Ever thought about driving to the Alps for your next ski trip, or are you a regular of the trip from Surrey to the Savoie?
If you are indeed planning a skiing road trip then it's definitely worth taking some time-out to make sure you are up to date with the latest local laws, to avoid an untimely fine on your way to the mountains. But how many of you are aware of the intricacies of French law while travelling along their toll booth-filled roads?
To help you prepare for a week on the slopes and to ensure your spending money is reserved for lift passes, local cheese and an après ski beer or two — as opposed to lining the pockets of the French motorway police — here are a few things to make sure you pack:
Your Personal Breakdown Kit: You are probably already aware that driving regulations in France require every vehicle to carry a warning triangle and reflective jacket in case of an emergency. However daft you might feel getting your bright yellow jacket out on the hard shoulder, a fine will feel much worse.
Snow Chains: Again, this may seem obvious, but cars driving on snow-covered roads must have snow chains fitted where roads signs to such effect are in place. On busy transfer days in the snow, the police will often be sat at the bottom of mountain roads, from Avoriaz to Val d'Isere, making sure everyone has snow chains before letting you go any further. There is also a 50 km/h (31 mph) speed limit when snow chains are in use — not that you'd want to drive any quicker then that with bits of metal wrapped around your tyres!
Breathalysers: Yes, breathalysers. As of 1st July 2012 all drivers of any motor vehicle will be required to carry a disposable breathalyser in their vehicle. Failure to do so will result in a fine. As you may need to use one, it's recommended to stick two of them in your glove box for safe keeping. The breathalyser has to be certified by the French authorities showing an 'NF' number and they usually last for 12 months before going out of date.
Radar & Speed Camera Detectors: Though radar detectors are still legal in the UK, as of 3rd January 2012 they have been outlawed in France. Anyone caught with a radar speed camera detector can be fined up to €1500 on the spot and their device will be taken away immediately — this includes satnavs that show the locations of speed cameras. According to the AA's guide on the matter, you should be able to disable this function from your device and if you contact the manufacturer there may be a software update that removes the locations of speed cameras in France. Either that, or leave the satnav at home and rely on your trusty old maps.
Speeding: Speed limits in France are affected by both where you are, what you are driving and the weather. Standard speed limits for cars are easily seen with road signs, but during high-winds, rain and snow these all drop. For example, the speed limit on the motorway is 130km/h, which is reduced to 110 km/h in the rain. Note: Holders of EU driving licence — if caught driving more than 40 km/h above the speed limit — will have their licence confiscated on the spot by the police. For more info on speed limits in France, take a look at the AA's France Touring Tips.
Tolls: As you are probably aware, the French motorways and duel-carriageways are all tolled in France. The advantage is no road tax, the disadvantage is the need to stop and pay the fees every so often. You can now purchase the Liber-t toll tag, which allows you to effectively jump the queue buy using the automated tolls, as opposed to paying each time. The set-up cost is around €40, of which €20 is a refundable deposit. If you are on a long journey, to say Val d'Isere, the €20 cost will easily be worth the savings in time and the possible fuel costs caused by sitting in queues when the traffic is busy. I know us Brits love to queue, but there nothing wrong with joining the quicker, more organised and efficient queue — in fact, that is the British way to queue. These can be purchased on the Sanef Tolling website, where more information on the costs and how they work can be found.
Driving to France can be a great way of travelling to your skiing holiday, whether on a cheeky weekend away or for a full-blown family holiday. Just make sure the experience makes your holiday easier, as opposed to a hassle. Remember, French police will take no encouraging to fine you, so be prepared.