Tuesday, 6 April 2021

How Life in France Works - Part 2 - Driving


My car has many dents and scrapes but none of them were my fault but caused by badly placed pillars in car parks, or having to scrape the front gate in an effort to avoid running over my dog (for example). 


It appears that many people have the same problems with car park pillars and gateposts as I do as it is rare to see a car in pristine condition - we get odd sitings of immaculate cars in the summer but they are usually driven by tourists.  You can tell where each car is from as the Department number is marked either on, or just beside the number plate (depending on the age of the car), so cars here in the Pyrénées-Orientales are marked 66 - and anybody else is a ‘foreigner’.  This system is also useful for the police during the Covid confinement as it is easy to see who is where they shouldn’t be!


Apart from the obvious difference about driving on the right and not the left, there are other things that you need to bear in mind.   STOP signs mean that you must actually Stop and not just roll forward while checking for traffic, White Lines are to be respected as if they are a river of lava and never to be crossed, Cyclists are king, and have priority everywhere (this is not from official sources, just the impression they give…).  Other differences that I think are a great idea are the traffic lights for roadworks that have a countdown timer on them, and the unofficial system of putting your hazard lights on when you find yourself approaching a traffic jam, giving a warning to the person behind you that they need to slow down.  


Speed limits are generally well-respected in France and it is pretty easy to stick to the limit on the motorways but sometimes you can get caught out when approaching villages as you have to quickly slow down from 80kmh to 50 or 30kmh as soon as you pass the sign giving the name of the village and then in the centre it can be reduced to 20kmh.  As I can never remember what speed I’m supposed to be doing I now stick to 3rd gear on the outskirts of a village and 2nd gear driving through a village.  And just on the subject of gears, perhaps now is the time to admit that I had my car for well over a year before I realised it had 6 gears...  


The biggest surprise to me has been the fact that ‘Priority to the Right’ was not a myth, but a reality.  You can be driving merrily on a main road and somebody on a side road can just pull out in front of you - and they have the perfect right to do so!  Apparently there are signs on these roads advising you that you are on a ‘Priorité a droite’ road and they are more common in rural areas but they do exist.  Apparently the sign is a black cross in a red triangle (I thought it meant cross-roads ahead). 


But if the Highway Code is a mystery to you, or you have never learned to drive, or even if you have lost your licence, there is nothing to stop you driving in France -you can just buy a VSP (Voiture sans Permit).  This is exactly as it sounds, a little 2-seater car with a restricted speed of 45kmh that you can drive without a licence!



2 comments:

  1. I have a little game I play with friends when we go to Céret and sit at the corner café. 'Spot a car without a dent" I call it. It can take quite some time

    Priorité à droite can certainly surprise - for example when the huge HGV lumbering out of the toll plaza has no intention of leaving you any space - or the farmer trundling into the main road from what appeared to be a driveway suddenly appears

    And let us not forget that tailgating is mandatory in the south.

    One question - are the fixed speed cameras just for tourists? Obviously all the locals know where they are - but I suppose not always active, so roll the dice?

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    1. I'm not surprised that cars in Céret are dented - who had the bright idea of putting those concrete 'cannon-balls' to mark where the drains are? Impossible to avoid when you are reversing or going round a corner! And yes, the locals do know where the fixed speed cameras are - and quickly sort them out with spray paint or a small fire...
      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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