Crit’Air pollution vignettes

Towns and cities across Europe are battling with air pollution, a threat to public health caused by the vehicles we drive and the particulates, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide that they emit. Various countries across mainland Europe have adopted a system for restricting circulation and access of the most polluting vehicles (or favouring circulation and access to those vehicles that pollute less).

In France, since January 2017, every motorised vehicle has needed to identify itself – when so required – with a Crit’Air Air Quality Certificate disc (vignette or pastille) – which shows which pollution category it belongs to. (Its French name in full is le certificat qualité de l’air.) A vehicle’s age, engine size, fuel type and performance characteristics will determine which category it belongs to. “When so required”, above, means when you want to enter a zone à circulation restreinte (see below)! (Vehicles older than 20 years are exempt from needing to display such a vignette but will consequently be excluded from certain zones without exception.)

Vehicle owners are responsible for applying for and displaying these discs (not unlike the old tax discs). The issuing authority will determine in which pollution category your car belongs based on its vehicle registration number and its date of first circulation (as shown on the vehicle’s certificat d’immatriculation). You don’t need to know the full technical details when you apply for your vehicle’s disc.

Most of our readers will be familiar with this system by now, but this post is provided in response to requests for a concise English-language explanation from several of our clients.

Full details of how to apply for your vehicle’s disc are provided below. Your application will result in you being sent one of the following self-adhesive, coloured discs to stick in your vehicle’s windscreen (or on your bike’s frame).

How the French Crit’Air system works

Municipalities are free to apply local restrictions to circulation and/or to parking based on these different vehicle categories.

Paris, Strasbourg, Grenoble, Lyon and Toulouse already have systems in place to check vehicles for these discs. Later this year (2018) Annecy, Bordeaux, Marseille and Rennes will do likewise. With this system in place vehicles identify themselves as belonging to a specific category (or class). Different municipalities can therefore impose their own restrictions by designating low-emission zones even, theoretically, in response to changing local air quality.

The above signs indicate the start and finish of a ZCRzone à circulation restreinte. A ZCR is a permanent low emission zone. Certain categories of vehicle will be unable to enter these zones at any time. Other categories that can enter will need their vignette to indicate that they belong in that permitted category.

In addition there are ZPAs. These are emergency, short-term, low-emission zones which will bar entry to certain categories of vehicle because of spikes in local pollution levels. ZPA zones are usually announced the day before they come into effect. Even if your vehicle is not barred from entry, the failure to display your vignette within a ZPA could incur a penalty.

The above signs will be modified to specify which categories of vehicle the restriction applies to. The example below shows that all light-goods vehicles and vans are excluded, regardless of category. (Don’t ask why the categories are needed in order to specify that restriction!)

There is a third type of zone, the ZPAd, which is an environmental zone that applies to a whole departément. These can be determined on a case-by-case basis – in extremis.

In some municipalities, parking charges are linked to vehicle category. Category E vehicles, ones with green discs, can sometimes park for free. (It’s not difficult to imagine a country-wide push to have people abandon their more-polluting internal-combustion engine vehicles, a push in which the Crit’Air system could play a significant part.)

Penalties for not having a Crit’Air disc – or for non-compliance

It was reported that between January 2018 and mid-April 2018 authorities in Paris had issued 3,500 fixed penalties related to Crit’Air vignettes, an average of 51 a day!

The current on-the-spot fine for not having a Crit’Air vignette is 68€ for cars and 135€ for heavy-goods vehicles. Failure to pay such fines after a delay of 45 days increases the fine to 180€ and 375€ respectively.

Fines for not respecting these restrictions – even if you have a valid vignette – range from 45€ to 180€. None of these penalties are accompanied by taking points off your driving license. In some areas, notably Paris, a double-offence (no vignette and non-respect of restrictions) will result in a fine and the immobilisation of the vehicle.

