In a move to combat air pollution, the French government initiated the Crit'Air windscreen stickers in January 2017.
These serve as an indicator of a vehicle's emission levels and they've become very important for drivers navigating France's city streets, especially if you are planning to visit areas like Paris and Bordeaux.
The Importance of the Crit'Air for UK Drivers
For British motorists planning a journey through France, securing this little sticker is essential, even if you are driving a modern car.
The cost is a nominal €4.61 per sticker, inclusive of postage but there are a couple of things to consider.
Neglecting to display a sticker can lead to an immediate fine, potentially up to €135. Given the modifications to the Crit’Air system post-summer 2019 and the increased fervour with which traffic police are stopping people in certain areas, it’s important to make yourself familiar with the rules and where your car fits into this.
These 'clean air' windscreen stickers categorise vehicles based on their pollutant emissions. There are six shades of green compliance, with each sticker colour denoting a particular emission level:
The primary intention behind the inception of the Crit’Air stickers was to mitigate vehicle emissions, especially in metropolitan areas prone to poor air quality. Vehicles may be barred or granted access based on their sticker category, ensuring only cleaner vehicles frequent these areas. The long and short of it is that, if you are driving into a busy urban area, you are likely to need a sticker.
There are two types of low-emission zones:
As of July 2023, regions like Bordeaux, Paris, Lyon, and Marseille, among others, have embraced the ZCRs. However, Paris takes the lead with two permanent zones: the Greater Paris ZCR and the Central Paris ZCR. This is a bit of a moveable feast – rules can change in particular areas so it’s important to understand what is required. Ignorance, unfortunately, is not a suitable defence.
Infringements like failing to display the correct sticker or violating emission restrictions (for example, having the wrong sticker for your car) can lead to fines ranging from €68 for cars and motorbikes to €135 for trucks.
These zones come into play during instances of elevated pollution and are larger than the permanent zones. Several areas, including Paris, Grenoble, and Lyon, have implemented these emergency zones. Again, this is something that can change without much warning.
Markers indicating the commencement and end of a ZCR zone help drivers navigate with more confidence. They are easy to see but it’s important to be aware of the consequences of driving into a zone if you don’t have the right sticker.
Within France, the price is €3.72, but in the UK it costs €4.61. You need to purchase your sticker before you head for the French shores.
Our top tip: Avoid third-party sellers and purchase only from the official Crit’Air website. This is a government-run site which means you can be confident that you are getting the right sticker and are complying with the current rules. Third-party sellers basically charge you extra for something you can do quite easily yourself.
Order your sticker from the official French government website.
Make sure you familiarise yourself with your vehicle's European Emissions Standard and have a digital copy of your V5C registration form ready.
Drivers face fines ranging between €68 and €135 if they neglect to display the appropriate sticker or enter restricted zones without one. Some older models, deemed major emission culprits, are not even eligible for a sticker (see below if you’re a classic car driver).
Once secured, the Crit'Air vignette remains valid for the vehicle's entire lifespan, as long as it remains legible.
Cars that were registered before 1997 don’t qualify for the Crit’Air. This may sound like good news but it’s not.
It means you can’t drive in restricted areas and are more likely to be pulled over and fined. There is less certainty about classic cars that have been modified to be more eco-friendly and reduce emissions. It’s worth taking advice to see whether your vehicle (and that includes motorbikes) has some sort of workaround.