French road signs | Useful French phrases | RAC Drive (2022)

When driving in France, simply getting used to driving on the other side of the road can be tricky enough.

On top of that, there’s different driving rules to contend with and new road signs that can at first prove difficult to decipher, particularly if your vehicle has broken down and you requireassistance.

To help you drive safely on your holidays, we look at the meaning of some of the more confusing French road signs, as well as some useful French words and phrases that can help you along the way...

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Road signs in France
Important French road signs to learn
Useful French words and phrases for driving

Road signs in France

As in the UK, the shape and colour of French road signs can give you a good idea of what to expect:

  • Triangular signs (with a red border and a white background) are warnings – for example, alerting you to a narrowing road ahead or a pedestrian or animal crossing ahead. Yellow triangular signs with a red border are temporary warnings.
  • Circular signs (either with a white border and a blue background, or a red border and a white background) are regulatory signs, that inform you of the laws and obligations governing that section of road – for example, prohibiting left turns or overtaking, or highlighting any height or weight restrictions.
  • Square signs (normally with a white border and a blue background) are informational signs – for example, advising you of a bus stop or emergency breakdown area.
  • Rectangular signs (normally with one pointed end) are directional signs, and helpfully they’re also colour-coded:
    • Blue = autoroute / motorway
    • Green = major roads
    • Yellow = temporary roads - often detours
    • White = local roads

Although there is a lot of common crossover between French and UK road signs, there are some important ones that could leave you scratching your head. We’ve had a look at some of the more confusing French road signs for UK drivers.

Important French road signs to learn

Junction ahead: give way

French road signs | Useful French phrases | RAC Drive (1)

This slightly foreboding warning sign indicates that there is a junction coming up ahead and that you don’t have priority, so you should slow down and give way to the right.

In France they generally follow a system called ‘priorité à droite’ which gives the right of way to cars entering the road from the right.

(Video) French Lesson 110 - Driving Vocabulary Traffic lights Road signs Transportation - Conduire

This even applies to some of the older roundabouts – so even if you’re currently on the roundabout, heading counter-clockwise, you’d have to give way to those joining the roundabout on your right.

Always look out for signs on your approach to any junction or roundabout and go slowly if you're unsure.

Junction ahead: your right of way

French road signs | Useful French phrases | RAC Drive (2)

Although very different in appearance, this warning sign also indicates that there’s a junction ahead but, in this case, you’ve got priority, so drivers turning into or crossing your road will have to give way.

Give way

French road signs | Useful French phrases | RAC Drive (3)

If you see this upside-down red triangle with a white background, it means you’re coming up to a junction and need to give way – or as the French say ‘Cédez le passage’.

You might see this phrase underneath the sign, or a number that indicates the distance remaining to the junction.

Priority road

French road signs | Useful French phrases | RAC Drive (4)

Confusingly, the‘priorité à droite’ system doesn't apply at all times.

Ifyou see this diamond sign with a white edge and yellow background you’re entering a ‘priority road’ which means you have the right of the way instead, and vehicles coming in from the right must give way.

The same sign with a black stripe across signals the end of the priority road and a return to the ‘priorité à droite’ system.

Priority on a turn

French road signs | Useful French phrases | RAC Drive (5)

(Video) Learn french road signs,french speed limits,french street signs

You’ll find different variants of this sign placed before junctions, to indicate who has priority when making a turn.

Pay close attention as they normally indicate intersections where the traffic going straight ahead doesn’t have right of way – such as in the example here, where any drivers turning right take priority.

Restricted driving zone

French road signs | Useful French phrases | RAC Drive (6)

To try and limit air pollution in its major cities, France has introduced several restricted driving areas.

In French they’re called ‘Zone à Circulation Restreinte’ (ZCR), and these signs indicate where they start and end (‘fin de zone’).

The entire central of Paris is a ZCR and you’ll also find permanent and temporary ZCRs in other cities like Lyon, Strasbourg, Lille, Toulouse and Marseille, with more mooted for the near future.

To drive in these areas you need to display a ‘Crit’Air’ vignette – or clean air sticker – on your windscreen, or risk a fine.

The Crit’Air stickers classify your car according to its euro emissions standard on a scale of one to six, depending on how polluting it is.

Depending on the number of your sticker you may not be able to drive in certain areas or at certain times of day.

Find out more about Crit’air stickers and how to get one for your car.

Turn your lights on / off

French road signs | Useful French phrases | RAC Drive (7)

The phrase ‘allumez vos feux’ instructs you to turn on your lights because you are entering an area where driving lights are mandatory at all times of the day. The sign ‘fin d’allumage des feux’ marks the end of the mandatory lights zone.

(Video) 10 French phrases about your driving license

Don't forget to pick up some headlightbeam deflectors and install them before your trip- you're required to use these by French law unless you can adjust your beam manually.

