Stupid but important road signs in France

Priority to the right French road signIf you ever drive in France, you need to know this road rule. It’s some weird hangover from the past that sometimes causes confusion at roundabouts and often results in accidents. This yellow diamond with a black strike through it often appears at the start of a town, and for months I thought it had something to do with a change of speed limit. How wrong I was. This sign means that roads to the right have right of way over the main road — by default! That’s right, you can swing out of a side street and into a main road regardless of oncoming traffic and still have right of way. Whether anyone on the main road stops for you, however, is a different matter. At least one of my French friends in the past year has had an accident resulting from this road rule. Worse still, there seems to be little consistency country-wide over just how much weight the priority has at such intersections. In addition, most roads have road markings that dictate that the main road users have priority over the side streets. So, much like the French language, there are exceptions to the rule.

Add in the roundabout rule of giving way to the left and you’ve got a world of confusion. I’ve been motioned through at roundabouts by locals on the left who just don’t understand why I’m not following the default “give way to the right” rule. I don’t help matters: if they’re going to give me right of way, I’ll take it, even if it’s not mine to take.

End priority to the right French road signMeanwhile, these plain yellow diamond signs are often placed at the end of villages, where the speed limit increases. Once you’re past this sign, the main road users have right of way over the side street users. At last — something that makes sense! Weirdly, however, most French drivers seem to barge on in past the give way signs and dotted lines on the on-ramp of faster roads, expecting the faster traffic to slow down while they cut off a car and slowly pick up speed. All you can do is sit back, brake and say “Bof” while doing your best shrug. May as well fit right in and embrace the local customs, eh?

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I'm a technical author, journalist and writer from Australia who has been living in Europe since 2000 and exploring the world from there. My passions are writing, snow sports and travel.

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6 comments on “Stupid but important road signs in France
  1. Wow! I am thoroughly confused now! These French need to get their “priorities” straight 🙂

  2. k_sam says:

    Actually, it’s the opposite – the sign you posted means YOU(the main road) have the priority.

    This sign (http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fichier:AB1.svg) means that person coming from the right off of a tiny little road has the priority over the main road.

    And regarding roundabouts, the people in the roundabout have the priority over those entering unless you see a round blue sign with arrows – in that case, those entering have the priority, but these signs are now very few and far between. See this link for more info: http://www.maif.fr/conseils-prevention/sur-la-route/prevenir-les-risques-routiers/adapter-conditions-circulation/circuler-sur-rond-point/circuler-sur-rond-point.html

  3. Tom says:

    In the interests of safe foreigners, and having passed my theory test here a year and a bit ago, I feel I have to be an infernal know-it-all and point out that you’ve got the signs the wrong way round; yellow diamond means “this road has priority over all side roads”, black strikethrough means “this road may now cross side roads which have priority”. Those side roads are usually indicated by various other signs, although those can be somewhat obscure themselves… More info here: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panneau_de_route_prioritaire_%28France%29

    Of course whether any French drivers pay a blind bit of notice or not is a whole other subject, one intimately tied into how much pastis they’ve had for breakfast 😉

  4. Ron says:

    Yep! Driving into Sète in 2007, tiny one way street on my right has priority over major two way road with parking spaces on both sides that we are peacefully cruising along. Whallop!! T-boned by a large Lada, spun around, glanced off the rear bumper of a parked car, mounted the footpath and straight into the plate glass window of a travel agent. He was so upset that I had ruined his week-end, he accused me of being British! Salopard! Anyway, at least it resulted in getting rid of the rubbish Ford hire car and hiring a lovely Renault, and having a better understanding of french road signs. The hard way!

  5. Wendy says:

    k_sam and Tom, well spotted! I’ve switched the signs around so they are now correct. I didn’t know that about the round blue signs with arrows, although I have to admit that I don’t understand who those entering have priority over – the people in the roundabout already?
    Ron, sounds like you made the best out of a bad situation. Sounds like it would have made a good movie scene with he travel agent bit at the end!

  6. Steph says:

    I’m starting to see why it took my son so long to pass the code part of his driving test. French rules of the road aren’t exactly logical!

About me

Wendy Hollands writer in Annecy, France

I'm an experienced professional writer based in the French Alps. I enjoy learning French language nuances, winter sports and travel. Read more...

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