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What you should know about speeding in France

New driving regulations in France can now impact upon British visitors as the previous waiving of offences by foreign drivers has been rethought. Previously it would be unheard of for a speeding GB car to be chased down for a speeding ticket (or any other traffic violation) once they have returned home but now that has all changed. New “Cross Border Enforcement” rules mean they will chase you for the offence.

With the holiday season approaching and many preparing for a break across the Channel, it’s time to familiarise yourself with what the new rules mean.

France is acting as it suffers disproportionately from driving offences committed by visitors.   Research has shown an average of close to 15% of offences across the EU are committed by people from abroad but in France it’s a massive 25% rising to almost 50% at peak holiday times. It’s not a surprise that given this high rate of offence that the French government has chosen to take action.

Anyone caught breaking speed limits will now face a fine and if the speed is excessive enough, prosecution. The fines are graded in relation to by how far the speed limit has been breached and it tops out at a wallet pounding £640, so is not to be taken lightly or dismissed as a token gesture.

It is worth noting that the highest concentration of traffic cameras in France is around the port of Calais, so British drivers will be particularly at risk of receiving an unwelcome charge in the post if they transgress the new regulations given the volume of travellers that head out that way.

It is natural after a long drive on the British side of the journey and a secondary stage via ferry or train to want to reach your destination and get on with your holiday quickly but it’s clearly wiser to accept the time it’s going to take. Look to be a responsible road user and treat the final leg as just something that needs to be done rather than a mad sprint so you can have a Kronenbourg or a glass of claret with your friends. That could end up being a pretty costly drink, not to mention the safety aspect, especially as many of us are beginning to tire towards the end of a journey.

As mentioned, whilst speeding is the main focus, all other usual traffic offences are covered too. So please, take it steady, put your mobile away, watch the lights and don’t save 2 minutes by nipping down a bus lane. The cost just isn’t worth it, nor is the potential endangerment to other road users or your own passengers.

Finally, always do your research when travelling abroad. France has several requirements that you need to be aware of and you should find out exactly what you need to carry with you and it’s sensible to arrange European Breakdown Cover for your own peace of mind and safety.

There’s no need to be anxious about driving in France, the roads are well maintained, excellently signposted and roadside facilities are numerous but do be wary of the new rules and respect them. Otherwise your trip may end up costing a good deal more than you bargained for.

DIESEL FINISHED?

New global measures are clearly identifying diesel engines as the main culprit regarding urban air pollution. What does this mean for the future of diesel? What penalties await owners of diesel vehicles? What happened to the promises made to buyers of diesel cars?

Less than two decades ago, vehicle owners were encouraged to purchase diesel cars and incentives such as lower road tax lead many to the showrooms to help do their bit for the environment and save a few pennies into the bargain. Yet today things are very different and diesel owners face a myriad of rising costs from purchase to parking. Justifiably many also feel let down and frustrated by the direct shift in attitude but how did it all come about?

What has changed?

Back in the early 2000s the main focus of environmental issues was to reduce carbon emissions. No bad thing of course, whatever your view on the role played by man in climate change, cleaner air is always something to strive for. This led to the diesel engine becoming the green champion of the highways. With its high MPG and low CO2 output they flew the flag for a greener, cleaner world.

However since those days the pollution levels of major cities has increased to such a point that the whole diesel landscape has shifted dramatically. This time it isn’t carbon at the core of the argument but its sinister cousin nitrogen. Diesel emits several forms of nitric gases, labelled under the general term NOx.  They include Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Nitrous Oxide (N2O) which are the gases found to be the most active in urban pollution. So its away with the shining armour and a lady’s colours flowing proudly from its lance and into the village green stocks to be pelted with rotten tomatoes and have abuse screamed in its ears. Such is the fickle nature of the diesel’s fate.

