What are Low-Emission Zones in France?

23 January 2024

First introduced in France in 2015, the Low Emission Zones (ZFE) have taken over from the Restricted Traffic Zones (ZCR). The ZFEs are a territorial scheme managed by local authorities and supported by the State, designed to delimit geographical zones in urban areas where the circulation of certain vehicles can be restricted according to the quantity of emissions of atmospheric pollutants and fine particles.

The legislative framework and objectives are defined in the Mobility Orientation Law (LOM) of 26/12/2019 and the Climate and Resilience Law of 22/08/2021. The main aim of deploying m-FTAs is to improve air quality in urban areas by reducing emissions of atmospheric pollutants and fine particles resulting from road mobility. In the long term, this will lead to a reduction in serious illnesses linked to exposure to fine particles and other atmospheric pollutants.

From a motorist’s point of view, the ZFE-m can have an impact on travel in two ways:

  • A partial ban on traffic in urban areas in the event of a pollution peak, where differentiated traffic is decreed by the prefect for the duration of the pollution peak.
  • A permanent ban on access to the urban area at times defined by the local authorities.

In France, the Low Emission Zone initiatives are monitored and enforced by a system of air quality certification known as Crit’air. This certification takes the form of a sticker to be affixed to the vehicle’s windscreen. Vehicles are categorised according to their emissions of atmospheric pollutants, fine particles and nitrogen oxides. This summary will focus solely on the classification of diesel and petrol light commercial vehicles.

An exhaustive classification is available in article L.318-1 and R.318-2 of the Highway Code:

  • Crit’air 0: Electric or hydrogen.
  • Crit’air 1: Petrol, Euro 5 and 6 standard from 01/01/2011; diesel: not eligible.
  • Crit’air 2: Petrol, Euro 4 standard between 01/01/06 and 31/12/2010; diesel: Euro 5 and 6 standard from 01/01/2011.
  • Crit’air 3: Petrol, Euro 2 and 3 standard between 01/10/97 and 31/12/2005; diesel: Euro 4 standard between 01/01/2006 and 31/12/2010.
  • Crit’air 4: Diesel, Euro 3 standard between 01/01/2001 and 31/12/2005.
  • Crit’air 5: Diesel, Euro 2 standard between 01/10/97 and 31/12/2000. Not classified: Petrol and diesel: Euro 1 and earlier.

Article R411-19-1 of the Highway Code already provides for a penalty mechanism in the event of non-compliance with the EPZs. Any infringement of the ZFE-m is punishable by a class 3 fine with no loss of points on the driving licence. Fines are set at €68 for light vehicles and €135 for heavy vehicles, with a system of reductions and increases ranging from €45 to a maximum of €450.

In response to these constraints, the State and local authorities are offering a range of schemes to help people living in EPZs to buy cleaner vehicles, with an added bonus.

Here are the details:

  • Ecological bonus: up to €4,000 for an electric or hydrogen-powered van.
  • Conversion allowance: up to €9,000 for the purchase of an electric or hydrogen-powered vehicle, on condition that an old vehicle is scrapped.
  • ZFE bonus: €1,000 extra assistance.
  • Local authority ZFE bonus: up to €2,000.

In addition to the aid provided by the State and local authorities, a series of national and local exemptions have been introduced to enable professionals who have no zero-emission alternative to maintain their activity in urban areas. You can find the list of local exemptions on your local council’s website.

Here is the list of permanent national exemptions:

  • General interest vehicles as defined in article R. 311-1 of the Highway Code (Gendarmerie, customs, fire brigade, SNCF, GDF, SMUR and other emergency medical services).
  • Ministry of Defence vehicles.
  • Vehicles carrying a “mobility and inclusion” card bearing the words “parking for the disabled”.
  • Low-emission public transport vehicles.
  • Vehicles with an equivalent range in all-electric mode in the city of more than fifty kilometres.