Ask the expert: ‘Can you explain the daft French ‘priorité à droite’ rule?’

Alex Robbins is contributing editor at Telegraph Cars where, as well as responding to readers’ queries, he also contributes reviews of new and used cars, together with articles on buying and selling. 

His knowledge of the used car market informs his many buying guides relating to the best buys in particular sectors, with an emphasis on value for money.  Every week he will answer your questions on buying and selling, as well as solving your car problems, whether consumer or mechanical.

Do you have a motoring dilemma you’d like our expert to solve?  For consumer and used car advice, or car faults, email CarsAdvice@telegraph.co.uk and include your subscriber number. This week’s question… 


Dear Alex,

With the overseas motoring season almost upon us, can you shed some light on the “priorité à droite” driving regulation sometimes practised by the French and other times not? Even having lived in France we still experience some confusion. Is there a simple explanation?

– DN

Dear DN, 

The French highway code originally said that drivers on major roads had priority over those on minor roads. However, this caused a problem, because in the early days of motoring, drivers on minor roads couldn’t be sure how major the road they were joining was. 

To get around this, the authorities decided instead that priority should be given by default to cars joining the road from the right. Essentially, what it means is that at a junction, unless the signage tells you otherwise, you must give way to a driver coming from your right-hand side. 

At a crossroads, this includes a driver coming from straight ahead of you if you’re turning left – upon starting your turn, the other driver would be seen to be arriving at the junction from your right. 

The rule even applies at roundabouts – in other words, the driver joining has priority. That’s why the Place de l’Étoile in Paris – the roundabout surrounding the Arc de Triomphe – is so chaotic. 

But – and this is a big but – in practice, priorité à droite is becoming pretty rare these days. I’ve been driving in France regularly for almost 20 years and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve actually had to give way to the right.

Most roundabout entries, for example, are preceded by a sign saying “Vous n’avez pas la priorité” – you do not have priority. Most crossroads and junctions, meanwhile, are either governed by traffic lights, or use stop or give way (“Cédez le passage”) signs along with solid or dashed white lines across the road to force the driver on the minor road to yield. 

Major roads often feature a yellow diamond sign with a white border, meanwhile, which overrules priorité à droite. This gives the driver on the main road priority over joining roads for the duration of that road, or until the sign is cancelled when it appears with a black stroke through it, usually when the road enters a town. 

Where priorité à droite does apply, you will often see a warning sign consisting of a red triangle on a white background, and containing a black cross. However, keep in mind that these signs are not always present, especially on very small roads in rural areas. If in doubt, and if there are no other signs telling you otherwise, assume the rule applies.

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