I think I have waited three years to tackle this subject. Because it has taken that long to really understand it.
Most of the French traffic laws are similar to the US. When you come over on a short visa like me or as a tourist, you can drive with your US driver’s license. Now if you want to stay here long term, getting a French license is complicated. The French only recognize SOME of the states licenses. I did a little research and I can’t figure out why not everywhere. And certainly why not California? But that’s not a problem for me right now.
The French law says that US drivers need to have an international driver’s license in addition to the state license. OK, that’s a joke that will cost you $15. You take two photos passport-style to the nearest AAA office. Give them your license so they can write your name, address, birth date and other DL numbers on it, affix your photo. And then you pay $15 and they stamp it. OK. Really?
OK Revenons a nos moutons! That means let’s get back to the story… or in French, let’s get back to our sheep. Yup. I have no idea… just go with it.
The laws seem the same with one exception. Those on the right always have the right of way. In general, the US does this too. But here, unless it’s marked by “sharks teeth” – triangle markings across the lane – the right has priority even from streets that should not have priority in my view! Like you have a rather major roadway leading into town. And there is a road on the right that Ts into the larger road. No shark’s teeth? Then they get priority. So you are speeding – well not speeding! – along and you see a road on the right, you have to slow down in case there’s a car there. We would have a stop sign for that small road.
Now let’s move on to the rond points. Round-abouts. In England and Truckee, those in the round-abouts have the right of way. The mergers just merge when it is safe. And here, yes, if you have those shark’s teeth. Or signs. I see that more in the country or outskirts of cities.
Not in Paris. The Arch de Triomphe sits in the middle of the Etoile, as it’s called. There must be 8 streets that feed into this round about. NO! There are 12, I just checked. And yes, there are stop lights from the roads feeding into the rond-point.
So you have gotten into the round-about. And you want to get off at the 6th street away from you on the circle. Let’s say you entered from street #1 and you are car A. This won’t be easy. If you are going along and then the stoplight for street #3 goes green, you have to stop in the middle of the circle and wait for those from street #3 Car B to merge. And sometimes, the car B from street #3 wants to exit at street #10, but car C from Street #2 wants to get off at street #4. So car B heads for the center of the rondpoint and car C crosses diagonally to get to Street #2.
Did I confuse you? Welcome to my world. And sometimes there are 8 lanes of traffic going around the rond point. Yes, 8 lanes. And sometimes everyone is stopped because one car is headed diagonally to try to get out of the mess. And don’t mention the buses. I always thought the London bus drivers had to be so good… it was the illusion of the double decker being a challenge. Nothing like driving a bus in Paris. The roads are much narrower. And then you have all these rond-ponts.
Really, about a month ago this finally made sense to me. Up til then, I was horrified at the idea of driving in Paris. I have driven in Paris three times now and it seems easier each time. I must admit though, that every time I return the rental cars unscathed I am seriously relieved.
Oh yeah. About getting a license here – if you don’t have a reciprocity state license, you have to have driver’s training and pass a test (you guessed it – in French). I hear it’s very difficult. And the process of training and testing is around 2,000 euros.
But you do get a license for life here. Which seems incredibly strange to someone who renews regularly.