Things To Check Before Travelling?
June is upon us, before you know it, July will be here and, hopefully, a summer like last year will stretch out ahead of us. Have you got your holiday planned, thinking of driving, maybe you’re considering taking your car over to France either by Ferry or via the Tunnel. Maybe it’s your first time – not sure what you need, how to get there or indeed what to do when you’re there? If you’re nodding your head at any of these then you’re definitely in luck. We have put together some handy tips and facts about driving in France to ease your apprehension and help you with the planning – so read on….
Get your paperwork in place.
There are a handful of documents you will need to take with you when driving through France as well as the all-important GB sticker on your car or a number plate with GB on it:
• A full, valid driving licence
• Proof of Insurance
• Proof of ID ie. Passport
• Registration Document ie. V5C Certificate
If your car is a Lease Car then the Finance Company will hold the V5C document. Not a problem; you just need to contact them before you go to request a VE103 (Vehicle on Hire) form instead. They will also provide you with a Letter of Authorisation, basically giving you permission to take the vehicle outside the UK. Do give them plenty of notice (at least 14 days) to avoid unwanted delays. There will be a small charge of £12-£15 for this service.
You will also need an adequate Breakdown Cover while you are away. In the case of a Lease Car, the majority of agreements include breakdown cover which is good; but do check if this extends outside of the UK, if not; you will need to arrange this.
You are required by law to carry the following items with you in France:
• Clean Air Sticker – needed in certain cities; it costs £3.60 and you are liable for an on-the-spot fine if you don’t have one. It identifies what emissions your vehicle produces and was introduced in 2016. Type ‘Clean air stickers France’ into Google to find out more.
• Reflective Jackets – one for all passengers.
• Warning Triangle.
• Headlamp Beam Deflectors (you can use deflective stickers or adjust the beam manually).
• Breathalysers – must be ready for use if stopped.
• Spare Bulbs – bulbs must be changed immediately if there is a problem, otherwise you could be liable for a fine.
• A European Driving Kit will include all of these items and can be purchased for just over £20.
You basically have two choices; Ferry or the Channel Tunnel:
The Channel Tunnel is by far the quickest option. Prices depend on the size of your car, time of travel and type of ticket. They start from £30 and go up to £219 for the full Flexiplus ticket (or £142 for the frequent traveller Flexiplus). With these two Flexiplus tickets you can stay for any duration. They also allow you to turn up and board the next available train and give you priority boarding. With all ticket types, make sure you book early as prices go up nearer the departure time. Fares include up to 9 passengers and there are no charges for excess luggage.
The crossing takes just 35 minutes. Be wary though of delays and cancellations which can occur. Check with your insurance provider that you are covered if this should happen. The Tunnel goes from Folkestone to Calais, both reached easily by motorway. You can book online on the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle website or, if you prefer, you can phone to make your reservation.
Your other option is the ferry. These vary in price, and there are a number of routes you can take. The shortest crossing is from Dover to Calais and the longest is from Hull to Zeebrugge and Plymouth to Roscoff. It depends a bit on where you live. Obviously, the Hull route would be a better option for you if you live in the North of England.
The cheapest crossing is from Dover to Calais, and cheaper too in the early morning or late at night. Probably best to avoid peak periods. If you are bound for the west of France then sailings from Portsmouth may be better as this will help shorten driving distances, but you will find it more expensive. You might find a night crossing better to save time and a hotel bill.
There are a number of operators to choose from and you can either book directly with the ferry company or through a third party. Cheapest tickets may be sold on a ‘no change/no refund/no cancellation’ basis. You can buy flexible tickets but these can cost you more. A number of crossings a day will vary by port and time of year and also by ferry operator. Prices start from £49 each way and again it is good to book ahead.
What happens when you get there.
Firstly and most importantly – drive on the right and overtake on the left! Alcohol limits when driving are lower and the police are able to carry out random breath tests. Distances and speeds are measured in km and km/hr so don’t get caught out. Devices capable of detecting speed cameras are illegal and penalties can be heavy. It is also compulsory for all occupants to wear a seatbelt, same as here - and children up to the age of 10 must travel in an approved child seat or restraint. Some French police authorities can impose and collect on the spot fines of up to 750 euros if you violate traffic regulations so be aware.
Most French motorways have tolls which can be paid in cash or with a Mastercard or Visa card. The motorways are privately managed so you have to use the orange emergency telephone if you break down to call the official breakdown services or dial 112 if no orange telephone is available. You will be towed to a designated area where you are safe and where your own breakdown provider can take over. There is a cost of around 100-150 euros for this service so be prepared.
Parking regulations, particularly in large towns are strict so to avoid your vehicle being towed or clamped check carefully before leaving your vehicle anywhere. There are plenty of service areas on the motorways which vary in sophistication from basic to well-stocked and providing petrol, restaurants and shops 24/7. Credit cards are generally accepted. Unleaded petrol and diesel are available throughout France.
Ready, steady – go…..
Hopefully, this has given you some idea of what to expect. Driving in France introduces new challenges and is a different experience to driving in the UK so do your homework and be prepared. If you pay attention to the differences and rules and regulations and drive safely you will be halfway to having a fabulous holiday - Bonnes Vacances!