Getting help with an app for your smartphone

A flexible system like this which responds to changing local circumstances – and respects less polluting vehicles – is a complex system. Keeping up with these changing circumstances is made a bit easier with a free pan-European multi-lingual app, the Green-Zones app, available for Android and for iOS.

The Green-Zone app enables you to identify your location so that it can connect to local information and tell you what restrictions (if any) apply to your category of vehicle in your location. It works with tablets and smartphones.

Where can I get a Crit’Air disc?

The French administration’s main website has an excellent page about these discs. The Comment l’obtenir section provides a link to the on-line application form (in English) and to the downloadable application form (in French).

The administration has also provided an English language page that introduces the process of ordering your Crit’Air sticker.

Only the registered owner of a vehicle can make an application. The discs are posted to the registered owner’s address.

Crit’Air validity period

Once you have your Crit’Air disc and it’s in place on your windscreen, it’s valid for as long as the information on it remains valid. If you sell or transfer the vehicle, the disc goes with it.

Crit’Air vignette cost

The Crit’Air disc costs 3,11€. Add the cost of posting it to your French address, and the disc will cost 3,62€. That’s what the French State will charge you. If you are ordering your discs elsewhere and you are being asked for more than that, check to see that the extras you are paying for, if any, are worth it. (The cost is the same if you apply on-line or post a hand-written application form, although you will have to pay for the envelope and the stamp for the latter.)

Driving to France with a non-French car

If you wish to bring your non-French car to France on holiday, you can apply for a Crit’Air certificat at the French government’s own website using their non-French vehicle registration page. Postage to an address outside Frances will cost a bit more, bringing the whole deal to no more than a reasonable 4,21€. Get your vehicle registration certificate at the ready!

The pollution classes

When you apply for your Crit’Air disc you will not need to know which category your vehicle belongs. That will be done for you by ‘the authorities’. However, you may be interested to see the global picture of which vehicle types belong in which categories, as shown below. (Lorries and heavy goods vehicles have been left out for the sake of simplicity.)

The authorities have provided an on-line simulator where you can establish what category your vehicle will belong in.

To use this, you will need your vehicle’s certificat d’immatriculation.

Critair-e logoHydrogen and fully electric vehicles
Critair-1 logoGas-powered and rechargeable hybrid vehicles
Categories / classesDate first registered / EURO standard (Wikipedia page(link is external))
2, 3 and light-motorised 4-wheelersCarsLight utility vehicles < 3½ t
Critair-1 logoEURO 4 motorcycles from 1.1.2017 and mopeds from 1.1.2018EURO 5 and EURO 6 from 1.1.2011EURO 5 and EURO 6 from 1.1.2011
Critair-2 logoEURO 3 from 1.1.2007 to 31.12.2016 for motorcycles and up to 31.12.2017 for mopedsEURO 5 and EURO 6 from 1.1.2011EURO 4 from 1.1.2006 to 31.12.2010EURO 5 and EURO 6 from 1.1.2011EURO 4 from 1.1.2006 to 31.12.2010
Critair-3 logoEURO 2 from 1.7.2004 to 31.12.2006EURO 4 from 1.1.2006 to 31.12.2010EURO 2 and EURO 3 from 1.1.1997 to 31.12.2005EURO 4 from 1.1.2006 to 31.12.2010EURO 2 and EURO 3 from 1.1.1997 to 31.12.2005
Critair-4 logoUnclassified for all types from 1.6.2000 up to 30.6.2004EURO 3 from 1.1.2001 to 31.12.2005EURO 3 from 1.1.2001 to 31.12.2005
Critair-5 logoEURO 2 from 1.1.1997 to 31.12.2000EURO 2 from 1.1.1997 to 31.12.2000
No Crit’AirNo class for all types up to 31.05.2000EURO 1 and up to 31.12.1996EURO 1 and up to 30.09.1997

Just remember: you don’t need to know the details above when you apply for your vignette. Just have your certificat d’immatriculation to hand.