Our driving in France kits contain these deflectors along with all the other mandatory items you need to carry with you on your trip.

Accident ahead

French road signs | Useful French phrases | RAC Drive (8)

If you see this alarming temporary sign up on a French road it means there’s been an accident ahead that’s blocking the road and may cause severe delays.

Roundabout ahead

In general, most French roundabout signs will be accompanied by a ‘give way’ sign or the words ‘Vous n’avez pas la priorité‘, which translates as ‘you don’t have right of way’.

As in the UK, those driving in the roundabout normally have priority, but if you’re entering the roundabout remember you’ll be giving way to the left instead.

There are certain roundabouts in urban areas where drivers entering the roundabout have priority – but if this is the case it will be clearly indicated.

Toll booth ahead

French road signs | Useful French phrases | RAC Drive (9)

Unlike in the UK, where toll roads are few and far between and easy to avoid, in France toll roads are very common and you’ll have to pay to use the quicker ‘autoroutes’.

The sign ‘halte peage’ indicates you should slow down to stop because you’re approaching a toll booth where you’ll need to pay for the privilege of using the road ahead. You may also see a similar sign with ‘halte police’ or ‘halte gendarmerie’, indicating a mandatory police checkpoint.

Speed limit

French road signs | Useful French phrases | RAC Drive (10)

Speed limit signs are the same in France and the UK, but it’s worth a reminder that the speed limit here is in kilometres per hour, rather than mph.

(Video) French Road Signs

As a general rule, the speed limit in French towns and urban areas is normally 50km, and 90km on national roads, going up to 130km on the Autoroute.

Find out more about French speed limits here.

No vehicles carrying explosives

French road signs | Useful French phrases | RAC Drive (11)

This somewhat alarming looking sign is used to alert drivers carrying explosive or inflammable materials that their access is prohibited.

You could expect to see this road sign ahead of a long tunnel, where recovery and emergency services access would be severely hampered.

These signs apply for people who might be carrying fireworks, gas canisters for barbeques, or fuel for their camping stoves, for example.

Useful French words and phrases for driving

People also ask…

What does the French road sign ‘rappel’ mean?

You’ll often see the word ‘rappel’ underneath speed limit signs in France. It translates as ‘reminder’ and its purpose is to remind you that speed restrictions are still in place, so you need to stick to the specified limit.

Are there stop signs in France?

Yes, the stop signs in France look the same as in the UK, and, helpfully, they usually even display the English word ‘stop’ rather than the French equivalent ‘arrêt’.

What does Bis mean on French road signs?

Occasionally you’ll see the word ‘Bis’ in italics on directional signs before the name of the destination, for example Bis-Lyon or Bis-Toulouse. It points out alternative routes to your destination, that avoid main roads or autoroutes.

Often these Bis-routes follow more scenic roads, rather than the most direct route, so as well as seeing more of the local countryside, they give you a chance to get off more crowded routes in busy driving times.

(Video) French road signs: do you know what they mean?

For more information on the specific rules and regulations governing driving in France and what you need to take with you, read our comprehensive guide to driving in France and our top ten tips to keep you safe.

If you’re planning a road trip to France, make sure you’re covered with European Breakdown Cover. Read more about our dedicated French Breakdown Cover product here.

  • Temporary car insurance - from one hour to 30 days

FAQs

French road signs | Useful French phrases | RAC Drive? ›

Useful French words and phrases for driving
FrenchEnglish
chaussée déformerroad in bad condition
passage piétonspedestrian crossing
la limitation de vitessespeed limit
la circulationtraffic
33 more rows
Jun 3, 2019

What do I need to drive on French roads? ›

Driving in France checklist
  1. Full and valid driver's licence.
  2. V5C (or a VE103 document for rental vehicles)
  3. Proof of Insurance.
  4. Passport/national ID.
  5. Reflective jackets for all passengers.
  6. Warning triangles.
  7. Headlamp beam deflectors.
  8. Spare light bulbs.

How do you drive on a French roundabout? ›

At roundabouts

In most countries, vehicles which are already on the roundabout get priority. On traditional roundabouts in France, however, vehicles entering the flow of traffic from the right get right-of-way, meaning drivers must yield even though they are already on the roundabout.

Why do French stop signs say stop? ›

The stop signs are there for a good reason; to prevent accidents. They are often put in place at accident spots, where France's often unsignposted rule of “priorité a droit” (priority to the right) – whereby drivers cede priority to vehicles coming from the right, hasn't worked.

What does a yellow diamond sign mean in France? ›

A yellow diamond means you are on a priority road. In France, the priority lasts until you see another yellow diamond sign, this time crossed with a black line. In other countries, the priority applies only to the next junction.

Is driving easy in France? ›

French drivers are generally less aggressive than drivers in Italy, but more aggressive than drivers in Belgium. On the fast Autoroutes, France's toll roads, you are expected to drive on the right and pass on the left. If you are in the left lane, cars will approach within a couple of car lengths.

