How to drive like the french

Life on La Lune: How to drive like the French

Comments6 comments

Do you want to integrate into the French society? Learn how to drive like one of them.

If you want to be truly integrated into French society, you must learn to drive as the French do. Here is a crash (excuse the pun) course in the rules of the road to help you get started.

Lesson 1 – before you move off

No self-respecting French person drives anywhere without the obligatory accessories – a mobile phone clamped firmly to the ear and a lighted cigarette.

Lesson 2 – etiquette of the road

You should always drive within two metres of the vehicle in front, especially if you are driving a white van. This normally intimidates the other driver into going faster. If this fails, execute the overtaking manoeuvre (see lesson 5 below). If another vehicle flashes you in anger, hold up the middle finger of your right hand in response. Always warn oncoming drivers of a police radar trap by flashing (strictly illegal). Never fail to exercise your priorité à droite* rights, even in front of foreign-registered cars whose drivers probably don’t understand.

*A rule which gives priority to drivers emerging into a major road from a minor one without a ‘stop’ or ‘give way’ sign. In that case, oncoming traffic on the major road is obliged to give way.

Lesson 3 – use of indicators

Indicators are an unnecessary luxury and are simply part of some crackpot government scheme designed to constrain la liberté. You are particularly advised against using indicators at roundabouts, when executing a u-turn and when pulling in to the side to park. It is up to your fellow-drivers to be vigilant.

Lesson 4 – motorway driving

On a three-lane motorway, always drive in the middle lane, even if the right-hand lane is clear of traffic. Disdainfully ignore traffic that starts overtaking you on the inside. When approaching the péage, waver between lanes without indicating until you have determined which queue you wish to join.

Lesson 5 – overtaking

The ideal conditions for overtaking are at a blind corner with a solid white line in the middle of the road, preferably going uphill. To execute this manoeuvre, drive as closely as possible to the vehicle in front, pull out (without indicating, naturally) then pull in sharply in front of it – a queue de poisson (fish tail) – to avoid the oncoming juggernaut.

Lesson 6 – speed limits

The speed limits are there to be broken, except where there is one of those irritating automatic radar machines that have sprung up like mushrooms (the one near us is regularly bound up with gaffer tape or painted black by some civic-minded local). In particular, you should ignore the 50-kph speed limit in towns and villages. Old ladies and domestic pets mowed down in your wake should be more careful.

Lesson 7 – use of the horn

The horn is there to admonish other road users as frequently as possible. Its use is obligatory when the car in front hesitates for more than two seconds at a green traffic light, when the person in front of you at the péage fumbles their change and when another driver holds you up while they reverse into a parking space.

Lesson 8 – pedestrian crossings

Never stop for a pedestrian on a crossing unless they are at least halfway across. More than three people constitutes a case of force majeure, in which case you are regretfully obliged to give way. Once they are across, gun the accelerator and speed off with squealing tires to indicate your frustration.

Lesson 9 – greeting your friends

When you see a friend walking along the street, greet them with a long burst of the horn. You should stop if possible in the middle of the road and carry on a conversation with them regardless of the traffic queuing up behind.

Lesson 10 – parking

When the parking space in a busy street is not long enough, simply drive onto the pavement, preferably obstructing it for pedestrians. At the supermarket, always park across two spaces, especially when it is busy.

If you study this course assiduously, you cannot fail to be accepted as a true French driver.

This is all tongue in cheek, of course, although in some cases I am only stretching the truth a little bit – the use of indicators is a case in point. Apologies to the many French drivers who don’t do any of the above. I am not suggesting that the British are any better.

French people drive far more carefully than they used to – partly because the risk of being caught has greatly increased and also because of a welcome recognition of the dangers of drink-driving. My husband says that when he lived in Limoges in the 1970s, 16,000 people were killed on the roads every year in France. Now the figure has reduced to slightly more than a quarter of that. May it continue to decline. 

with the permission of
Life on La Lune.

Vanessa Couchman is a freelance writer living in southwest France since 1997. As well as writing research reports and magazine articles she also blogs about France, aiming to show life there as it is, warts and all.


Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.

If you believe any of the information on this page is incorrect or out-of-date, please let us know. Expatica makes every effort to ensure its articles are as comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date as possible, but we're also grateful for any help! (If you want to contact Expatica for any other reason, please follow the instructions on this website's contact page.)

Captcha Note: Characters are case sensitive
The details you provide on this page will not be used to send any unsolicited e-mail, and will not be sold to a third party. Privacy policy .

3 Comments To This Article

  • General Pepper posted:

    on 18th July 2012, 19:09:21 - Reply

    Geoff, ever since roundabouts have been popping up all over France (mid-90's?) the "auto-écoles" teach you to indicate left (or right, if you intend to take the 1st exit) until passsing your penultimate exit, where you then should indicate right.
    You'll notice that most French drivers that understand this rule tend to be of a younger generation. Us older folk just never learned this because roudabouts were just another strange, excentric "Rosbif" invention thought to be unacceptable on this side of La Manche!
  • Geoff Morris posted:

    on 18th July 2012, 13:36:23 - Reply

    The lack of indicators on the roundabout DRIVES ME INSANE!

    The worst is when I have been waiting for a long time or have to brake when I spot someone coming round the bend... and they then spend five seconds approaching me... before promptly turning right in front of my nose. I was so obviously waiting for them - was it so hard to indicate I could go... really?!?

    Actually, I'm starting to see more indicating these days... but these drivers are indicating THE WRONG WAY, which - incredibly - is even more annoying/dangerous than not indicating. These guys approach the roundabout, immediately hit the left-turn indicator, then leave it on until after they've left the roundabout. They are INDICATING LEFT WHILE THEY ARE TURNING RIGHT!!! Don't they realise that showing where you're actually turning is the important thing here?

    Some aren't even showing left as an advisory "I will go more than halfway round this roundabout"... since they don't indicate before entering and they can take the first or second turning to the right - well before halfway. They clearly have absolutely no clue what indicating is supposed to be for (and I don't mean that as a joke).
  • 24/7 in France posted:

    on 17th July 2012, 12:07:26 - Reply

    I wrote an article about getting a French driver's license on my blog - your article depicts an accurate list of maneuvers embedded in the driving culture here!