Penalties

Governments across the globe are starting to implement measures to combat the rise of pollution by banning diesels from entering their walls. Berlin began by banning diesels when air quality was dangerously low back in 2008. Paris has just introduced a similar scheme and alongside Mexico City, Athens and Madrid have further schemes to ban diesels altogether from the mid-2020s. In April 2017 Westminster is introducing a pilot scheme to charge diesels 50% more than petrol cars to park in the district. Add in talk of scrappage schemes, higher road tax and these proposed increases to parking charges and we have a multi-pronged attack on the engine and its owners.

The Future

It’s hard to predict what future the diesel engine has. You only have to look at the change in attitudes in just 15 years to see that it could happen again in the opposite direction. However at the moment it has to be a very uncertain future. Buyers will be looking to save money and will clearly not be attracted to a new vehicle if it comes with higher road tax, parking charges and limitations regarding access to urban areas.

The motor industry has faced many mixed messages in its life and that has only been exacerbated by recent news that vehicle duty is also set to rise markedly for electric/hybrid vehicles as well. If it isn’t the end for diesel it could well be the beginning of the end, for non-business or industry users at any rate. During the next decade more will become clear but for now the future for diesel is as shrouded in mystery as the clouds of fumes that emanate from its exhaust.

Smart Motorways are they the solution?

If you are unsure exactly what a Smart Motorway is then it will probably come as a surprise to you that several of the UK’s major roads (including the M1, M6, M25 and M42) are already operating under their systems. So what are they and what do they do?

A Smart Motorway is a section of road that is monitored from a control room and the flow of traffic is improved by utilising different speed limits. During peak hours the hard shoulder is also used to provide more space for commuters. This method began on the M42 back in 2006 with promising results and has expanded since to several more motorways. The scheme falls under the banner of Active Traffic Management or ATM.

The operation has 4 main tiers that help to improve the flow of traffic, safety and environmental impact of everyday road travel. The most expansive level known as “All lane running” has variable speed limits along with full use of the hard shoulder. The other options include temporary use of the hard shoulder when congestion is at its worst and opening up all lanes across junctions.

The idea is to allow traffic to be controlled so that cars approaching sections of slow moving traffic are slowed and can avoid making any jam that much worse, whilst allowing that jam to dissipate more quickly. The system also has the advantage of being able to be run on existing roads without any need for lane widening, which saves a huge amount of cost and environmental impact.

In the time that it has been running analysis of traffic data has shown material improvements across the board. Journey reliability has improved by almost a quarter; the roads are safer with fatalities down by a half and the seriousness of injuries has been reduced. To counter the fact that the hard shoulder can be in use Emergency Refuse Stations have been set up at regular intervals (less than 2 minutes apart) to provide phones and a safe stopping place for any breakdowns or other reasons that a vehicle needs to stop. When incidents do occur lanes can be rapidly closed to allow faster access to the scene for emergency vehicles.

There are criticisms of the scheme though and they do seem to have some depth to them. The issues regarding carbon emissions are ambiguous and it’s not really known yet if there is any benefit or an increase in pollution. Environmental groups fear that they could well increase but Highways England disagrees, pointing out that a better flow of traffic should help reduce emissions and the lack of any widening work also lessens the impact. There is no clear conclusion to be reached at this stage however and it is something that will be monitored closely as the scheme gathers pace.

Another concern is regarding safety and the worry that users may well stop on the hard shoulder as they are to doing when it is actually open to fast moving cars. This isn’t considered terribly realistic as it would need a considerable gap in any traffic for the driver to be unaware and the signs that flag the additional use of the lane are very visible. Additional concerns are mainly around disabled access to refuge point phones and safety when driver or passengers may have to exit the vehicle.

On balance ATM and Smart Motorways do seem like a good thing based on known data. However the Government has made it clear that carriage widening will still be required so it’s not going to be a definitive answer to our traffic woes at this stage.

COMPANY FLEET OPERATORS: ELECTRIC CARS A REALITY OR A DISTANT DREAM?

As the human race continues its quest to lessen its carbon footprint electric cars are gradually becoming more popular. Charging stations are far more numerous today and designs and options are improving across the board. However for many businesses it is still going to take a fairly substantial leap of faith to “go electric” but should it given what is available now?