Do I need a crit air sticker to drive in France? ›

The Crit'Air certificate is obligatory for all vehicles driving around, or parked in, restricted or alternate driving zones, as well as certain LEZ (Low Emissions Zones). It is therefore obligatory for driving in cities such as Paris, Lyon, Lille and numerous other French conurbations.

Why do the French drive on the right? ›

Canada didn't originally but switched to match U.S. traffic flow. Most of Europe now drives on the right as well. As the story goes, the aristocracy in France used to drive on the left side, forcing the peasants over to the right, but after the French Revolution, aristocrats moved to the right to blend in.

Can I turn right on red in France? ›

A small difference Americans must adjust to when driving in France is that there is no right turn on red. Even if the road is clear, you must still wait to turn right until the traffic light turns green.

How do French drive? ›

After the Middle Ages, European countries like France and England started to make their own choice about which side of the road to prefer. England was the first nation to pass an official rule, in 1773, which made driving on the left the law. France, on the other hand, chose to drive on the right.

What does rappel mean on French roads? ›

You'll often see the word 'rappel' underneath speed limit signs in France. It translates as 'reminder' and its purpose is to remind you that speed restrictions are still in place, so you need to stick to the specified limit.

What does a red a mean on French car? ›

The "A" means "apprenti", or in English "Learner's Permit". In the Olden Days the sticker said "90", which meant you weren't allowed to go over 90 KPH since you were a learner. In France you have to be 17 ½ to have your full permit.

What does a yellow painted KERB mean in France? ›

What's the purpose of the yellow lines? Yellow lines are used to prevent vehicles parking by the side of the road. Double Yellow lines are the most common parking restriction used – they do not allow vehicles to wait at the side of the road at any time.

Do you give way to the left in France? ›

Right of way on French roundabouts

On most roundabouts, the standard cédez le passage – give way – is in place. This means that you give way to traffic already on the roundabout or about to join from your left – the same way it works back home.

What does a black diamond mean on a road sign? ›

Black Diamond Road Sign Meaning

The black diamond within a green circle means dangerous hazardous goods are permitted to be transported on that particular route and roadway. The same diamond surrounded by a red circle and bar across it means just the opposite.

What is a bis route in France? ›

"Routes bis"

These are the equivalent of the British "HR" (holiday route) itineraries, using less crowded main roads. Thus a sign saying "bis Lyon" is an alternative route avoiding the main roads, and generally with less lorry traffic. Bis, in French, means second (as in the prefix bi-).

What is the driving age in France? ›

You must be 18 years of age or older to drive in France. (More information may be found here).

Is it hard for an American to drive in France? ›

If driving in a foreign country is new to you, France is a great country to get your feet wet. The roads are well taken care of and easy to navigate. Remember, everything about driving in France is practically the same as home; except signs are in French!

Can a tourist drive in France? ›

If you are a temporary visitor to France (less than 90 days,) you may drive with a valid U.S. driver's license during this period only. In addition to having your U.S. driver's license, visitors must carry an International Driving Permit or attach a French translation to their U.S. driver's license.

Can I buy a clean air sticker in France? ›

When should you have the sticker on a foreign vehicle? Non-French motorists can already order the Crit'Air sticker at www.certificat-air.gouv.fr/demande (External link) (page available in both English and French). It should arrive within ten working days and must be displayed inside the vehicle windscreen.

What happens if you dont have crit air? ›

What happens if I don't buy a Crit'Air vignette? Fines of between €68 and €135 (£59 and £117) are in place for vehicles that don't display an appropriate sticker and/or are driven in restricted zones when they shouldn't.

Do I need a Breathalyzer to drive in France 2022? ›

You may be aware that up until recently, all drivers and motorcyclists had to carry a personal breathalyser kit with at least two disposable testing units. However, in 2020 the rule changed to no longer make it a legal requirement.

Do I need a green card to drive in France 2022? ›

No - drivers will not need to carry an insurance "Green Card" when driving in France or Spain.

Do I need breathalyser in France 2022? ›

Breathalyser kit

You may be aware that up until recently, all drivers and motorcyclists had to carry a personal breathalyser kit with at least two disposable testing units. However, in 2020 the rule changed to no longer make it a legal requirement.

How do you pay for French toll roads? ›

When using a toll road in France, there are several ways you can pay for tolls. Any driver can pay for tolls by credit, debit card or cash (for manned toll roads). Across the country, most tolls are now automated and unmanned – however, on the larger, busier autoroutes, some continue to provide manned booths.

What do I need to drive in France after Brexit? ›

Vehicle registration documents

If you are taking your vehicle to the EU for less than 12 months, you should carry one of the following documents with you: your vehicle log book (V5C), if you have one. a VE103 to show you're allowed to use your hired or leased vehicle abroad.

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