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Driving in France can be a real pleasure. The system of roads is magnificent and often provides huge, sweeping views of countryside. Congestion, because of the size and shape of the country, is much less than in many other western countries or the U.S. Do not shun the older national roads or departmental routes: you can often travel for miles across country, seeing few other cars, on a road as broad and well-maintained as any major road in Britain or the U.S.
Detour – détour
Metropolitan France has nearly 1,028,446 km (639,047 mi.) of roads, boasting the seventh largest highway network in the world – after the United States, China, Russia, Canada, Spain and Germany.
There are 11,882 km (7,383 mi.) of four-lane superhighways, which are mostly toll1 roads known as autoroutes à péage; their designations start with 'A' (A1 through A844). While the autoroute numbers are not systematic, there are clusters of numbers based on regions. (For example, A1 through A16 either emanate from Paris or are branches of roads from Paris.)
These toll roads were developed starting in the 1960s by private concessions such as Sanef (Société des autoroutes du Nord et de l'Est de la France), after the government realized that it was lagging behind neighboring countries in developing a national superhighway network.
The French government also maintains about 30,500 km (18,952 mi.) of national highways (Route Nationale) designated on maps with the letter 'N' before the number (N1 through N814), and sometimes as 'NR'; their use is mostly free, except when crossing certain structures subject to tolls.
Liber-t electronic pass affixed to car windshield
Created in 1813, a system of departmental routes (Routes Départementales) is maintained by local governments. Covering a total distance of 365,000 km (226,800 mi.), these roads are often the most scenic; they are denoted by the letter 'D' on maps and signs.
Of course, there are times when it is wiser not to drive: most obviously in large urban centers, around major seaside resorts in high season, and during peak holiday migrations like the beginning and end of the month-long August holiday, or the notoriously congested weekends around July 14 and August 15.
 French residents and foreigners on extended visits to France can skirt the long lines at toll booths by obtaining an electronic pass called Liber-t from Bip&Go, a division of Sanef. The no-contract, pay-as-you-go version, Liber-t À La Carte, comes with an €11 activation fee and costs €1.60/month for e-billed accounts or €2.10/month for paper billing (plus the cost of tolls); there is no charge in months when the pass is not used. Liber-t also provides entry to 250 parking facilities, including 200 Vinci Park garages. The unit slides into a sleeve mounted on the windshield, and can be locked away when the vehicle is unattended, to prevent theft. It can be purchased at various brick-and-mortar locations, or ordered on-line and delivered to one's home.
Car Leasing or Rental Requirements
To lease a car for 21+ days (through the Peugeot lease/buy-back program), you must be at least 18 years old (age may vary by car category) and have held your license for 1 year. There is no upper age limit.
To rent a car, you must be at least 21 years old (age may vary by car category) and have held your license for 1 year. Drivers under the age of 25 may incur a young driver surcharge.
Visitors staying less than 90 days and carrying a valid EU, international, or U.S. (state) license may drive in France. Although it is not a requirement of either our leasing or car rental contracts, an International Driving Permit (IDP) – valid in 150+ countries – is recommended, as it can help to expedite encounters with authorities in the event of an accident or traffic infraction.
Depending on the country, either one or two passport photos are required with the IDP application, in addition to photocopies of the front and rear of your current valid license; other requirements (if any) are detailed on each country's auto club web page.
Speed limits in France are as follows:
Rules of the Road
Traffic travels on the right in France. The French rules for priorité â droite (yield right-of-way) are the opposite of the U.S.: a vehicle entering from the right has priority in cities and towns. Outside these areas, as indicated by a yellow diamond sign, traffic on the more major roads has priority.
U-turns are not permitted, nor is crossing a solid white line. A flashing red light means do not enter. Driving in bus lanes is prohibited. The maximum legal concentration of blood alcohol is 0.5 grams per liter (0.05% Blood Alcohol Level). On motorcyles and scooters, helmets are required for both the driver and passenger.
The use of seatbelts is mandatory at all times, and children must be at least age 10 to sit in the front seat. Approved child seats are mandatory for children up to age 4: rear-facing infant seats for children less than 9 months old; child seats for children from 9 months to 4 years old; booster seats for children from 4 to 10 years old.
Fines for traffic violations are collected on the spot in either Euros or travelers' checks. The fines for not wearing seat belts, driving through a red light, driving while intoxicated, and driving without a license are extremely high, and can even include the confiscation of your vehicle.
Gas / Petrol
In the larger cities of France, you will find many gas stations open 24 hours. Gasoline tends to cost more when you buy it at a station on the highway. Retail gasoline prices in France are averaging US$7.87 per gallon (as of July 2014) – or around €1,53 per liter. Taxes comprise roughly 70% of the pump price. For a current estimate of gas prices in six European countries, consult the U.S. EIA (Energy Information Administration).
The toll highways in France, known as autoroutes à péage, are marked by blue signs with the letter "A". Charges for using the autoroutes are payable at the frequent toll gates (or péages), and can get rather expensive.
