The best way to discover France is by car. But driving for the first time in a foreign country can be pretty hectic, and France is no exception to the rule. With very few automatic cars and quite a number of peculiar rules , it may be stressful and even dangerous to drive in France without a few instructions. Bearing the following in mind will help you ease your mind and enjoy your trip even more!
First, you’ll have to get an international driver’s permit. You just need to be at least 18 years old and go to the American Automobile Association (AAA) with two photos. If you plan on staying in France for more than a year, you’ll need a French driver’s license. However, the exam is not mandatory if you have a valid driver’s license from one of the following states: Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida, Kentucky or Texas. If you are not from one of the above states, you’ll have to take a written test composed of 40 multiple-choice questions and a classic driving test. You don’t have to take them on the same day. You just need to pass the written test (which means correctly answering at least 35 out of the 40 questions) before taking the driving test.
The main difference between driving in France and the US is the notion of priorité à droite. This is an old and historically-based rule typical of France. Unless a sign indicates you have the right of way, it means that any vehicle coming from your right-hand side has the right of way, even if the road is a small one and the other vehicle has arrived at the intersection after you.
You also have to get familiar with a manual transmission car. Less than half of French cars are equipped with automatic transmissions. This may be the main difficulty you will encounter. If you’ve never driven such a car, the best solution is to go to your local driving school and ask for a few lessons in order to get familiarized with it. A driving lesson costs approximately 50€.
Finally, beware of alcohol consumption. France has very strict rules, and anyone caught driving under the influence will be severely penalized. As a quick reminder, it takes just one glass of wine to reach the accepted limit.
If you feel ready, the best “torture” test is to venture to the “Etoile” roundabout on the Champs Elysees in Paris. Here, the only rule is that no rule applies… Passing the “Etoile test” means that you are ready to face any situation!
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