The key factors for any business will be the financial impact and practicality. If neither of these issues cannot be worked out then the desire to help clean up the atmosphere and reduce carbon outputs won’t even get off the ground. If a business owner can’t afford to run electric cars and they don’t get the staff to the desired location then, with all the best will in the world, it isn’t going to happen. So where are we today regarding costs and the ability for a fleet to be able to operate widely across the country?

The basic situation regarding finance is that the initial outlay will be higher than a petrol/diesel vehicle but the ongoing running and maintenance costs will be considerably cheaper. For example, in 2016, the electric versions of the VW Golf and Ford Focus come in at just over £30k. The benefits are that the vehicles are eligible for grant subsidy ranging from around £2500 up to £8000 but this is very model and usage specific and we won’t cover that level of detail in this guide. Lease options are varied and take into account range, usage and model as one would expect with any vehicle/fleet purchase.

Regarding practicality the situation is certainly now much more manageable. There are many, many more charging points across the UK and as one would expect they are heavily biased toward more urban and motorway laden areas. Good news for most businesses but a concern for anyone who needs to make a decent amount of rural trips. Charging times are improving and there are options to charge at home or at the workplace, where again a subsidy may come into play to help fund the costs. Other than charging the other main concern is range and that too is making leaps and bounds. Many models now have a range in excess of 100 miles and the top of the class version can manage more than 300 miles but, as ever, the price will reflect that and can push £100k at purchase point.

With environmental targets part of the legislative process electric cars are at the forefront. The Government forecasts that by 2027 up to 50% of new cars sold will be electric and whilst this may be ambitious it won’t halt the number of charging outlets, sweeteners, discounts and increase in the actual vehicles made. It is likely to be a boom industry over the next decade and you can be confident that the incentives will be materially significant for businesses.

Market leaders can provide specialist advice, charging station maps, finance options and just about anything else that you’d need to consider for your own corporate fleet. Electric cars are certainly no longer a running joke, they are out there already working for many businesses and if it suits you to have a low running cost based operation, with mainly urban or motorway usage then it’s definitely a realistic option.

MOTORBIKE RIDING TRIP TO SWITZERLAND

Europe has many attractive options for a motor biking tour and few are better or more popular than an alpine destination. Switzerland is stunning. It nestles amongst the famous peaks and ethereal lakes like a little diamond enticing you in to take a closer look at its shimmering riches.
There is the added bonus of having the option of biking down the eastern side of France or even the Moselle Valley with their many attractions. We won’t cover those here but they can easily be popped into your schedule as a hors d’oeuvre before the main feast.

Once in Switzerland the real fun begins. You’ll have a mass of winding mountainous roads to enjoy with their clean air and spectacular views to soak in. Switzerland has a myriad of pretty villages to stop at for a break, as well as some of the cleanest and most sophisticated cities in all of Europe.

Depending on the length of time you have at your disposal there is so much to see but do try and experience the lakes, mountains and villages at least while you’re there. The longer you have the more wide ranging this can be of course but do not miss out on the natural attractions.

On a practical level be aware that the Swiss Autobahns can be very busy, especially on approaches to the major cities, so make sure you allow for that if your route demands that you use them. Otherwise the mountain passes and more rural roads are excellent and usually well maintained. However do be cautious on the secondary roads, especially in the mountains as they can be a little more treacherous. Check your routes beforehand and seek local advice or have an online search if you are have any doubts.

Accommodation is not going to be cheap but it doesn’t have to be earth shattering either. Seek out guest houses and chalets rather than larger hotels if you are on a budget. Fuel is mercifully less of an issue and some of the cheapest in middle Europe. Switzerland is not cheap overall but that’s no reason to ignore all it has to offer.

