Highway code

The Highway Code gathers regulations and laws that govern travel on road space.

Whether on roads or highways outside urban areas, streets or boulevards within urban areas, a smooth road sharing between the various road users is essential for the safety of all.

The decree instituting the first highway code dates from 1921 (see the birth of the Highway Code by Jean Orselli to be downloaded in French opposite).

You can find the French Highway Code in its latest update on Legifrance.

In the event of a crash :

  • dial 112 for emergencies (injured people), using a mobile or fixed telephone (European standard for emergency calls from all Member States of the European Union)
  • dial 17 (police forces)

Travelling on French roads

Whether you are a pedestrian, cyclist, motorcyclist, motorist or truck driver, you need to know the rules for sharing public space.

In France we drive on the right! Even on the highway, after overtaking, you do not remain in the middle lane but fall back to the outer lane on the right.

At crossings, priority is to traffic coming from the right unless you are driving on a priority lane (yellow diamond), if you are inserting on a roundabout by giving way to the left, or if the lane on the right has a give-way or a stop. So if the traffic lights at the crossroads do not work or are flashing orange, the good old priority on the right prevails. All the streets of Paris are on with priority to traffic coming from the right, except at traffic lights.

Traffic lights mark: green to pass with caution, yellow and red to stop. They are sometimes equipped with orange arrows to allow, for example, a right-hand turn by giving way when the light is red; or equipped with signs to allow cyclists to cross the red light according to the movement indicated by the sign.

Beware of level crossings, trains or tramways: the single flashing orange light implies an ABSOLUTE STOP. It never turns to red......

To overtake a cyclist or pedestrian, it is necessary to leave a 1 m distance in urban areas and 1.50 m outside urban areas. Outside urban areas, it is possible to overtake a cyclist by riding or crossing the continuous line, provided that the opposite traffic allows for it.

And when pedestrians express the wish to cross at a pedestrian crossing, they have priority, any vehicle must let them pass.

Travel documents

In case of a police check, you must be able to present:

  • your identity card or passport
  • vehicle documents (registration documents, registration certificate)
  • the vehicle insurance certificate
  • the roadworthiness test certificate of the vehicle if it is concerned
  • in restricted traffic areas related to pollution, the Crit'Air sticker must be affixed to the vehicle (to obtain it, go to the official Crit'Air website).

Visitors ?

If you hold a driving licence issued in the European Economic Area (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, United Kingdom - liable to change with Brexit, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden), you can drive in France if your licence is still valid and you have the minimum legal age in France for this type of licence (18 years old if you drive a car). You need only exchange it for a French licence if you commit offences resulting in loss of points, suspension, retention or cancellation of the driving licence.

If your driving licence has been issued outside the European Economic Area, you may drive in France for a short stay (less than 185 days) or for your studies if your licence is valid, written or translated into French (by an approved translator) or if you have an international licence. For a longer period, you will have to exchange your licence for a French one.

All information on "Driving in France with a foreign licence".

For vehicles registered abroad, they can travel in France for a maximum of 6 months. Beyond that, they must be registered in France and, if they are older than 4 years old, be subjected to a roadworthiness test if they do not already have a European roadworthiness test less than 6 months old. People who settle in France and declare their principal residence there must register their vehicle within one month of settling in.

Find out more about the steps to take to register your vehicle when settling in France.

Risk factors

Speed, alcohol, drugs, telephone are recognized accident factors. But regulations governing them may vary according to each country.

The rules below apply to all drivers, whether they are on an electric scooter, cyclists, mopeds, motorcyclists, motorcyclists, motorists, drivers of various heavy vehicles... Sometimes more restrictive rules may apply depending on the mode of travel, see below (regulations depending on my travel mode).

In France, speed limits are set by the highway code depending on the road network in question and are not mentioned by signs.