Getting A French Driver’s License

My wife will be mad I used this picture. She gets very irritated that this is the typical car you see French people driving in the movies.

Life in France takes some getting used to. There are huge lurking differences hiding behind every corner, just waiting to jump out and pounce. I want to tell you about some that I’ve encountered recently, in trying to get my driver’s license.

As an adult (the entire post is from the perspective of an adult wanting a license) in the United States, getting your driver’s license is a simple affair. Stroll into a DMV with an ID, plop down a little bit of money, maybe take a driving test, and you can walk out with a valid license. It requires a total investment of maybe 50 bucks and a couple hours.

In France, getting a license is roughly a million times more complicated. The first, and most inconvenient difference, is price. As stated above, getting your license in America might not even require a visit to the ATM beforehand. You could visit the ATM to withdraw the necessary funds for a French driver’s license, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You shouldn’t walk around with even half that much cash on you.

You see, here a driver’s license is near or, much more often, over the €1,000.00 mark. Yes, you read that correctly [at least, I assume you did; you look like a pretty bright person]. The last time I got an American license, it cost me $25. My French license is costing me €919. That’s more than 35 times more expensive! And that’s completely ignoring that the Euro is actually worth more than the ‘Almighty American Dollar’.

The Euro is worth a buck three-ninety-five.

Consequently, the schools are also a breeding ground for scammers. A common tactic is to enroll as many students as you can at full or even reduced rates, then go bankrupt right after (the first school I signed up at did this).

Then there’s the time commitment. In the U.S.A. it’s an afternoon at the DMV being coughed on by the guy behind you in line. Here, it’s going to take you months. There are inquiries that have to be made to the local government (the school makes them), classes that have to be attended, different levels of tests that have to be passed, multiple videos that have to be watched. In fact, six months is the average time frame, according to the friendly receptionist at my driving school. So now we’re at +35 times as expensive, and +180 times as many days!

So naturally, with all the increased difficulty involved here, one would assume that the drivers here are vastly superior to American drivers. And one would be assuming very, very wrong. Things like driving ability are hard to quantify numerically, but if I had to guess, I’d say that French drivers are precisely 3.14 times worse than American drivers.

After much thought, I attribute this to yet another difference between the two countries. American roads are lousy with traffic cops. You can’t go a day (maybe a couple) without seeing at least one traffic cop, if not more. Here you can easily go a month without spying one. French roadways are almost completely devoid of traffic cops. Also, in the US, you must retake the test every now and then. In France, no need. So you have to be on your best to get your license, but afterwards, you’re free to let your driving technique go to seed.

All student drivers here are required to affix to their car in a clearly visible manner one of these stickers:

Yup, it’s a big red A

Every time I see a car sporting one of these stickers, I remember The Scarlet Letter, and I imagine that the car so marked was maybe caught being test-driven one too many times. And it makes me smile every time. Even after almost two years.

What do you think? Does France need looser regulations regarding driver’s licenses? Does the US need tighter restrictions? Does it really make no difference to you whatsoever? Share your thoughts in the comment box down below.


4 thoughts on “Getting A French Driver’s License

  1. First this car is very rare to see nowadays . I happen to see one maybe once a week when I’m lucky .
    Two, this stupid regulation to get a driving license is rather new . Every year the government creates new restrictions and conditions about driving . They try to make people believe they care for us ( and our safety ), in a non expensive way . If you hardly see cops you’re lucky . In the last 20 years I had the feeling to be surrounded by cops . And there is this wonderful machine that came from America, the speed radar . Every month they are more . Plus the speed regulators that also came from America .
    Three, what you say about French and American drivers is as accurate as the car you chose for your photo . Don’t make a confusion between being extremely careful and respectul of official rules and being a good driver . Generally both attitudes don’t go together . People who only obey the rules are not very aware and reactive about what’s going on .
    I drove in both countries, and in many countries in Europe, in Asia, South America and Noth Africa, and I can tell you US drivers in general are not good drivers . They obey, but they are not trained to react . In Germany, Canada and Scandinavia I get bored too . In the third world you’re not bothered by the rules and the cops but they are so dumb sometimes you really have to be a super driver to stay safe .
    Before France, the only country where I like to drive is southern Italy . They don’t bother with the rules but they are super drivers . I’m in paradise there for driving .
    In France I must admit things have gone bad in the last years because most of French people have forgotten what was normal and submit more and more like Americans to the government and police pressure . I’m getting more and more bored in France now, French drivers look more and more like German or American drivers, even if you can’t see it, I notice the evolution .