On a practical note there are a few requirements that you need to be aware of when travelling to Switzerland.
Phone number for breakdown service: 140
Phone number for ambulance service: 144
Police emergency telephone number: 117
The alcohol limit is strictly adhered to and tests are common; 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood or 0.5 grams/litre or 0.05%.
Uphill traffic has right of way on narrower mountain roads and buses, police, ambulance and fire engines have right of way at all times.Switch off your engine on railway crossings and at traffic lights to comply with Swiss pollution regulations.

If using the Autobahn you will need a sticker, the Autobahn vignette that costs 40 Swiss Francs, even for only a short length of time. Attach the sticker to a non-removable part of your motorbike.Other than that you just need your usual common sense and adherence to speed limits and that should ensure you have no major issues and you can focus on enjoying the chocolate box scenery, the view over the lakes, the scent of the pine forests and most off all, those glorious mountains and hillside meadows.

MOTORBIKE RIDING TRIP TO FRANCE

Few countries offer better facilities for a motorbike trip than France. It has pretty much everything you could ask for, excellent roads, amazing scenery and a wide range of interesting places to visit.

With most people heading out via ferry to the north coast we’ll focus on the area stretching from eastern Brittany across to the Pas de Calais and a few hours to the south and then offer up some of the legal and emergency information.

On any trip the first thing you’ll want to consider is where you are going to go and where to stay. It’s a good idea to check that any Gite complexes or B&B’s you choose are motorbike friendly. If you do find somewhere that regularly caters to bikers then you will not only have somewhere safe to store your bike overnight but also some expert advice on routes and local places of interest too.

France’s great joy is the relatively uncluttered roads when compared to the UK. France has a similar population to the UK but twelve times the space so it’s an absolute dream for motorcyclists, unless for some reason you want to ride around Paris’s Peripherique all day.

For quick coverage of longer distances the peage autoroutes are perfect. They aren’t terribly expensive and places to stop off for refreshment are abundant. Payment can be made with cash or card. The real joy for riders lies in the D and N routes though. They fit in with the UK’s A and B roads and provide a tremendous arena for an exhilarating ride along with fabulous views and sights along the way. The run along the Normandy beaches is especially good. The history of the D-Day landings is still there to see and the roads are speedy and winding.

Places of note (running east to west) include Mont St Michel, Bayeaux, Arromanches, Honfleur, Amiens, Rouen, Deauville and Le Touquet. All have plenty to offer and although we don’t have time for details here a little research will give you an idea if it’s something that will appeal to you. A little further south and you have the Loire Valley and the Champagne region within your compass and both are beautiful spots with superb routes through them for you to savour. Not forgetting any of the local produce of course…..although perhaps wise not to combine it with riding.

There are some legal and general road usage factors to consider too. Riding a motorbike in France for the first time is fine but you will need to be super aware at junctions and crossroads of the different priorities so make sure you double check both sides and remain vigilant at all times. It’s all too easy to think you are back on the left hand side of the road so do remember that traffic will be coming from an unfamiliar direction.

On the legal side of things you will need the following requirements when riding in France:

• Carry a Hi-Viz vest*
• Four reflective stickers for your helmet
• Gloves must be worn while riding

You don’t have to wear the Hi Viz while riding but if you breakdown or are involved in an accident and are at the side of the road then you must put it on. And for all your legal requirements for motorcycling in France and more info on riding in Europe check out the Drive-France web site.

Emergency Services:

112 – European general emergency number
15 – Medical emergency/accidents/ambulance
17 – Police (auto-direct to the nearest station)
18 – Fire brigade

Like anything if you plan well, follow the basic guidelines, meet legal requirements and are prepared to savour the experience of France then there is every opportunity to have an amazing time. It’s all right there in front of you…and of course don’t forget your European Breakdown Cover

The Quest for Driving Perfection

Bored of clogged British A-roads and traffic congested motorways? Well, if slow speeds, traffic and road works are getting you down, maybe it is time you made a trip to the continent. Now and then, when we peel away from the motorway and move into the countryside, we are treated to some simply beautiful scenery and a little slither of pure driving pleasure.

But, what does the rest of Europe have to offer?

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