UK drivers warned of massive costs for driving in France

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Drivers in the UK may be looking to go on holiday during half term this month or for the Easter holidays in April, with France being a natural option for many. However, many major French cities have low emission zones and will charge some motorists of more polluting petrol and diesel cars to drive in the area, or pay a fine. 

In January 2017, the French Government introduced “clean air” stickers as a legal requirement in many major cities.

The “Crit’Air” vignette is used to identify a petrol or diesel vehicle’s emissions levels and, in some cases, restrict access to improve air quality.

While they do cost, generally around €5 (£4.41), they could save drivers fines of up to €135 (£119.07) in certain circumstances.

Crucially, for UK drivers, vehicles not registered in France will also have to display the sticker.

Cars registered before January 1997 and motorbikes and scooters registered before June 2000 are ineligible, and cannot be driven at all where restrictions apply.  

Restrictions are also in place for trucks and buses registered before 2001.

All eligible vehicles need to display a Crit’Air vignette on their windscreen to be able to drive and park in restricted traffic zones. 

As France continues to tackle air pollution, legislation is being introduced in 2023 to extend regulations in several parts of the country.

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Earlier in January, new changes were launched, meaning cars circulating on roads with the Crit’Air 5 stickers will be banned in the popular tourist city of Montpellier.

Anyone driving in Toulouse will also be affected, as cars with Crit’Air 4 and 5 stickers will no longer be allowed on the roads

A handful of cities will also end their “educational phase”, meaning drivers in Strasbourg with a Crit’Air 5 sticker will no longer have leniency and will risk fines.

The Crit’Air 4 sticker has been banned in Reims and drivers with stickers 4 or 5 in Rouen now risk fines as of January 1, 2023.

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Later this year, the Greater Paris area will also see changes, with the Crit’Air 3 sticker being banned in the A86 area from July 1.

Paris has one of the most stringent clean air zones in France with officials pushing forward with the Crit’Air scheme to lower harmful emissions.

There are two different types of low emission zones in France, both of which require the sticker to be affixed on the right-hand side of the car’s windscreen. 

The permanent low emission zone is known as the ZCR and restricts access to certain vehicles based on the sticker, according to the RAC.

The temporary emergency low emission zone, or ZPAs, exist around the country and are usually used during certain weather conditions or air pollution peaks. 

Almost 30 cities in France have a ZPA, including Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Rennes and Toulouse.

For those hiring cars, more rental companies will advertise cars which are compliant with any zones, especially if the dealerships are located in major cities.

All polluting vehicles pre-1997 (whether French or foreign) are now prohibited from entering targeted areas during peak periods – and these vehicles will be fined if they do so.

According to the French Government website, any polluting truck which does not have the Crit’Air sticker will face a €65 (£57.35) fine, while any other vehicle type risks a fine of €68 (£60).

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