Road Numbering in France

'A' roads, such as A71, are motorways, or Autoroutes (white lettering on a blue background).
'N' roads are strategic trunk routes - the National network. (White lettering on a green background).
'D' roads are roads whose upkeep is paid for by the local Department, or county. They can be anything from busy local routes or former National routes now downgraded, to the quietest of country back roads. (White lettering on a green background).

Green direction signs point to 'free roads', as opposed to the blue signs that say 'peage', which amounts to 'pay up for the toll roads'.

Note that France also displays European route numbers where appropriate; these are marked with a white number on a green background, and are in addition to the French road number. For example the A 6 motorway from Paris to Lyon is also marked as E15 (E15 being a European route running from Inverness to Algeciras).

When driving in France, it is always best to follow destinations rather than road numbers. Following the regionalization of responsibility for many roads, the result is a classic state of confusion; as the roads change names as they go through different provinces. This is all very confusing for foreign visitors driving in France, but not so much for the French, since with the exception of motorways, they follow a destination, rather than a road number. Destinations via main trunk routes are indicated by the names of towns in white letters on a bright green background.


Sometimes you may see direction signs starting with the word Bis, in italics. These are less crowded main roads. Thus a sign saying 'bis Lyon' is an alternative route avoiding the main roads, and generally with less truck traffic. Bis, in French, means second (as in the prefix bi).

The 'Bison futé' (cunning bison) is the motorist who does not follow the crowd, but seeks out less crowded easier roads, the 'routes bis', thus the 'bis-on'. If you see a bison futé sign, it will be directing you either to alternative routes themselves or to an information point. On summer Saturdays, being a cunning bison is often well worth it, unless you love driving in heavy traffic or sitting in traffic jams. Driving on the backroads of France requires a good map - or a Satnav that allows you to wander off the beaten track; but in many places, it can still make driving a pleasure, rather than a chore.

White posts - Red posts

Most of the curves on country roads are marked with these reflective white posts. If you come upon two with red stripes, that marks the entrance to a side road. This is very helpful for finding your ways, especially at night.

Some curves are marked with arrows: one arrow, slight bend; 4 or 5 arrows, SLOW DOWN!

At the crossroads you'll see these all the time: a crossroad is coming up, and you have the right of way (the wide stripe is in your direction).

Toutes Directions (all directions)

It points the way out of the town, and will lead you to other signs (often at a rond-point) indicating roads to various destinations. It won't take you back into town, for instance. Follow it when you're leaving town.

Priorité à droite and Priority Routes

The usual rule in France is called Priorité à droite, or 'priority to the right'. At an intersection, if there are no other indications, the right of way must be given to the car coming from the right. This means that if you are driving along a road, and a car is turning onto your road from a road entering from the right, you must yield to the entering vehicle, even though you're already on the road, and he is just turning on to it. Obviously, this doesn't make sense if you are on a main road, and the intersecting road is a smaller or secondary road. That's why main roads are designated as 'Priority Routes', and are marked. The same sign with a diagonal line through it negates whatever the sign would indicate without the line.

Your priority ends when you enter a town (a rectangular sign with a red border and the town name in the center). By default, that is the end of your Priority Route status, unless this is contradicted by an adjacent yellow diamond 'Priority Route' sign.
Circular speed limit signs are often seen with the word 'Rappel' under them: 'Rappel' in this context means 'reminder'. It indicates that the speed limit is (as stated), both before and after the sign (that is, this sign is just reminding you of the speed limit, and is not indicating any change in the speed limit).

A sign on the right pointing left generally means that you go straight ahead. The same sign on the right pointing right means 'turn right' at the first opportunity. Think about this for a minute. It requires a different mindset to understand.