It may be a well-worn truism that a touring caravan gives you the freedom of the open road. But by taking the short hop across the Channel to France with your caravan in tow opens up countless miles of open road, for you to explore at your will and leisure.
Taking your tourer to France is an exciting adventure and one that need not be at all daunting – provided you have done just a little homework in advance and go fully prepared for driving and towing in a foreign country.
Just how foreign is it?
Listen to the language, taste the food and experience some of the local customs and it is likely to hit you pretty early on that France is, indeed, a foreign country – that is all part of the adventure and excitement, after all.
It might come as something of a relief, therefore, to discover that the rules of the road and the law relating to driving whilst towing a caravan are broadly the same as at home in the UK – though of course, you are driving on the other side of the road. But it is imperative that you stick to any local laws and regulations – on pain of invalidating both your motor insurance and the tourer insurance that safeguards your caravan.
One of the local idiosyncrasies most likely to catch out the British driver in France, for example, is the application of speed restrictions.
Not only may these vary from one stretch of road to another, depending on conditions, but different speed restrictions apply even on French motorways according to the weight of your caravan. If it weighs less than 3.5 tonnes, for example, your speed limit may be 130 kph (81 mph), but this falls to 90 kph (56 mph) if your trailer weighs more than 3.5 tonnes.
Speed restrictions may also vary according to adverse weather conditions, whilst the website Caravan Talk suggests that French police are especially hot on offences related to overloading your caravan.
Drinking and driving
The most sensible advice, of course, is to avoid driving if you have had anything alcoholic to drink.
The AA points out that you must be especially careful if you have held your driving licence for less than three years. Under new restrictions, the blood alcohol level has been reduced from 0.05% to 0.02% for such drivers.
French legislation also requires that you carry a breathalyser in your car at all times – although no penalties are currently imposed if you break that particular law. The device must bear the quality standard mark “NF”, be unused and not past its expiry date. Single-use breathalysers are typically valid for 12 months only, so if you bought one for your last trip to France, its period of validity might have expired by now, and you need to buy a new one.
Apart from compulsorily carrying a breathlyser, you’ll also need to carry a Hi-viz jacket, a red warning triangle, a GB sticker, spare bulbs and headlamp beam deflectors.
Satnav speed camera alerts
If you have a satnav that alerts you to the presence of speed cameras, it is illegal to use it in France, and you must disable the function if you are using one. The penalties are severe – you face a fine of up to €1,500 or may even have your car impounded.