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Does France have unmarked radar cars to catch people speeding?

French officials distinguish between two kinds of speed detection system carried by vehicles

The French authorities have several ways of checking speed of vehicles on the roads and motorways Pic: olrat / Shutterstock

Reader question: Our neighbours told us unmarked radar cars operate on French roads to catch people speeding. Is it true? Are you warned about them? Is there a way to identify them?

Unmarked radar cars (voitures-radar) do operate in France and are sometimes driven by gendarmes and uniformed police officers. However, increasingly, authorised private security companies operate them. 

By the end of 2023 selected private companies will be able to use radar cars across every region in mainland France. 

These cars are equipped with infrared sensors which can be used to measure the speed of cars travelling in front of them, overtaking them or passing on the other side of the road. You will not see any actual flash.

By their very nature unmarked cars are designed to catch speeding drivers so you are not warned about them. However there are some signs that a car is an unmarked radar vehicle.

These voitures radar are also distinguished from radars embarqués, which refers to radars carried on board police cars which can only be used from a stationary vehicle, or taken out and mounted on the roadside. 

One difference is the technical margin allowed, which is greater in the case of voitures radar: 10kmph will be deducted from the recorded speed in speed zones under 100kmph and 10% will be allowed in speed zones greater than this (for other radars these are 5kmph and 5%).

How can I spot voitures radar

Among car models currently identified as being used as radar cars in France are:

  • Ford Mondeo
  • Citroën Berlingo
  • Peugeot 508
  • Peugeot 308
  • Volkswagen Passat 7 
  • Volkswagen Passat 8 
  • Seat Leon
  • Skoda Octavia 
  • Volkswagen Golf

The most noticeable difference with radar cars is the presence of the infrared sensor, usually on the car’s dashboard. This can usually be spotted through the car’s windows, or at night you can see the LED flashing lights of the sensor through the windows.

Tinted back windows are another sign that a car may be an unmarked radar vehicle. 

The website aims to track the presence of unmarked radar cars on a departmental basis, 

With the emergence of private companies being entrusted with unmarked radar cars, however, they are less frequently fixed to one department or area, and the same car can be seen across France.

Security companies may have their unmarked vehicles out on patrol for up to eight hours per day.

What roads can they drive on? 

Unmarked radar cars are allowed on all types of roads in France (motorways, national roads, departmental roads, and local roads). There are no restrictions on where they can be present. 

The roads they patrol, however, are decided by departmental prefects and are usually based on those which see high levels of speeding or accidents due to speeding vehicles. 

For the time being private cars are not used in all areas, notably in Ile-de-France and the south-east, but this is expected to change. 

Related articles 

Map: This is where private speed camera cars are operating in France

France’s vehicle safety checks are changing. Here is how

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