To give you an idea of the costs involved, the toll from Calais to Reims is €39.70 and from Calais to Paris €21.00, while Paris direct to Marseille or Nice costs €55.80 and €73.90 respectively. A journey from Calais to Montpellier, taking in three different toll gates, would cost you around €85.40. (Tolls sourced from viamichelin.com in September 2012.)
Although they may be expensive, these superhighways are the only realistic way of covering large distances in a single day. If you have more time and don't want to travel on autoroutes, the best way to avoid them is to use the Bison Futé map, free from gas stations, which gives all manner of alternative routes (often signed as itinéraire bis) across the country.
Rest Areas & Service Stations
Rest areas are located every 6 miles/10 km, auto services and food service can be found every 20-25 miles/30-40 km, and motels are found every 60 miles/100 km or so. Service stations on the autoroutes will have children's areas equipped with diaper changing stations, bottle warmers, and high chairs.
Parking is strictly regulated in urban areas, and is permitted only in spaces painted in white. Those marked in yellow are reserved for commercial and official vehicles only. Areas with yellow curbs may be used to drop off or pick up passengers, but parking is not allowed there. No parking is permitted on certain main routes through the center of Paris, labeled axes rouges (red routes).
If you see the word Payant, then a parking fee must be paid. Payment machines called horodateurs are located at intervals along the street, where coupons may be purchased for 15 minutes to 2 hours of parking time. You must leave the coupon inside the vehicle, visible through the windshield on the driver's side. The fine for non-payment is about €12.
Many downtown areas have modern and secure underground parking structures. Rates are higher than parking on the street, but they do offer more space and longer parking periods.
Should you happen to be staying in Paris, you will undoubtedly notice that many Parisians seem to park anywhere, anytime – including up on the curbs and sidewalks. We do not recommend that you imitate this practice!
If you are unable to find your vehicle after parking it illegally, it has probably been impounded. To find out, call the Préfecture de Police. They will give you instructions on how to retrieve your vehicle. Be prepared to pay a fine and a towing fee when you claim your vehicle. Don't wait too long, since storage fees can be rather high.
Advantages of Driving
Though the prices of gas and highway tolls in France may seem exorbitant to Americans, the costs of driving can be amortized if your car carries a full complement of passengers. Compared to the prices of rail passes for a group of four, an automobile can actually cost less than traveling by train, while offering far greater independence. The extra mobility and carrying capacity also make it much easier to camp.
But, practical considerations aside, the great gain is the freedom to explore places that would otherwise remain inaccessible – in particular the sparsely populated upland areas like the Massif Central and the mountain ranges of the Alps and Pyrénées. Here, too, many roads have been constructed with the motorist in mind, to provide spectacular views of otherwise unreachable places – roads like the Corniche des Cévennes, the Route Napoléon in the western Alps, and the high Alpine and Pyrenean passes – although you need to remember that the highest roads are snowbound through winter and spring (you get plenty of notice from information boards on the approach roads).
All our car leasing/buy-back rates include full vehicle insurance coverage:
The following countries are covered by insurance and for assistance:†
† Travel to any other country is at the lessee's risk and is not covered by the Peugeot insurance or Peugeot roadside assistance.
Car Rental Program
Car rental insurance varies widely, so please review the information below prior to making your reservation. Regulations of the country where you rent the car will be in effect for the duration of your rental.
All our car rental rates include fire and third party liability insurance. Our inclusive rates also provide collision and theft coverage at an advance purchase discount. You may elect to decline collision and theft coverage.
If you plan to take advantage of coverage offered by your credit card, please contact your card issuer directly for details. Specific insurance information for your reservation will be printed on your confirmation voucher.
The following guidelines apply to rentals commencing in France:
Fire and third party liability insurance is mandatory and is included in all rentals. Third party liability insurance offers unlimited coverage in case of damage or injury to people or property outside of the rental car.
Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) and theft protection are included in our inclusive rates at a discount. CDW, if purchased at the rental counter, costs approximately US$10 - US$80 per day. Theft protection, if purchased at the rental counter, costs approximately US$3 - US$18 per day. CDW and theft coverage reduce the deductible (responsibility of the client) to US$360 - US$4,155.
Personal Accident Insurance (PAI) is available at the rental counter for approximately US$4 - US$14 per day. Super CDW may be offered locally to reduce the deductible as low as zero. Optional insurance coverage is available with select suppliers only, rates subject to change without notice.
Most car categories can be driven anywhere in Western Europe without restriction. Due to insurance regulations, there are restrictions on luxury car categories and on travel in certain countries.
Discover France has special rental programs for driving into Eastern Europe. Please take a minute to ensure that your intended itinerary will be possible with the car you plan to rent.
Cars rented in France are not allowed into the following countries: Albania, Bosnia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey, Ukraine and Yugoslavia. Some luxury cars are not allowed into Italy.
NOTE: For an additional fee, travel into most or all of these countries can be arranged for specific car categories with advance notice.
Domestic one-way rentals are unrestricted – at no extra charge – within France, with the exception of Biarritz and the island of Corsica. There are fees for international one-way rentals and not all vehicles are allowed.
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