a day.
Although credit and debit cards are accepted, you may well incur problems at the automatic pump stations simply because you are in the countryside, out of hours and occasionally during the long French lunch breaks, they are the only ones open.
Always keep some cash on you.
Fully comprehensive cover is essential but make sure that you check with your travel agent if you are booking a motoring holiday. The AA and RAC can also supply you with the relevant up-to-date information and breakdown cover but they are not the only suppliers. Breakdown cover might seem expensive but the cost to your holiday (lost time, hotel charges etc) of a major breakdown and possible repatriation of your vehicle can be enormous.
It is always useful to learn some of the local. Some useful motoring terms are:
Parking gratuit means free parking .
Ralentissez means reduce speed .
Tout droit means straight ahead
Driving with only sidelights is not permitted in France and lights must be switched on in fog, mist or poor visibility, even during the day. Remember to adapt the beams on your car for driving on the right. Never drive with faulty lights.
Parking can turn into a nightmare so do take note of the following:
RED FLASHING LIGHTS
These are warnings. Don't Not Enter!
PRIORITE A DROITE
Often overlooked by motorists but unless marked otherwise, cars entering a road from the right have right of way even if joining a main road from a side street.
However, the rule does not apply on main roads marked with a yellow diamond.
The Police clamp down heavily on dangerous motorists and heavy on-the-spot fines can be incurred for speeding convictions, as well as possible terms of imprisonment. Speed radars are used throughout France and, even if you are renting a car, the companies have the right to charge the driver's credit card for any traffic fines incurred by their rented vehicle.
The National Speed Limits unless otherwise marked are given below. Make sure you adhere to them!
VEHICLES TOWED AWAY
Should you park illegally, then don't expect any sympathy but do expect your vehicle to be towed away. The Prefecture de Police will give information on how you can recover your vehicle. But be prepared to sustain a fine and a towing fee when you go and collect it. And an important word of advice: don't leave it too long as storage fees can be rather heavy.
Possibly the worst thing that can happen on holiday is to be involved in an accident.
But should this happen and you require the services of an ambulance, use one of the orange SOS phones strategically placed along the roads. Alternatively, dial 15 for an ambulance on a normal telephone and then also dial 17 in order to inform the police of the accident.
If either vehicle is damaged then a 'European Accident Statement' must be completed and signed by the other driver.
If you don't have the relevant form then exchange name, address and insurance details with the concerned party however it is best to request a copy from your insurers before you leave for your holiday.
One of the most frightening things that can happen to any motorist is that they break down on a long stretch of motorway. Should this happen to you, don't panic; you will generally find orange SOS telephones located approximately every two kilometers on motorways and every four kilometres on dual carriageways and other major roads.
Each telephone has its own number and, when answered, you will have to tell them your
identity, location, type, size and colour of your vehicle together with the registration.
Haynes Glovebox Guide: Driving Abroad by Robert Davies is published by Haynes (01963 440635; www.haynes.co.uk).
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