    • If I may reply to your comment bit by bit:

      1st point – If you’d be so kind as to read what I wrote, I used that picture precisely because it’s not a common car anymore, although Hollywood seems to think it is.

      2nd point – At no point did I call these laws old, or even talk about the age of these laws. This blog and this post in general is about MY experience in France. However young or old these laws may be, they are part of my experience in France.

      I didn’t say I hardly ever see the cops. I said I hardly ever see traffic cops. In America, it is very, very common to see someone pulled over on the side of the road getting a ticket for speeding. The only time I’ve seen someone pulled over here, in almost two years, is by customs officers.

      As for the speed radar, the only reason to be bothered by them is if you’re greatly exceeding the speed limit on a regular basis (i.e. driving poorly).

      As far as driving according to the rules, this is not what I am talking about when I say the French are worse drivers. I am talking about the blatantly dangerous driving I’ve observed almost every day (cutting someone off with a meter to spare at highway speeds, vehicles following too closely, etc).

      For your assertion that following the rules does not at all correlate to being a good driver, I’d love to see some data on that link (this is not sarcasm – I would actually like to see the data).

      Germany, Canada, Scandinavia, Italy and third world countries aren’t relevant to this discussion.

      Lastly, I seem to have offended you with my post, and I’d like to apologize if I did. That wasn’t my intent. This blog is only a discussion of MY experience in France, and, being rather limited in scope, my experiences might not hold true for all or even most of France. Don’t think I’m trying to insult France.

  2. 1st point, pardon me but I always see US bloggers who maintain idiot American stereotypes such as berets and frog legs . Even when in real France where they should see and know, they go on posting berets and stripped shirts . As half of your compatriots don’t read and only watch pictures and videos, your photo plays its part in this .

    2nd point : I hate those new laws about getting a driving license, as I hate all the new laws they created in the last 20 years to prevent us from driving . I loved driving before, from Paris to Hamburg non-stop, from NYC to LA, from Madrid to Marrakech, I loved that, and my last car crash happened in 1985 .
    Now I don’t want to drive, I get bored and I get mad when how I see other French being so un-French . They even approve these changes .
    When I wrote about the cops, I meant traffic cops . There are a lot, but they work in raids. They move from a region to another . You don’t see them, and suddenly there are cops everyday .
    The speed limits are stupid, because they are the same for an old lady and for me, who am used to react in a tenth of second . They’re the same everywhere, no matter how accurate they are in a specific place .

    Now, cutting someone off and following too closely are bad driving . There are bad drivers but we are not all concerned . When you drive with your feeling and not according to official rules you learn to feel and anticipate, including other drivers’ bullshit .

    If I mentioned other countries, it was to say that France is about in the middle regarding driving . Americans who don’t know anything from the world come to France, notice that France is different, i.e. inferior, and they say ” Oh those naughty/mad/ridiculous French !” . They never think that maybe their country ways can seem abysmal to others . I get bored and annoyed when I drive in the US . Fortunately landscapes are great ! If you drove a bit in Spain or Italy you would find France rather careful . And if you really moved in a different civilisation, you would never dare to drive .

    • “If you drove a bit in Spain or Italy you would find France rather careful.”

      Having been to Italy, I will not dispute that with you at all. Compared to the Italians, the French are excellent (and safe) drivers indeed.

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