The Good French Pedestrian

Much has been written – some of it by me – about driving in France, including responsibilities at the wheel and penalties for infractions. Much less is written about pedestrians and how they should behave. A recent story in The Connexion about the police in Saint-Etienne cracking down on errant pedestrians spurred me to find out more.

Pedestrian casualties

The website Association Prevention Routière cites figures for pedestrian casualties in France. In 2012, 489 pedestrians were killed and 11,247 injured in road accidents. That’s 15% of total victims of such accidents. They are often young children or elderly people.

The most frightening statistic is that more than one in three pedestrians killed in towns were actually on a pedestrian crossing at the time. I can well believe this. You only have to go to our local village, which has a main road slicing through it, to see driver inattention in action.

Inattentive motorists

I have almost been mown down in the middle of a crossing on countless occasions by drivers (a) chatting on their mobile; (b) paying more attention to their passenger(s) than the road; (c) not being bothered to stop; or (d) not appearing to have seen me at all. I’m sorry to say that I think the French are a bit cavalier in this regard. If someone stops for us, we always joke, “They can’t be French.”

Drivers are supposed to be fined for not stopping, but this is terribly difficult to enforce unless they cause an accident.

Pedestrian rules of the road

New rules in 2010 amended the Code de la Route (Highway Code) to give pedestrians more rights. They can now cross the road anywhere and motorists must give way if they have started to cross or “show a clear intention to do so”. There are some exceptions, though, and cases where pedestrians themselves can be fined:

  • If a pedestrian crossing is within 50 metres of you, you must use it.
  • If there’s no crossing, you must cross in a line perpendicular to the road, i.e. not meander across on the diagonal.
  • You must make sure you can cross without risk and that visibility is good for drivers.
  • If there are pedestrian lights, you must only cross when they are green.

Penalty for infringing these rules? €4.

You’re also supposed to walk only on the pavements, where they exist. In country lanes, you should walk on the left, i.e. facing oncoming traffic, unless you’re in a group of walkers or a procession, for example.

Careless pedestrians

As always, there is another side to this. Some pedestrians are not themselves considerate or responsible road users. The Saint-Etienne coppers issued 186 fines within 45 minutes to people who didn’t cross properly, following a spate of accidents where careless pedestrians might have been at fault.

I see people breaching the rules above all the time, probably because they don’t know about them. Pedestrians in our village execute the daftest manoeuvres to get across, dicing with death when they could have walked 10 metres to the crossing to do so. And people wander about in car parks as if they don’t expect to see a car. Not to mention those that find walking in the gutter more congenial than using the pavement.

I believe that the 2010 amendments, making drivers give way to pedestrians wherever they cross, are a recipe for more accidents. Time will tell whether this has been the case.

What do you think?

You might also like:

How to Drive Like the French
Don’t hold your breath – the French breathalyser saga
On the Road: Driving With – or Sometimes Without – a French Licence

Copyright © 2014 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved


  1. Years ago, I was rowed up by a policewoman in Brussels for pushing my daughter in her buggy across a deserted street, not on a crossing. Rather different from my pedestrian experience in Bangladesh, where it’s generally not too bad crossing anywhere, as the traffic is blocked in a tight gridlock, but if it happens ever to move, you stick your right hand up, try to establish eye-contact with the dozens of drivers, pray, and use the ‘fonce’ method. Would be interesting if they introduced rules.


    • That sounds a bit too officious. And I’d have thought the police would have better things to do than harass harmless pedestrians. It is unfortunate, though, that they can be as inconsiderate as other road users.


  2. We have this problem in the US too. When I drive, I do try to watch out for pedestrians in the cross walk (American English for what I think you were calling the crossing?). I think I do a pretty good job, I don’t usually drive very fast (usually only 5 miles over the speed limit).

    My pet peeve are cyclists. I don’t know if they do this in France but many cyclists here seem to think they own the road and take up the whole street with their bicycle instead of sticking to the side of the road like all the other joggers and walkers. Sometimes two cyclists will bike side by side making it impossible to pass, meaning I have to be careful and pass by going into the lane of oncoming traffic (if there are no cars). I’m not sure where they get this idea that they get to take up the entire road. They even recently painted a bicycle lane on the main road off where I live so it’s not like they can pretend not to see it, it’s very visible!


    • Yes, crossing or pedestrian crossing is your cross walk. You do have to keep your wits about you as a driver.

      Cyclists here are normally okay. The French have a great respect for cyclists (influence of the Tour de France) and drivers usually give them a wide berth when overtaking. However, like you, I find it annoying when they cycle two abreast on a narrow and twisting country lane so that it’s difficult to get past safely.


  3. My favorite is when a pedestrian crosses the road without so much as glancing up to see if the motorist might actually stop. Then they meander across as slowly as possible. I’m sure that’s why so many people are mowed down in the crossing. They just think that if they don’t look at you, you will stop. Then there’s the people who just step out into the crossing as soon as they get there without regard that a car that is very close to the crossing might not be able to stop. In tourist season, this happen to me all the time. Linda


    • I think it comes down to consideration for other people. And both motorists and pedestrians are guilty of not bothering to think about how it is for other road users. While motorists can be negligent, pedestrians can be too – as you indicate in your comment.


  4. Pleased to see that the good habit of walking on the left is required by the rules. Some people walk the other side, backs to the traffic. Then, when a car comes towards, its noise may drown out the sound of another coming up behind them. Un train peut en cacher un autre, as the sign says on level crossings, warning that you could be hit by a second train, even if you manage to avoid the first one! Can I add that whilst in standard French a pedestrian is a “un piéton” or “une piétonne”, according to sex, in Belgian French they have derived an extra word from this – “un piétonnier” is a pedestrian zone or precinct. They haven’t bothered with this in France, maybe because cars seem to go everywhere, anyway! Thank you Vanessa for another super piece of writing. Roll on 29 July, Zaronza day…


    • Thanks for the info about the Belgian “piétonnier”. Pedestrian zones (“voie pietonne” or “zone pietonne”) are a bit thin on the ground in France and they do seem to interpret them differently from us (i.e. allowing cars in at certain times or allowing lateral traffic to cross them). Yes, 29th July – once I’ve got Teysseroles out of the way I have to do some serious publicity for that, too!


      • I have a holiday home in a French village. The nearest supermarket is 20 minute walk away. The first time I visited I didn’t have a car. I try to walk facing on coming traffic but there are some sharp bends. I thought it safer to walk on the other side past these bends and one driver stopped to tell me I should be on the other side. I feel a lot of drivers here think they are the only ones who have a right to be on the road.

        Liked by 1 person

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