Learning to drive in France

Since we are going through it ourselves (as parents, who are quite involved in the process!)  I thought it might be useful to explain what happens when your teenager wants to learn to drive in France. It’s interesting because it is quite a different process to the one in most other countries – I’ll let you decide which is the better…


The first thing you need is patience, because the whole process takes around 18 months from start to finish. A student needs to be at least 16 years old before they can start to learn to drive in France.

Firstly they have to pass their ‘highway code’ test , which usually takes at least a couple of months, often longer unless they have a lot of spare time on their hands for studying. Mostly this stage consists of learning the (French!) highway code, sitting lots of ‘mock’ tests to see how they are progressing, and then eventually when their scores are good enough in the mocks they can take the real test.

Don’t rush them to take the test before they are ready (although the driving school won’t let you anyway). If they fail the test and have to retake it apparently you will need to hand over another 60 euros for a retry…

This stage must be completed satisfactorily before they can get behind the wheel of any car at all.

Money, and quite a lot of it

The next stage is the actual driving lessons. Typically 20 – 25 hours of lessons are needed, with at least 20 being compulsory. As you might guess you are going to be handing across  several hundred euros, often more than 1000 euros, for the learning process.

At this stage and for the next few months an instructor goes out with the learner and lesson by lesson works through a list of the tasks necessary to become a competent driver. If it takes the learner six weeks to pass the ‘driving slowly in a straight line’ part of the course you might like to start arranging your second mortgage…

As a result of this process the final ‘test’ at the end is rarely failed because the instructor doesn’t sign the paper saying they are ready for the next stage until, well, they are ready for the next stage. So they can (and often do) say that the learner needs an extra 5-10 hours of lessons, which will be an additional expense if you contract is a ‘standard 20 hour’ contract.

Time and Courage

Phase three is the longest of all. After being declared fit to be behind the wheel, the learner needs to complete at least 12 months and 3000 kilometres of ‘accompanied driving’. That is, everywhere you go in the car, they will be driving you and you will be offering constructive comments.

I find ‘that was close’ and ‘what do you think you’re doing’ to be the most useful but I’m sure you’ll come up with your own.

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One restriction is that they have to drive 10 kmh below the speed limit when in the countryside, the other is that you have to be fit to take the wheel if necessary, so they can’t drive you home if you you are over the legal drinking limit – you will also be banned!

conduit accompagnee badgeYou can spot cars with ‘accompanied drivers’ because they have a round badge on the back with a picture of an adult and learner saying  ‘conduit accompagnée’.

You need to tell the driving school who the ‘accompanying drivers’ will be – they need to be experienced drivers who have held a licence for at least three years – and also tell your car insurance company. Quite remarkably there is no increase in your insurance costs at this time*, it’s just a question of letting them know about the new driver.

* In fact our ‘accompanied daughter’ drives very safely and I guess it’s the same for all accompanied learners. I imaging the problems of reckless driving only start later when they have their own licence…

During the course of the year the French learner drivers keep a record of all the journeys they make, including distance, weather conditions etc and also have a couple of ‘intermediate’ tests to monitor progress, presumably to stop parents just signing bits of paper saying they have done the accompanied driving.

These journeys have to show variety – so driving to school and back every day for a year might make 3000 kilometres but it won’t be enough to get a permit at the end.

End in sight

After all this time and effort they will get one last (hopefully) test by the driving school, and then be allowed out on their own.In any event they need to be 18 before getting a driving licence for a car.

For the first two-three years newly qualified drivers in France have a round ‘A’ (apprentice) badge in the back of the car*.

* You will often see these flashing past you as they overtake you on a dangerous bend. Given how thorough the lessons and learning to drive process is in France I don’t quite understand how so many of them drive so dangerously so soon after getting their licence.

Over 18′s learning to drive in France

The above is describing what happend when your 16 or 17 year old wants to learn to drive. Those who start at 18 or above can continue their instruction with a driving school and not have to do a year of accompanied driving (although this is still an option, for example if a wife is teaching her husband how to drive).