We spend many thousands of hours migrating to our favourite motor sport destination each year and the journey need not be a chore. With a bit of forethought and some help from our Club Arnage chums, it can be part of the whole Le Mans experience, something to look forward to and savour. A break in the journey at a favourite village cafe for omelet jambon and a carafe of traditionelle du cidre or an al-fresco picnic all add to our memories of another historic Vingt Quatre Heures du Mans.
Driving in France is almost the same as in the UK; the most obvious difference being that you drive on the right in France! The road network is well developed and easily understood with nearly a million kilometers of road, of which 8,000 kilometers are motorway. Roads are significantly free of traffic in comparison to the UK, although congestion can occur during holidays and rush hour. The Route National and country roads (prefixed with RN, N or D for the smaller roads) hark back to a time gone-by with tree lined roads sweeping through the beautiful French country-side. They can be a genuine pleasure and unless you are in a rush or time is of a premium they are the route of choice.
Detailed below are documents that are needed, check-lists, and some of the more important driving rules and regulations.
Time spent here can make all the difference to help smooth your Le Mans experience.
Journey Preparation: Pick a time to travel so that you arrive during daylight and your campsite is open, this is especially true before the night qualifying sessions have begun. Some of the campsites may not be open 24hrs a day until Wednesday. Sunday makes a good day to travel as the roads are quiet, commercial vehicles are prohibited and the driving and navigation is easier. Prepare your itinerary in advance, use the attached route guides, internet route planners and take a good selection of road maps. Michelin, Cartes IGN and Bison Fute produce good quality maps. It is worth looking out for the Bison Fute maps and their “itineraire bis” alternative routes network road signs, these will get you around busy sections of road. Motorway routes to Le Mans are served by “Autoroutes à Peage” This means a toll is charged and it can vary depending on the motorway. Emergency orange telephones are located every 2km, parking and resting areas every 10 or 20km, and motorway service stations approximately every 40km. In case of a breakdown, only the Police or the official breakdown service operating in that area can be called and you cannot use your own breakdown organisation other than to act for you.
24 Hour Radio Information: English language bulletins are available on the hour and half-an-hour on 107.7 fm.
Essential Vehicle Accessories:
Vehicle Speed Limits:
|Speed Limits kph/mph||Motorway with tolls||Dual Carriageway & motorways without tolls||Open Road||Town|
|Clear Weather Conditions||130/81||110/68||90/65||50/31|
|Foggy Conditions with Visibility less than 50m||50/31||50/31||50/31||50/31|
Cars towing a caravan: If the weight of the trailer exceeds that of the car, the speed limits are lower: 65km/h if the excess is less than 30%, or 45km/h if the excess is more than 30%.
Accidents: If you need the emergency services use one of the free orange emergency telephones, the Police must also be informed. Follow the instructions provided by your insurance company, they normally provide a ‘European Accident Statement’ form for these purposes (see documentation check list above) that must be jointly completed AND signed by both parties within 24 hours of the accident.
Emergency Telephone Numbers:
The Serious Bit It goes without saying that the Gendarmes have a high profile during race week and whilst a certain amount of good humour and high jinks are tolerated, only a certain amount is accepted. So beware! Traffic offences are subject to on-the-spot fines, driving license confiscation and worse. Ensure an official receipt is given by the officer collecting the fine. The down side is unless you can pay the fine or there is another driver in the vehicle this could be the end of your Le Mans adventure. Your vehicle may be impounded and sold. The police may take you to a cash point if you can convince them you have enough funds to meet the fine. I’ve seen a complete crocodile of Ferrari’s pulled over for speeding and one poor individual taken to the cash point to obtain the money for the fine! Speed limits are implemented rigorously. Fixed or mobile speed cameras and radar traps are commonplace. The Gendarmes are creative in road enforcement placement and are not required to be visible, expect speed traps to be in side roads, or hidden by a hedge. Following a recent increase in the annual road death figures, the government has put extra pressure on the law enforcement agencies to up the ante with regard to catching offenders. There are many new, and draconian, measures in the pipeline but meantime, the gendarmes are charged with catching those who break the current laws - don't let that be you!
Drink Drive Fines There are strict drink driving laws, blood alcohol levels are lower than the UK (0.5 mg/ml rather than 0.8 mg/ml). Expect random breath tests during race week. Penalties range from fines of 135 euros to 4,500 euros, and imprisonment. If you have caused an accident while drunk, penalties range from 30,000 euros and 2 years imprisonment to 150,000 euros and 10 years imprisonment.
French road signposting is very good, once understood, with place names used instead of road numbers. When using a French road map, you may assume that any place-name in BOLD CAPITALS will be signposted from a great distance. When approaching a town or village a common sign to see is TOUTES DIRECTIONS (ALL DIRECTIONS). It is normally used for diverting traffic around a town or village; follow this sign unless this town is your destination. A variation is AUTRES DIRECTIONS (OTHER DIRECTIONS). This will always appear with a second sign indicating a specific place. So for instance if you see ROUEN plus AUTRES DIRECTIONS, unless ROUEN is on your route, follow the AUTRES DIRECTIONS (other directions) sign and further along you will see directions for your route or destination.
Priorité à Droite - In spite of there being many more give way signs than in the past, the general rule (especially, but by no means always, on rural roads - however main they may seem) is still to “give way to the right”. A black cross of the “X” variety in a red triangle (often with a white post with a red ring on the corner of the junction) means you MUST give way to the right. Ignorance of this regulation cuts no ice with the local farmer when he drives his C15 into the side of your pride and joy. It's his right of way and he knows it!
Useful Road Sign Translations
|Toutes Directions||All Directions|
|Autres Directions||Other Directions|
|Cedez Le Passage||Give Way|
|Chaussee deformer||Uneven Road/Temporary Surface|
|Passage Protégé||Your Right of Way|
|Priorite Pietons||Give Way to Pedestrians|
|Rids de Poules||Potholes|
|Vous n’avez pas la Priorite||Give Way|
No matter how well prepared your car is, this happens! If you do happen to breakdown, pull over onto the hard shoulder, switch on your vehicles hazard warning lights, put on your high viz jacket and position a red warning triangle 30 metres behind your vehicle. Free orange emergency telephones are located every 2km along all autoroutes. There are regular autoroute road patrols.
Be aware that roadside assistance, per se, does not really exist in France. Even if you are covered by a European breakdown policy, the chances are that you will be towed to the nearest garage, rather than having the problem (however minor) sorted on the roadside. Although the cost of the tow itself will probably be covered under your policy, be aware that some smaller local garages my ask you to pay, and claim the costs back once you return to the UK (this has happened to the writer!)
|Car||La voiture; l’auto; la bagnole (slang)|
|Broken down||En panne|
|My car is broken down||Ma voiture est en panne|
|Gearbox||La boite de vitesse|
|Unleaded||sans plomb 98 or 95 or eurostar 95|
|Exhaust pipe||Le pot d’échappement|
In case of breakdowns, spectators can call the A.C.O.’s breakdown service, phone +33 (0)2 43 50 50 50