My surprising discoveries while driving into the dark on unfamiliar French roads - Alastair Dalton

My encounters with some good and not so good features of the French road system

It was a daunting start to the holiday to say the least.

As dusk fell and most of our fellow Ryanair passengers arriving at Paris Beauvais airport from Edinburgh headed for coaches to the French capital, we prepared to launch out on our own in a hire car to the Normandy countryside.

In addition to the darkness, this was my first time driving in France - or anywhere else on the right hand side of the road - for eight years.

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I had taken the precaution of looking through our 100-mile route on Google Street View, which proved reassuring when seeing the actual landmarks but also disconcerting when my memory of it disagreed with the car’s satnav directions at some junctions.

However, I was pleasantly surprised to see various road safety features new to me which helped navigate the unfamiliar terrain, such as flashing strips illuminating the circumference of roundabouts at particularly dark spots.

There seemed to be many more roundabouts than on our previous French road trip, whose spread has apparently significantly improved road safety as well as coining the phrase “la France des ronds points” - the France of roundabouts.

Away from street lights, it helped that there weren’t many vehicles around to dazzle us with their headlights, although, equally, my biggest worry about unintentionally drifting back to the left of the road was the lack of other traffic as a prompt.

Fortunately, that only happened once, turning right at a deserted T-junction, when I was immediately alerted to my error by one of my kids.

Another mistake later in the journey - this time just irritating rather than potentially dangerous - led me to spot another unexpected feature of the French roads network.

I missed turning off a motorway by the much shorter length of dotted lane markings ahead of junctions than in Britain.

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But I also noticed that in stark contrast to our longer, straighter slip roads that avoid the need to brake before leaving a motorway, in France there is a tight curve almost immediately, so you need to slow down before turning off.

We arrived at our destination rather late as a result, but the adventure had been less of an ordeal than I’d feared. And it made driving in the daylight a doddle by comparison.

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