/ Motoring

France’s car safety requirements – just a boot load of hassle?

France sign

Going for a holiday in France? Taking your own car? Well, there’s a whole load of car safety kit you’ll need if you’re to avoid being fined. But are these car safety requirements more hassle than they’re worth?

So you’ve waited and planned all year for your annual trek abroad. Everybody is wound up with excitement. It’s the Friday before the Saturday you’re booked on the Chunnel and you’ve finished your last day’s toil for a whole fortnight. But instead of feeling relaxed, you’ve got lists!

A list of car safety extras

You’re running round in “headless chicken mode”, looking for all those extras required just to drive in France – every bulb your car can need, red emergency triangle, more bulbs, a first aid kit, another bulb you forgot about, and the family, their luggage, and, oh yes, the passports. Mustn’t forget the passports!

Well the passports are essential, and so is, I suppose, the family and the luggage – but are all those bulbs really needed? And what about the red triangle? It fills a gap in the boot – maybe one you don’t have – but you aren’t planning to breakdown are you?

As for the bulbs, well they take up half the glove box and you aren’t sure if you could change the headlamp bulbs yourself anyway, are you? So are they worth the hassle?

Do you need all this safety kit?

In my view the answer has to be yes. It’s one thing to run round familiar roads, risking the odd breakdown or blown bulb, knowing you can call for help or pop to Halfords for a new bulb to be fitted.

It’s a whole different kettle of fish to find yourself on a dark French country lane, with the rain pouring down and no phone signal. You keep reminding yourself that the traffic will come from the opposite direction, on the wrong side of the road, so that red triangle will be a godsend – warning others (after all it is a “warning” triangle) that you’re round the next bend, potentially with excited or tired family, milling around in the road.

And if a bulb blows, you won’t have to search around for the French equivalent of Halford (L’alfords perhaps?), or somewhere where they speak enough English to understand what you need is “Une ampoule d’indicateur pour ma voiture.”

Bring this safety kit to Britain

I’m convinced it would make sense to carry all those little odds and sods that are mandatory for continental driving in the UK. Not only would it potentially avoid seeing all those cars with a dud headlamp coming at you like a crazed motorbike, but it would also mean that last minute panic before your holiday would be a thing of the past and you could focus on relaxing earlier than you do right now.

To avoid being served up with an on-the-spot fine, or even having your car impounded in France, here’s a list of all those bits and bobs required by visiting drivers:

  • Headlamp Adaptors – so you don’t dazzle oncoming traffic
  • GB Stickers – mandatory to let everyone know where the car is registered
  • Warning Triangle – to be placed 50-150 metres (320-480 ft) behind your car if you break down
  • Fluorescent Safety Vest
  • Spare Bulbs
  • First Aid Kit
  • Fire Extinguisher
  • Spare glasses – yes, believe it or not, if you need glasses or contact lenses to drive, you must carry a second pair
  • You may also need your glasses to read the reams of documentation you’re carrying, including UK Driving Licence, car registration and insurance policy documents

Bon Voyage!


I imagine that headlamp adaptors and the documentation mentioned would be needed by anyone visiting the UK. Commonsense suggests that every motorist should carry a couple of copies of their insurance certificate to pass on to other drivers in the event of an accident.

It would make sense to agree requirements across Europe, and think carefully about what is essential and what is recommended.


It is very difficult to change a headlight bulb on some cars. Various manufacturers have been criticised on other Conversations and I have named and shamed Volkswagen for this deficiency.

I wonder why continental countries, where it is mandatory (and very sensible) to carry spare bulbs, allow manufacturers to sell cars that are so poorly designed that it is difficult or impossible to change bulbs at the roadside.


Agree about how un-user-friendly some car lights are: it’s very annoying when simple good design, enabling a quick bulb-change is forgotten (deliberately?) in favour of near-inaccessible lights. My VW Polo is so difficult. For safety reasons manufacturers should be required to make lights that the average motorist can change a bulb in within a few minutes and without tools.


Your point about being able to change bulbs without tools is an important one. It seems obvious that this should come under the Construction and Use Regulations for motor vehicles.

Eventually the problem will disappear when filament lamps are replaced by more modern alternatives but it is surprising that VW and other manufacturers get away with this when so many safety features have been introduced in recent years.

John says:
18 August 2011

I recently had a VW polo and agree with this point. Carrying spare bulbs is fair enough. Although you do need to be able to change them. My Polo didn’t require tools to change the bulbs, but the manual said find a garage to fit the new bulb, sort of defying the point of carrying a spare bulb.


John – I asked VW why their manual referred to finding a garage and was told that this was because some cars have headlights that use very high voltages (i.e. have gas discharge lamps). That does not apply to most models and certainly does not apply to all bulbs.

The manual for my (diesel) Golf says to put in in a warm room if it won’t start in cold weather!


The point of having spare bulbs is useless if you cannot get easy access to change them. Tthe ford focus headlamp is very akward to change. My hands are to big to get proper access therefore it takes be 45 minutes of scraped knuckles and cursing to do a job my mechanic can do it 30 seconds. It used to be easy to change a bulb now its just a pain.

Wirecutter says:
14 August 2011

In Spain a Fluorescent Safety Vest is required for each occupant,
Even if you hire a car any where in Europe it is worth checking against, the above list to see what you have NOT been provided with.
I think that all cars in the UK to carry spare bulbs, and the drivers to find out HOW to fit them, and yes
I do think that manufacturers should be required to make lights that the average motorist can change,
then there might be less one eyed Monsters on the roads

Phil says:
14 August 2011

Worth remembering that hi-viz vests must be carried within reach in the passenger compartment and not in the boot.