French drivers still think ‘little alcohol, little danger’

Almost one quarter of French drivers have admitted to drinking alcohol before driving, according to a new survey on Tuesday.

French drivers still think 'little alcohol, little danger'
Photo: AFP

The annual survey into French driving habits carried out by Axa insurance revealed the French are actually becoming more conscientious drivers.

They are looking at the phones less while driving, speeding less as well as drinking less alcohol before getting behind the wheel.

However, some of the statistics still give cause for concern.

Some 23 percent of drivers said they had got behind the wheel of the car after drinking “two glasses” of an alcoholic drink, although it doesn’t specify whether those drinks were wine, beer or perhaps cognac.

The figure of 23 percent is actually a slight fall on the 28 percent who admitted to the same bad habit in the previous year’s poll.

Some four percent of drivers admitted to downing more than four glasses of an alcoholic drink, compared to six percent the previous year and a staggering 14 percent in 2004.

“When it comes to drink-driving, or at least having four or more glasses before getting behind the wheel, this is where the French have made the most progress in recent years,” Axa's Celine Soubranne told The Local.

“But we still see a number of them drinking small amounts, because they still don't see any danger in it, even it it still means their awareness is reduced.

“They still think 'little alcohol, little danger',” Soubranne said.

Despite the fall, the figures will still be a of huge concern to authorities in a country where more and more people are dying in road accidents each year.

'Alcohol second cause of death on roads'

Alcohol is the second leading cause of road fatalities in France – the first one being speed – and is responsible for around 10 percent of road deaths in France, the total of which last year stood at 3,464.

Last year the French government cracked down on drink driving among young people by reducing the legal limit from  0.5 grams/litre of alcohol in their bloodstream to 0.2.

Previous surveys have suggested the problem is even more worrying with the culture of drink-driving in France proving hard to extinguish.

According to a 2014 study titled “Going out, drinking alcohol and driving: the French take too many risks”, 27 percent also claimed they had ridden in a vehicle even though they thought the driver was over the limit and 29 percent said they had driven with more than the legal 0.5 grams/litre of alcohol in their bloodstream.

Seven in ten people in France go out at least once a month, the vast majority (83 percent) of whom drink alcohol when they do go out socially.

Perhaps most alarming is that 78 percent of people who do head out to party do so by car and 49 percent go home by the same means (29 percent of passengers too).

'Drink-driving not yet socially unacceptable like in UK'

The head of France's leading motorists group says France has failed to make the same progress as the UK.

“In contrast to the UK, drink-driving is not yet socially unacceptable in France,” Pierre Chasseray, the head of driver's group “40 million d'automobilistes” told The Local previously.

“In the UK it's become shameful to drink and drive but in France it is still accepted. For the last 40 years the government has done nothing to tackle this problem even though it is the main cause of deaths of France's roads.”

“The government needs to put in place a policy to prioritize reducing the levels of drink driving. In France up to now the authorities have been obsessed by cracking down on speeding, because it brings in money through speeding tickets.”

Tuesday’s latest Axa survey also revealed that the French did not feel too safe on the country’s roads, particularly on the smaller “routes nationales” and “routes départementales” and in towns.

Some 41 percent said they did not feel safe on two-way roads and 47 percent said the density of traffic in towns and speeding drivers, also made them feel unsafe.

READ ALSO: Why is drink-driving still 'acceptable' in France?


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What to do if you are hit by an uninsured driver in France?

Nearly 23,000 people across France were involved in a road accident with an uninsured motorist in 2021 - so here is what you need to know about being compensated in this situation.

What to do if you are hit by an uninsured driver in France?

For Julien Rencki, the head of the victims solidarity insurance fund, estimates that there are a little less than one million uninsured drivers on French roads, and he expects the number of incidents between uninsured and insured drivers to grow once more.

“In the first six months of 2022, we had already taken care of 15,000 victims, including more than 5,000 with physical injuries,” Rencki told French daily Le Parisien.

So in the not unlikely event that you are hit by an uninsured drover, what should you do?

First, you should check to see whether you are insured “against all risks” with your vehicle insurance. If so, your insurer will be required to compensate you for both injury and property damage.

READ MORE: Seven need-to-know tips for cutting the cost of car insurance in France

You should also check to see whether your plan with your insurance company has a “defence-recovery” clause (this would cover the cost of legal proceedings in the event of a dispute). 

However, if you have a partial coverage plan (in French this is: assurée qu’au tiers) and you are not entitled to compensation with your insurance company, then you can still be entitled to compensation thanks to the victim’s fund (FGA) – an association that exists to provide compensation to victims, including those of road accidents in scenarios where the perpetrator was uninsured.

In fact, if you or the passengers in your car were injured and the police intervened, and it was noted that the person responsible was uninsured or fled, then the officers would have been required to send a report to the victim’s fund. You would be able to access this on their website HERE.

To apply for this financial assistance, you will need to fill out a claim form, and provide identification as well as a copy of the police or gendarmerie report. If you do not have the latter, you can also send a copy of the accident report, as long as it was signed by both parties, or an accident statement with witness signatures. This will serve as proof that you were not at fault in the accident.

You have up to three years to appeal to the FGA.

If you are given an offer for compensation, then you can either accept or refuse it. 

READ MORE: Driving in France: Understanding the new French traffic laws

The rules on car insurance in France

In France, motorists are required to have third-party insurance, and anyone who drives without insurance risks penalties, such as a fine of up to €3,750, a licence suspension for up to three years, or the confiscation of your vehicle. Penalties may be more severe depending on how long the person is proven to have driven without a licence. 

Additionally, for the motorist without insurance, if they are responsible for an accident, they can still be required to pay the victim’s fund if indemnities are paid to the victim. These fees can amount to several thousand euros.

Vehicle insurance companies are seeking to find ways to encourage the uninsured to sign up for plans, as many cite high costs as the reason they do not have insurance. 

For instance, in September, several insurance companies set up ‘inflation packages’ to help young or unemployed drivers afford car insurance, reported Le Parisien.