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Get your Priority Right on the French Roads


I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been horn-blasted in France for forgetting about the ‘Priorité à droite’. To be honest, it’s such an archaic thing, even the French don’t think much of it, but it keeps everyone on their toes when approaching road junctions, especially on the edge of town. The issue is not that the modern French motorist will be a problem; it’s the older brigade, those who have never known anything other than this priority, and see no reason for the change, even assuming they knew there had been a change.

It is an antiquated law that dates from the time of horse and cart and seems never to have been repealed, and yes, in some places priority to the right does still apply in France, despite the French spending millions to indicate that it doesn’t – even the French Highway Code has virtually nothing to say about it.

priority-to-the-rightKeep an eye on road junctions, Give Way’ signs indicate that any drivers joining from the right must give way. But it isn’t always the case, and you do need to be wary in and around villages, and especially in the centre of Paris. Joining motorists don’t have to stop if there is no give way sign, you do…..even if you are travelling at speed! Be especially vigilant at crossroads indicated by a triangular sign, bordered red, with a black cross in it.

Of course, things have improved in recent years because officially the rule no longer applies unless clearly signposted. But if you see a sign that is a yellow diamond inside a white diamond, this is an indicator that you are on the priority road, until you see it cancelled by a black diagonal line through the sign. However, in rural areas you will often find that Priorité à droite is still assumed, even if there is no road signage: the safest guidance is to assume that cars coming from the right, as you approach a junction, are not going to stop. The onus is on the car on the left to slow down, and, if necessary, give way. In the event of a collision, the car approaching from the left will almost certainly take the blame.

 Word of advice: keep your eyes open, and your break foot ready, but don’t get hung up about it.

Dr Terry Marsh is the author of several guide books to France and a former UK driving instructor.

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