Driving in France: watch out!
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If you are planning a trip to France someday and are going to drive a rental car, I suggest you prepare yourself.
Why? Simply because there is a lot to know.
First, when you book your vehicle online, don’t get too excited. The BMW or the Audi that you select will probably not be the vehicle that is awaiting you on the parking lot of the agency, especially if you are picking it up at a small agency.
You may be upset about it, but you have no choice. Yes, they have the vehicle in the system, but it is being used somewhere else 200 miles away and not due to be returned for several days. So, when they tell you they don’t have it, they have it in the system, but they may not have it in the parking lot.
Either the agent will tell you that you can wait for it to be returned – again, that may be several days – or you will be offered another car, but the other car may not be the same size. It may be a compact instead of a medium. Your luggage may not fit in the trunk. It may not be an automatic. It may not have the GPS that you were hoping for.
You will most likely not get a refund, at least from the agency. It will be up to you to write a letter to American Express or Cardmember Service to complain and hopefully get some money back.
You may be frustrated and disappointed, but don’t let this trouble you too much. It happens all the time. Being prepared is best.
Narrow roads in small towns and villages in France are everywhere, and you have to pay attention to your driving. You cannot be distracted. One small distraction can easily, very easily result in a dent in your vehicle. Also, new pavement does not always mean smooth road… So again, pay attention!
First and foremost, stay in your lane, watch the traffic, and anticipate.
French cars are generally speaking small cars – You see a lot of smart cars over there. Those are economical, easy to drive on small roads, and easy to park.
French drivers are usually skilled drivers. You have to take a long series of classes at the Auto Ecole in France before you may take the comprehensive written test, then the even more comprehensive driving test. Auto Ecole instructors are highly qualified and licensed. Student drivers go through intense training before being able to be behind the wheel by themselves.
They drive fast on the highway, come from behind and pass you, leaving no margin for error –
But the difference between France (or other European countries) and the United States, is the knowledge of the Code de la Route – all driving rules and traffic regulations.
Roundabouts are everywhere over there – When you approach a roundabout, you look to the left and you yield to the oncoming traffic before engaging into the roundabout. Once you are in the roundabout, you have the right of way. Use your indicators to show all other drivers what you are doing and where you intend to exit. If everyone knows what to do - and everyone does over there - then there is no confusion.
So, you get it. Driving in France can be quite challenging. What about parking? That too, can be challenging. Sometimes you just don’t have enough room.
Finally, a note on navigation in France. If you get a vehicle with a GPS, you will be in good shape. You may sometimes end up on a dirt road in a vineyard, or chased by a farm dog as you are driving through a farmyard, feeling like a local, and that is fine. Most navigation systems take you the shortest way. So… keep going. It will take you there.
If you do not get a vehicle equipped with a GPS, have a good, detailed map, and jot down all the small and big towns that you see on the map between your current location and your destination. Do that before you get behind the wheel.
Along the way, you will come across a lot of intersections and roundabouts where you will see a multitude of signs. Those will most likely point to the nearest villages. You have to be alert and be able to make a quick decision. So, the better prepared, the easier your trip will be.
I hope this information was useful.
Bon voyage, safe travels, and enjoy the scenery… and the charm of driving through France.