French Language Blog

Stop! Sens Interdit!: A Quick Guide to French Roadway Vocabulary Posted by on Mar 10, 2014 in Vocabulary

If you’ve ever visited France and found yourself behind the wheel of une voiture (a car), you were most likely confronted with some signs you had never seen before. Although France and the United States share some road signs such as the ubiquitous red octagonal STOP and the sens interdit (no entry), others are not so obvious and can confuse foreign drivers.

Below you will find common words and phrases that you might encounter when navigating French roadways. Of course, most signs do not have descriptions beneath them but the descriptions below should be helpful nonetheless. It can be nerve-racking to drive in a foreign country, especially when you can’t read the signs, so hopefully learning a few of these terms will alleviate some of the pressure. Après tout, c’est pour votre sécurité (After all, it’s for your safety).

If you ever experience car trouble and need to ask for help, use the phrase “Je suis tombé en panne” (I’m having car trouble/My car broke down). Your car will be hauled to a garage (auto repair shop) by une dépanneuse (tow truck).

1. Ralentir – Slow down

2. Arrêt – Stop

3. Péage – Toll Fee

4. Rond-point – Roundabout

5. Bouchon/Embouteillage – Traffic jam

6. Feu de signalisation – Traffic light

7. Sens interdit – No entry

8. Accident – Accident

9. Limite de vitesse – Speed limit

10. Circulation – Traffic

11. Priorité à droite – Priority to the right (priority is given to traffic coming from the right)

12. Route – Road

13. Rue – Street

14. Autoroute – Highway/Freeway

15. Douane – Customs

16. Cédez le passage – Yield

17. Aire de repos – Rest area

18. Piéton – Pedestrian

19. Conducteur/Conductrice – Driver

20. Sens unique – One way

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  1. Jock:

    you should add “sauf” meaning save or except. it’s not uncommon to see a no entry sign with a small panneau under it with sauf and a pictogramme of a bicycle to indicate a contraflow bike lane

    • mtaulier:

      @Jock Good point. I wanted to keep the number at 20, but you’re right, it might have been more useful than some of those other phrases. Thanks.

  2. Sarah:

    Most Americans would get into a car accident within 24 hours upon arrival in France…driving in France has nothing to do with driving much harder!! But that’s why it’s so hard to get a drivers license in France I guess 😉

  3. nobby:

    When I drove in France “peage” was a toll not toll free
    Also what about the road sign “Rappel”?

    • mtaulier:

      @nobby You must have misread, it says Toll Fee, not Toll Free. I guess I should have worded it differently since “fee” and “free” are too similar. Sorry about that.

  4. Franklin Levin:

    Péage is NOT toll free.
    It means a toll road with limited access.
    C’mon. That could really mess someone up.

    • mtaulier:

      @Franklin Levin You must have misread, it says Toll Fee, not Toll Free. I guess I should have worded it differently since “fee” and “free” are too similar. Sorry about that.

  5. Rose:

    “Autoroute”, 130km/h maximum, not free.
    “Route à acces réglementé”, 110km/h, free.