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Cars and Driving Licences

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Which documents do I need to drive a car in France?

-Driving licence
-Registration document (carte grise)
-Insurance certificate (carte verte) and a green insurance sticker on the windscreen
-Road test (contrôle technique) certificate and sticker, if the car is 4 years old
These papers have to be shown in case of a police control, photocopies are not acceptable.

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Do I need a French driving licence?

If your driving licence is issued in the European Union or the European Economic Area, it is valid in France. You may register your licence or change it in a French one at the prefecture, which will facilitate procedures in the case of a lost or stolen licence.

If your driving licence is issued by a state outside Europe, you must request a licence exchange within one year of acquiring residence in France. If you miss this delay you will be obliged to take a French driving test.
The French driving licence uses a points system for driving offences. Your licence starts with 12 points and offences may result in a deduction of points, possibly leading to total disqualification. 

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How do I have to register my car?

You have to get your car registered in France very quickly, because you only have the right to drive with foreign number plates for four month.

For a used car imported within the European Union you have to go to the prefecture with the following documents, in order to obtain a French registration document (carte grise):
- Proof of acquisition
- Certificate 846 a (obtained from the customs)
- Registration document
- Confirmation that the vehicle complies with national or European standards (issued by the manufacturer, the manufacturer’s agent in France or the D.R.I.R.E. Direction regionale de l’industrie, de la recherche et de l’environnement)
- Application to register the car in France
- Proof of identity and address
- Stamp of a required value
- Contrôle technique, if the car is over 4 years old

If you are thinking of importing a car from outside the community, it’s worth considering how much you really want to bring it, as the procedures are very difficult and expensive. For example, safety standards are different, which may mean changing of seat belts, headlights, etc.

After this procedure you have to fix the new number plates, bought at a garage or a specialised shop. (The two last numbers of the number plate are the numbers of the department, where the car is registered.

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What is the information on the registration document?

The carte grise contains the registration number, the registered owner and technical details about the car, which are needed for example when buying spare parts.

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Which kind of insurance do I need?

French law requires that you have at least a third party cover, which can be covered by a French or a foreign insurance. The insurance document is the carte verte, with a corresponding green insurance sticker clearly displayed on the windscreen. 

French insurers offer a no-claims-bonus (max. 50%) and will generally honour existing discounts, if you have a written proof from your insurer.

It is worth to compare prices before signing a contract, as an expensive insurance premium can be three times as much as the cheapest for the same coverage.

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Is there any legislation about pollution?

Non-polluting cars like cars equipped with a catalytic converter or that run on gas or electricity carry a green dot on the windscreen, which gives you the right to drive when pollution reach level 3 of the warning procedure.

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How to buy a car?

The price of a second-hand car is referenced to the Argus de l’automobile, which takes in account the age of the car and an average of 15000 kilometres.

When selling a car the current owner must obtain a transfer form (certificat de cession) and a no pledge certificate (certificat de non-gage) from the prefecture. The vendor fills out these documents and both parties sign it. 

Then the vendor has to write the date sold on the registration document (carte grise) and has to cut off the upper right-hand corner.

A car over 4 years old must undergo a complete service check up (contrôle technique) which must be performed by a registered centre. This service is obligatory and is renewable every 2 years.

As the purchaser, you have to go to the prefecture within 15 days of purchase (with proof of identity and residence, certificat de non gage, certificat de cession, certificat de contrôle technique and carte grise from the former owner) in order to get a new carte grise in your name.

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What are the main obligatory safety rules?

- wear a seat belt at all times on front and on back seats
- blood-alcohol level must not exceed 0.5 grams/litre
- no mobile phone use while driving
- keep children in adequate seats (up to 9kg: baby basket, up to 4 years: child’s safety seat with proper seat belts, up to 10 years: special seat in the back of the car, which allows the use of the car’s seat belt)

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What is the speed limit?

50 km/h in urban areas
90 km/h on a secondary road and 110 km/h on the main roads
130 km/h on the motorways

In bad weather conditions such as rain, snow or fog the latter two are reduced to 80 and 110 km/h.

Radar speed checks are common: speeding offences carry heavy fines and may result in the deduction of points from your licence.

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What is the meaning of the colours an the shapes of the signs?

For directions:
- blue: motorways
- yellow: national roads
- white: commune roads

On other signs:
- round indicates an order
- triangle indicates danger
- square gives information
- red always means danger
- blue means a restriction

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What does “péage” mean?

It means toll. Motorways in France are toll roads. The amount of toll is determined by the distance travelled. On some sections of the motorway you pay on entry, on others you collect a ticket and pay at the end. The word péage is also used for the toll booth on the motorway. You pay on automatic coin collecting machines (“avec pieces de monnaie”) or on manned lanes (“tous usagers”).

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What are the main regulations concerning parking?

The French Riviera towns tend to be very crowded and you will often find it easier and quicker to use a public car pare, where parking time is unlimited, costs are depending on the location.

Parking spaces in the street will often be marked “payant” and ticket-dispensers (horodateurs) are nearby. However, check the information on the dispenser before paying: at certain times and on certain days parking is free.

Watch out for painted kerb stones! Broken yellow lines means “no parking”, a solid yellow line means “no parking and no stopping” 

If the borders of the parking are painted in blue (zone bleue) you can stay there for a limited time.

A car may never be left on a public street for more then seven days at a time.

A car may be removed or impounded if it blocks the traffic or poses a hazard. In this case you must pay a daily storage as well as a penalty for the removal.

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How can I get used to the driving habits in France?

The French highway code, available in bookshops, might be worth to study, even if you don’t need to take a driving test. Some newcomers decide to find a driving school with an instructor who speaks their language and take some lessons to familiarise themselves with the new environment.

In our region, there is an interesting mix of elderly slow drivers, fast drivers and tourists who don’t know where they are going. You will also encounter mopeds, scooters and motorbikes travelling at speed and weaving between other vehicles. This style of driving is very common.

You can also expect to be hooted at, especially if you hold the traffic up.

French drivers are not always very courteous to pedestrians and French pedestrians seem to have the tendency to be a little careless. It is good to be aware.

You will frequently encounter roundabouts here, cars already on the roundabout have priority.

Signs bearing the words “vous n’avez pas la priorité” and “cédez le passage” mean the same thing « you don’t have the right of way ».

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What do I have to do in the case of an accident?

The police is only concerned if people are injured in the accident. 

In all other cases the accident should be described in a constat à l’amiable. This form is provided from the insurance company, in various languages, all in the same layout to facilitate comprehension. 

The report describes the accident in detail and includes diagrams showing the position of the vehicles and the circumstances of the collision. It enables evaluation of everyone’s responsibilities and should be signed by both parties. You should keep a copy of the report and send it to your insurance company within 5 days.

If necessary, use a constat in your own language as a guide. If you are in doubt, don’t sign it or better still add your own observations in your own language.

In case of minor damage, the guilty party may offer to pay the cost of repair on the spot in cash, in order to avoid losing the no-claims bonus. Before accepting such an offer, make sure that there is no hidden damage on your car.

Développement Christophe Arsonnaud - Chris informatique