With UK travellers embarking on millions of trips by sea and Channel Tunnel this summer, the RAC is warning drivers taking their own cars abroad to be aware of local air quality regulations, and if needed buy the correct windscreen sticker before they go – or risk a nasty fine of up to €180 (£154).
In France, the most popular destination for UK drivers, a total of 12 different areas across the country now restrict car movements based on how polluting vehicles are, with some locations much stricter than others. But unlike in the UK’s clean air zones, visitors to these parts of France must also ensure they have a specific sticker – called a Crit’Air Air Quality Certificate – displayed on their windscreen.
Whether a car is permitted to drive into a low emissions zone or not depends on how polluting it is, and therefore which of six different stickers it needs. The cleanest electric and hydrogen vehicles require green Crit’Air ‘0’ stickers, while at the opposite end of the spectrum the most polluting diesel vehicles need dark grey Crit’Air ‘5’ ones.
As of July, two new locations – the cities of Bordeaux in the south-west and Clermont-Ferrand in central France – require drivers to display the right Crit’Air sticker for their vehicle. But in 10 other locations, stricter regulations mean that only vehicles that have specific stickers, and are therefore deemed clean enough, are permitted. Unsurprisingly, Paris is the strictest city, allowing only cars that bear Crit’Air ‘0, ‘1’ or ‘2’ stickers to use certain roads and certain times from this summer, followed by the Aix-Marseille-Provence region, Toulouse and Reims that permit only vehicles with Crit’Air ‘0’, ‘1’, ‘2’ or ‘3’ vignettes.
UK drivers have to ensure they have the right Crit’Air vignette displayed on their windscreens before they leave for France – these need to be ordered in advance via the official French Government website as they cannot be bought locally. The cost is €4.61 (around £4), and the sticker is valid for the life of the car. The RAC is aware of unofficial third-party sites that charge six times as much for the same sticker, which drivers should avoid at all costs.
Any driver found to be driving in a low emissions zone and not complying with the local regulations – by either not displaying a sticker at all or by driving a car that’s too polluting – risks a fine of €68 (£58), which rises to €180 (£154) if not paid within 45 days. Fines will increase up to €750 (£640) next year when camera-based enforcement begins.
And while France has the Crit’Air vignette scheme, it’s far from being the only other European country with increasingly strict emissions regulations. Switzerland has the Stick’Air vignette scheme – similar to that in operation in France – while cities in Spain require ‘DGT’ stickers. One country’s sticker is not valid in another, so if a driver plans a road trip covering several nations they need to ensure they have the appropriate sticker for each.
RAC Europe spokesperson Rod Dennis said: “Many UK drivers will be familiar with clean air zones such as the London Ultra Low Emission Zone, but they should also be ready to encounter them abroad this summer. It’s vital anyone travelling to Europe does their homework to see whether an emissions-based windscreen sticker is needed – and give themselves enough time to order one before their trip.
“In France, six years after Crit’Air emissions stickers were first introduced in a bid to improve air quality, there are now 12 locations where British drivers’ movements can be restricted based on how much their cars emit. As time goes on, the regulations also get stricter and within a few years all but zero-emission vehicles will be banned from some city centres.
“So, every driver visiting a region covered by the Crit’Air scheme needs to ensure they’ve bought the right sticker for their vehicle from the official French government website and displayed it on their windscreen before they leave the UK. Stickers correlate with the Euro emissions category of the vehicle they’re driving and are valid for the life of the vehicle.
“Anyone without the right sticker or driving a non-compliant car into a low-emissions zone risks an on-the-spot fine. These €68 penalties are issued by local police officers in France but as early as next year camera-based enforcement will begin meaning maximum fines will rise to a holiday budget-busting €750 (about £640).
“Drivers visiting cities in other European countries, including Spain, Italy and Switzerland, also need to check whether they’re affected by any low emission zones before embarking on their trips.”
The RAC carries comprehensive guides to driving to other European countries, including France, as well as an explanation of the French Crit’Air scheme. Best-in-market European breakdown cover is also available.