The days to avoid driving in France summer 2020

France is the most popular travel destination in Europe with under normal circumstances over eighty-one-million worldwide visitors per year, but it is unclear how the Covid-19 pandemic will affect traffic on French motorways in 2020.

France typically sees top traffic every July and August weekend. However, the outer European borders of countries where the virus-related health situation is not under control, remain closed. Travelers' fears of contracting the disease abroad will also have an adverse affect on travel to or through France. This year, however, French natives may decide to vacation in-country, choosing a driving holiday over flying which may balance things out again. Additionally, the extra measures put in place at borders to control and to trace the spread of the disease, may put people off traveling.

It's also important to note new peeks of Corona virus in certain areas such as Catalonia in Spain, with governments (e.g. Belgium) demanding that travellers returning home from their holiday take a test and quarantine themselves for two weeks. The risk of illness in addition to the prospect of more time away from work means that in recent days bookings are being canceled again. This may affect bookings in the Vendée as well, as the area is a very convenient ad popular stop-over for people travelling to and from Spain. EU travel and transport guidelines

So, when can we expect the infamous "black weekends" in France?

Under normal circumstances, Saturdays are busy travel weekends throughout the summer months. In 2020 it is expected to be very busy on Saturdays 8th and 15th August. On those Saturdays there are usually hundreds of kilometres of traffic jams. It is not recommended to travel through France at that time. In other years, the best days to travel during the summer period have proved to be Thursdays and Sundays.

However, due to corona virus there may be a deviation from the norm with peek travel happening Monday through Thursdays in summer 2020. As mentioned above, it is unclear how the pandemic will affect traffic on French motorways this season.

On peak days, the ring around Lille as well as the Paris Périphérique (the ring around Paris - in south-east and south-west directions) as well as the routes Calais-Rouen-Le-Mans and Paris-Bordeaux-Spain. are always busy. 

Keep in mind that when travelling long distances it's important to have ample food and water in the car anyway; in scorching temperatures even more! It may be tempting, but it is not recommended to drive at night as fatigue plays a deadly role in France's accident statistics.

The information below shows the weekend days by codes orange, red and black. Black Saturdays are infamous on French motorways. At peak times it is not unusual for there to be hundreds of kilometres of traffic jams which can leave weary travellers stuck in place for hours.

Southern Directions
  • Fridays and Saturdays from June 26th through 16th August 2020
    • Orange or red on all routes
  • Black Saturdays 
    • 1st and 8th August 2020 everywhere
  • Saturdays 11th,  18th, 25th July 2020
    • Red on all routes 
  • Saturday 3rd August 2020
    • Red on all routes
Northern Directions
  • Friday - Saturday from  July 10th to August 30th 2020
    • orange or red all routes
  • Weekend 31st July - 1st August 2020
    •  orange all routes
  • Saturdays 8th August 2020
    • red all routes
  • Weekend Friday 14th August through Monday 17th August
    • orange everywhere BUT red in direction Rhone valley - Languedoc
  • Fridays, Sundays & Mondays Fri 21st - 24th August
    • orange everywhere
  • Saturdays Fridays 21st - 24th August
    • red on all routes
  • Friday 28th August and Sunday 30th August
    • orange everywhere
  • Saturday 29th August
    • red on all routes
Covid-19 preparedness
  • Petrol stations are requiring masks, typically indicated on pumps and doors.
  • Stock masks, gloves & hand sanitizer in the car.
Road Travel Preparedness
  • Water (2 liters per family member at least, more in a heatwave)
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Sandwiches, salads, fruit, nuts (in other words, healthy snacks)
  • Cooler with ice-packs
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen SPF 50
  • Wear loose clothing
  • Full tank (petrol stations are few and far between on the French motor ways!!) For the sake of fuel economy:
    • keep car temperature steady
    • use cruise control
    • drive 10 km/hr under the speed limit
  • Light blankets/ pillows
  • Limit screen-time (extending battery use) - have non-tech entertainment on hand as well.
  • Stay in touch with loved ones (NOT while driving)
  • If the Toll routes are your choice, you might consider obtaining the automated box to attach to the windshield (behind the rear-view mirror). Cash or credit cards are also accepted but look closely before selecting a toll booth. Traffic jams are often caused by drivers having to reverse out of a toll booth (which in heavy traffic is a veritable nightmare for everybody!) By the way, we recommend the toll routes. For sure the expense will need to be a part of the overall travel budget, but they are smooth, therefor gentle on the wear and tear of the car, and have less traffic most of the time, and smooth sailing = petrol conservation.
  • Handy websites to help prepare your driving holiday in France:
About pollution

