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ROADS IN FRANCE

AUTOROUTES:

The French have a very good system of highways called the Autoroute. The Autoroute is a network of over 7,000 kilometers/4,200 miles of roads. Like most transportation in France, it works on the hub system with Paris as the center. For just about all of the Autoroute, you have to pay a toll; the tolls for the Autoroute tend to be more expensive than in the US. In spite of the cost, it is generally worthwhile taking the autoroutes unless you have time to go at a more leisurely pace.

Autoroutes, are designated with numbers preceded by the letter A (for Autoroute), entrances are marked as such with the word 'Péage'.

Tolls:

Tolls are either a flat rate paid as you enter the Autoroute or based on how far your drive. When you pay based on distance, you take a ticket at the station where you enter the Autoroute (just press the button). When you exit, you give the ticket to the attendant at the exit station, and your toll will be determined. You can pay with either cash or credit card. Don`t lose your ticket as you will pay the maximum toll. In a few places, there are fixed toll points on the autoroute, notably in urban areas or toll bridges.

Signs on French toll gates
Red cross - closed
Green arrow - open, all methods of payment
Blue CB rectangle or credit card pictogram - debit or credit cards only
Orange (Télépéage) - slow down only, no stopping - only for vehicles fitted with toll charging sensors.

Liber-t
Liber-t is a transponder that allows for automatic payment of tolls on the Autoroute system. With the Liber-t transponder, you don't have to take a ticket when you enter the Autoroute. Your bank account will automatically be deducted each time Liber-t is used. When entering an Autoroute with a Liber-t you will use the lane marked with the orange 't'. This is the same type of lane you use on exiting.

Liber-t can also permit you to drive on the Autoroute road at a reduced rate of from between 10% to 30% depending on the length of your journey. The Liber-t transponder costs a few euros a month plus a security deposit and mounts on your windshield.

Subscribing to Liber-t entails, filling out a form, supplying your banking details and paying the security deposit. Liber-t can be bought in person at selected toll booths or online. A French banking account is necessary to take out a subscription to Liber-t.

Autoroute tolls
The cost of autoroute travel for a car is about 1 €uro for 10 miles. Here are the toll costs for a selection of other common journeys that use toll motorways over long distances:
Sample Tolls (These are for guidance only as can go up at anytime.)
Paris - Nice via Beaune 73.50 €
Paris - Bordeaux via A10: 53.00 €
Paris - Bordeaux via A10 to Poitiers then N10 via Angoulême: 33.70 €
Paris - Calais, via A 16: 19.80 €
Calais-Marseilles, via Reims: 82.40 €
Calais-Bordeaux, via Rouen & Chartres 41,80 €
Calais-Bordeaux, via Rouen & Le Mans 65,20 €
Calais-Nice, via Reims, Dijon & A39: 102.00 €
Bruxelles / Brussels - Marseilles, via Valenciennes and Reims: 74.00 €
Strasbourg - le Perthus (Spanish border): 67.40 €
Freiburg im Breisgau / Mulhouse - Perpignan: 67.40 €
Freiburg / Mulhouse - Montpellier, via Lyon: 52.50 €

Drivers wanting to avoid French motorway tolls should remember that it is not necessarily the best solution to avoid all tolls, particularly in fairly populated areas. Using other roads, with their traffic lights, speed restrictions and roundabouts will mean longer journey times and more stress.

Free motorways and routes avoiding tolls:

There are a few free motorways in France, and some long-distance dual carriageways that are up to motorway standard. Most urban and peri-urban autoroutes in France are also free; and even when they are not, it makes more sense to pay the toll and avoid miles of traffic lights and congestion.

Rest stops on the Autoroute ('aires de détente'):

Rest stops are about every 20 kilometers/12 miles, and have anything from gas stations and restaurants to picnic areas with open space for children to play in. They tend to be well kept with clean bathrooms. Before you enter an Aire, the sign announcing it will list the services it provides along with a distance to the next Aire providing those same services.

Every 2 kilometers/1.25 miles there is an emergency phone, marked S.O.S that you can use if you break down or have an accident. Don`t call if you run out of gas as you will get a ticket.

If you can, avoid buying gas on the Autoroute as it is much more expensive than if bought at a gas station in a city or town. The cheapest place to by gas in France generally is at supermarkets.

Remember:

Don't cruise in the left lane! The big, ultramodern, smooth as silk, beautifully maintained high-speed toll road comes as a shock to many Americans: you can't dawdle in the left lane. The right and center lanes are for traffic and trucks; the left lane is for passing ONLY. If you're not keeping up in the left lane, expect drivers to come right up on your bumper and flash their lights. Don't take it personally, that's just how it's done. Move over. You will observe drivers passing traffic at over 150 KPH, then pulling back into the right or center lane to make way for somebody who's going even faster. And on the A8 for instance there probably will be.

HIGHWAYS:

These in France are still popularly known as 'routes nationales'. However, in the framework of 'regionalization', responsibility for most roads has been devolved to local authorities, and the concept of 'routes nationales' has largely disappeared. The only 'N' roads that now survive are ones that in the absence of an autoroute, form part of the strategic national road network, such as the N21 from Limoges to Tarbes, or the N13 from Cherbourg as far as Caen.

Another reflection on driving in France: in the US, a highway generally stays a highway all along its length. But in France, it's common for decent highways to suddenly turn into a narrow road that goes right through the center of a village, only to become a highway again on the other side.

ROND-POINT (ROUNDABOUTS):

A thousand times more efficient than stop signs, the Rond-Point (traffic circle or roundabout) is easy to navigate and gives you a second chance to read the signs. Upon entering the circle, check for traffic from the left, enter the circle and go toward the center until it's time to exit, then signal, check the inner lane for traffic, and make your turn.

You can go around as many times as it takes, as long as you do so, on the inner lane. That may sound silly, but remember that the rond-point is an intersection, and as such will have lots of signs indicating which exit to take. In a foreign country, the signs are hard to read. They are in a foreign language, and use unfamiliar conventions. It can be hard to make a snap decision as to whether an exit is correct, and if you take the wrong exit, it may take a while to reverse direction if you need to go back to re-read the signs.

Furthermore, once you are in the rond-point, you have the right of way. Nobody will (or at least should) barge in on you. The rond-point is an exception to the general French rule of priorité à droite (priority to the right). Occasionally, some elderly Frenchman will forget this and barge right on in, remembering the old way of doing it (which killed lots of people), but that rarely happens these days. At every entrance, there's a 'yield' symbol, a downward pointing triangle, and just in case you don't get it, there's a rectangular sign below it that says Cédez le passage ('yield the passage'), or sometimes, Vous n`avez pas la priorité ('you don`t have priority'):
The disadvantage of the rond-point is that it jams up under heavy traffic, but that is seldom a problem in France, at least in the countryside.

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