ZCR, ZFE, ZPAd... complicated French rules will not put me off my road trip 

If you are planning a summer road trip, make sure you are up to date with the Crit'Air sticker rules

A vintage French car driving along a road
Make sure to get your car ready before a summer roadtrip
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I have no idea what this summer might bring, but being ever-optimistic, I am preparing for lots of travel. 

Brittany is so wonderful in the summer, and I have had my eye on Alsace for years, not to mention the Basque coast, Paris, and the Camargue. 

It is highly unlikely I will get round to all of them, especially as explorations of the Pas-de-Calais and Auvergne are already planned. 

To be prepared, however, I have sent off for my Crit'Air vignette. 

You buy this  sticker online from certificat-air.gouv.fr and it costs €3.72, including postage. 

Read more: A guide to Crit’Air stickers in France

The sticker turned up within days and I dutifully stuck it on my windscreen, so I'm now equipped to drive through a whole host of cities. Or am I? 

Having inspected the site, it seems that there are ZCRs, ZPAs, and ZPAds. 

I am mentally hearing echoes of the beloved rhetorical question, pourquoi faire simple quand on peut faire compliqué? as I figure this out…

ZCR rules

A ZCR (zone à circulation restreinte) requires all cars to have a Crit'Air sticker, and certain vehicles are permanently banned. 

In a ZPA (zone de protection de l'air) you do not usually need a sticker unless it is a special restricted day, in which case you will. 

If you have got the wrong one (i.e your car is in a high pollution class) you cannot drive there at all. 

If a ZPA applies to an entire departement then it is called a ZPAd.

There are also ZFEs (zones à faible emissions), with permanent restrictions on polluting vehicles, where you must have a sticker. 

These days a great list of cities require drivers to have a Crit'Air sticker in their care. 

As well as Paris, this includes Lyon, Montpellier, Nice, and Toulouse, among others.

In theory, all towns with a population of 150,000 or more will have a ZFE in place by January 2025. 

Read more: 2024 MAP: Where are France’s clean air driving zones? What are rules?

Police presence

I am sure that more acronyms will be added down the line. 

For now, however, I am secretly glad to note that in typical French style, the whole scheme is surrounded by ifs and buts. 

In many places there is a 'tolerance', meaning you could get told off by the gendarmes but are unlikely to be fined for failing to display a sticker, or even for driving in the wrong part of town. 

In others I hear the exclusions are so randomly timed and badly notified that in practical terms they don't have much effect.

I daresay the rules will gradually be tightened, and I will be checking specific cities before I drive into them. 

I reckon displaying the sticker on your vehicle is the important thing for now. 

Having acquired that, I can continue my fantasy travel planning for this summer. La Rochelle could be a good place to sit out the Olympics. Or possibly even the Pyrenees...