Increased traffic brings increased pollution but again, this may all be different in 2020. Travel increases our carbon footprint significantly in a short period of time. We'd like to remind you that in an effort to reduce the horrible effects of smog, especially around certain areas, France has implemented environmental zones and Air Quality Certificates. This applies to locals as well as tourists.

What is the CRIT'AIR or Air Quality certificate and do you need it?
In France, two different types of environmental zones (soon to be three) have been introduced in order to reduce pollutants caused by the road traffic, and to improve air quality. A registration certificate can be obtained here in the form of a round sticker issued to easily help identify a vehicle's environmental class by colour, based on air pollutant emissions. There are six colours. While the certification isn't mandatory everywhere, it is mandatory in certain predetermined areas. The zones are defined as:

  • ZCR or "zones à circulation restreinte" (traffic restriction zones).  Examples are Lille, Lyon, Paris, Strasbourg and Toulouse. Such zones are often implemented in city centers to remove polluting vehicles from dense traffic areas. Cars registered before 1 January 1997 (for motorcycles, before 1 June 2000) can't be certified and are banned. The ZCR zone represents a permanent restriction.
  • ZPA or "zones de protection de l’air" (air protection zones) are activated in case of high air pollution and bad weather, and therefor they are not permanent. They can cover anything from a metropolitan area, to a specific geographical zone. The limits of each environmental zone are defined in advance and ZPA restrictions are temporary and can include
    • top speed reduced by 20km/hr
    • banning of cars without a Crit’Air badge (circulation différentiée)
    • restrictions based on odd or even registration number
  • From July 1, 2019 Paris will be first in adding yet another zone, a "low-emissions zone" (ZFE) in addition to the ZCR and ZPA zones. It is expected that Lyon, Reims, Strasbourg, Nice and Montpellier will follow before 31 December 2020.  The ZFE will apply to unclassified vehicles and Crit'Air 5 i.e. 2 Wheels, Tricycles and Motor Quadricycles Prior to June 1, 2000; diesel cars and light commercial vehicles prior to January 1, 2001; petrol/gasoline cars prior to January 1, 1997; gasoline light commercial vehicles prior to October 1, 1997; trucks/ lorries, buses and diesel coaches prior to October 1, 2006; trucks/lorries, buses and gasoline coaches prior to October 1, 2001.

The cost of obtaining a certificate (sticker) for your car is quite low (under 8 Euro including postage fees). We recommend being safe rather than sorry by applying for your sticker before travelling to France. In the near future, more cities will introduce environmental zones. Avignon, Bordeaux, Cannes, Clermont-Ferrand, Montpellier and Rouen are on the list, as is La-Roche-sur-Yon. When you encounter these signs in any city center, it is best to heed them. Fines start at €68. Be prepared with the Green Zones App. Check the website here.

Due to its weather conditions and position as a main travel route south, the Vendée is located in pre-determined green zone (encompassing the entire department) where a number of temporary measures may be implemented at times of increased pollution. More about the  Vendée Environmental Zone here!

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Well, we certainly hope your trip to or through France includes a stop in beautiful Vendée. No matter which day you choose to travel, please drive safely. But if you choose to travel in Code Black circumstances, we wish you bonne chance et bon courage!