New laws in France offer dystopian view of cycling

French law

No wonder so many cars travelling to France each summer groan under the weight of a fully laden bicycle rack – cyclists there are shown an enviable degree of courtesy on the road. However, it’s a level of respect not always matched by the country’s law makers.

Bicycles have been part of the French national psyche for over a century and their riders enjoy better protection in law than we do here in Britain. In the event of cyclist being knocked off, the driver is automatically liable; an altogether sensible law that protects those on bicycles in many European countries.

Cycling law in France

However, rather less helpful are the number of onerous regulations imposed on cyclists over the last few years by French bureaucrats. For example, from March 22 2017, laws in France have required cyclists under 12 to wear a cycle helmet as rider or pillion. If you’re a family that chooses to ride without helmets, be careful – the fine is a hefty €90.  Furthermore, in poor visibility cyclists are required to wear a high-visibility tabard. Oh, and should you wish to remove those 1970s-style wheel reflectors the bike was sold with, think again. Cycling with earphones is also a no no.

The illustration below, from the Direction de la sécurité et de la circulation routières shows what equipment is obligatory under laws in France (in pink writing) and what is optional (in black). It’s a dystopian vision of cycling as far from the Dutch model as it’s possible to be – short of simply asking riders to leave their bikes at home and instead take the car.

French cycling law

A dystopian vision of cycling – do the French think it’s an extreme sport?

In urban areas, the car should be regarded as a guest. As a consequence, the bureaucratic process should concern itself with making changes to the legal framework and infrastructure to make possible the Dutch model of cycling, rather than decreeing that cyclists wear Day-Glo bibs in bad weather.

dutch cycling

This is how cycling should look

Ethical cycle insurance

On the face of it, one cycle insurance policy is much like another, but the devil is the detail. Check your small print for so-called ‘new-for-old’ replacement – many insurers use the term, but if your bicycle is more than a few years old, devalue it severely. This means you are left out of pocket when you come to replace it.

With ETA cycle insurance, however old the bike, if it’s stolen you get enough to buy a new model. Furthermore, every cycle insurance policy you buy from us helps support the work of the ETA Trust, our charity campaigning for a cleaner, safer transport future. No wonder The Good Shopping Guide has voted us Britain’s most ethical insurance company three years in a row.

Driving to France this summer?

The ETA Guide to Driving in France is a free e-book packed with information and advice for anyone planning a driving trip across the channel.

Download your free copy here.


  1. Julie Stainton


    I really don’t like the tone of this article. Of course, the safety of cyclists is paramount. I cycle a lot more than I drive a car but I still go for the safety stuff. It is totally sensible to be visible. Why take a chance when you are up against inattentive drivers whose inattention can kill?

    I’d rather wear a helmet and keep my head intact than a righteous-it-wasn’t-my-fault patient with a serious head injury.

    Our brains are our most precious and valuable asset – why risk them over resentment of protective measures? Child cyclists or passengers are especially vulnerable.

    And who on earth would wear earphones when they are cycling (or walking or driving for that matter)?

    Vive la France!

    • The ETA


      The more non-cyclists see people on bikes dressed as if they were on a building site or directing airliners towards a runway, the more they implicitly absorb the message that cycling is inherently unsafe. It’s not.

      • MJ Ray


        There’s some evidence that special clothes and looking less human actually makes motorists take less care around us, thereby increasing the risks by more than enough to negate any protective effect. So shouldn’t we resent clothing that does no good but costs us money and is a faff to use?

        As for who uses earphones when cycling: me, when I’m in a busy place and trying to follow directions. One earpiece is much safer than trying to look at a satnav screen or map. My hearing is still better than when I used to use a helmet and have wind noise from the straps in front of my ears. There are multiple products like cat ears and helmet angel to reduce helmet strap noise, but helmet users try to pretend that’s not a problem and earpieces are!

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