Tourists behind the wheel should be prepared for cultural shock in France.
AAA National

Americans love Europe because it’s so different. The culture, history, food, everything–including driving–is unlike what we have here.

Enjoy the beauty of Paris and leave the driving to the Parisians. Take a subway, bus or join a guided tour.
And as Americans, many of us feel responsible for getting ourselves from point A to point B, which can present unique challenges in countries like France. Whilie some travelers prefer to leave the driving to someone else and join a tour, other independent souls feel they must take to the road. Here are some tips to help you drive during your vacation in France.
  • Speed. The normal posted speed for an urban area is 50 kilometers per hour (30 mph), but if the road is clear, many French drivers will exceed that speed. On the Autoroute or divided highway, the normal driving speed is about 120 kph (72 mph), or so it seems. So if you see a car appear in your rear-view mirror, just assume that it will pass you as soon as the road is reasonably clear.

While on the subject of the Autoroutes, these freeways will require that you take a ticket when you enter and pay based on how far you have driven when you exit. Sometimes you’ll come to a toll booth that requires you to pay before proceeding further.

And if you spot an Auto Grill sign, the food there will be surprisingly good. Make a stop for the restaurant and gas. Expect to pay over $5 per gallon, about $60 for a fill up.

  • Passing: In France, it’s generally done when there is a dotted line on a two-way road or in the left lane on a divided highway. Stay in the right lane unless you are passing.
  • Also know that French drivers are used to having only three inches between cars, and are adept at passing when there doesn’t seem to be enough room. This allowable space rule applies to parking at the curb, where it’s okay to touch your neighbor’s bumper. Many French cars have dents in their bumpers and fenders as a result of this rule.
  • Stop signs: These are discretionary, depending on traffic. Although road signs are generally quite good in France. Roads are numbered according to size (e.g., A100 is a bigger road than D973), and these numbers tend to appear every kilometer or so. Your companion/navigator must be aware not only of road numbers, but of which towns are in which direction from your current position.

If you see a sign that says “Cavaillon/Avignon,” it probably means that the road will take you to Cavaillon first, and later to Avignon. So it is essential to have good maps and to study them before embarking on an excursion. There will generally be road signs, brown in color, directing you to various hotels; this is generally the easiest way to find your hotel in a new town.

  • Driving in Paris: Don’t if you can avoid it. Use the Metro, the busses or walk–it’s healthier in every way.
  • Driving in the countryside: This is for the most part a pleasure. The roads are well kept and the drivers are mostly very skilled and reasonably courteous. Having a car is by far the easiest way to see many parts of France, including Provence, the Loire valley, and Normandy. And besides, the countryside is beautiful, so get out and see it by car.
Mar/Apr 2008 Issue

If driving in Europe is part of your vacation plans, you will need an International Driving Permit, which also is a useful overseas identification. AAA’s preferred car rental agency, Hertz, has a car to fit your needs while in France.

Let AAA assist you with passports, international cell phone rentals, foreign currency exchange, travel insurance and more. There also are several preferred travel vendors that offer tours or packages throughout Europe.

To find the AAA Travel office near you, call (888) 366-4222 or click here for a list of offices.

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