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Living in the Languedoc:   Driving:   Bison Futé

Traditionally, the French take their holidays in France. Each year the northern French decamped en masse to the South all on the same day at the begining of August and then returned, all on the same day at the end of August. Predictably, this caused appalling traffic jams, sometimes hundreds of miles long. As a result the government decided to stagger holidays, so the position is now slightly better. Another initiative to reduce congestion is the Bison futé scheme.

Each year in June the French ministry of Transport issues a map showing areas of congestion. It is called the Carte de Bison futé (crafty bison map) - presumably the reference is to great heards of shaggy beasts from the north making seasonal mass migrations, none of them being bright enough to workout alternative routes for themselves.

The map gives alternative routes indicated by yellow or green signs. Copies are available free from petrol stations and tourist information centres. Holiday routes are indicated by green arrows allowing you to miss large towns and cities

There are some 90 information rest areas in France indicated by a black "i" and an Information Bison Futé sign. TV and radio announce how bad traffic jams are by a system of colour codes: orange (bad), red (very bad), and dreadful (black).

There is further advice, in French, on safety and on potential traffic black spots during the holiday seasons on the French Government-run website: http://www.bison-fute.equipement.gouv.fr.

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