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The new driving laws and penalties that come into force in France this week

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The new driving laws and penalties that come into force in France this week
Drivers in France risk greater penalties for no stopping at pedestrian crossings in future. Photo: AFP
10:59 CEST+02:00
A series of new laws came into force in France this week that both drivers and pedestrians should be aware of, including stiffer punishments for all those drivers who don't stop at crossings. Will it work?

The new laws which were first announced in January after a meeting of the inter-ministerial road safety body came into force on Tuesday after they were officially published online in the Journal Officiel, which records all new laws and decrees in France.

And drivers need to be aware what the new laws and new penalties which have been added to France's "Code de la route" mean for them.

Here's a rundown of the changes which the government say are aimed at increasing protection for pedestrians crossing roads in France and cracking down on drink-driving.

Crackdown at pedestrian crossings

The French government is intent on cutting the number of pedestrians killed in road accidents - 519 last year and over 11,000 injured - and so is turning its glare on drivers who don't stop at pedestrian crossings.

Penalties for drivers who don’t respect pedestrian priority at crossings have got harsher. While fines haven’t increased, these kinds of offences will now cause drivers to lose six points on their license rather than four.

Foreigners in France and the French themselves are often confused about the laws at pedestrian crossings. It feels as though the motorist is in charge and that drivers rarely stop for pedestrians unless they are already half way across the road.

READ ALSO: Fake laws: The real rules for driving in France you need to know about

In fact the law suggests that drivers in France should stop as soon as they see people obviously waiting to cross the road. The laws states that drivers must stop if the pedestrian has entered the crossing "or shows a clear intention to do so".

Pedestrians will be hoping the potential loss of 6 points will encourage more drivers in France to stop. But we'll have to wait and see if the move really does increase protection for those crossing the road.

Separately the government is planning to make pedestrian crossings more visible to drivers in the hope it makes it easier for them to stop.

Cameras to snare more drivers

French authorities are becoming more fond of using video surveillance and roadside cameras to snare rogue drivers. Thousands of automatic cameras are already used to snare speeding drivers and they will now be used or further offences

From now on if you commit an offence that is caught on CCTV you can receive a penalty notice directly through the mail, even if you weren’t stopped by police at the time of the offence.

Cameras will be used to punish drivers for disrespecting one-way systems, not giving priority to pedestrians at crossing (see above) or driving with unreadable licence plates.

New measure for drunk drivers

From now on drivers found to have drunk more than the legal limit they’ll have two options.

They could face a temporary suspension of their licence or agreeing to have a vehicle ignition breathalyzer (see pic below) installed in their car. A vehicle ignition breathalyser (or ignition interlock) means that the car cannot be started unless you pass a breathalyzer test first.

It involves blowing into a device installed in the car. Since 2015 ignition interlocks known as EADs in French (Ethylotest anti-démarrage) have become compulsory in France on buses and coaches, but not in cars.

The devices require the driver's alcohol level to be below 0.2 grams per litre of blood in order for the vehicle to start.

The new measure will apply to those drivers caught with between 0.8g/l and 1.8g/l of alcohol in their blood. Drivers will have to pay out of their own pocket for the devices which cost around €1,000 and will have to remain in the car for at least five years.

The idea behind the move is to allow people who need their vehicles to work to be able to continue in their jobs, whilst at the same time preventing them from repeating the offence.

Last year in France 1,035 people lost their lives in road accidents where alcohol was considered to be a factor.

The French government's road safety chief Emmanuel Barbe believes the ignition interlocks have proven their effectiveness but they are still under used.

"The EAD is a recognized tool against re-offending for drunk driving. It is hoped that by developing the use, its price will drop and thus start a virtuous circle," said Barbe.

Although the story of how a drunk bus driver in France got school children to blow into an ignition breathalyzer to start his vehicle shows that the devices have their limits.

One passenger per seat

It might be surprising that this law doesn’t already exist, but from now on cars can legally only carry one person in each seat, and no more passengers than stated on the vehicle registration certificate.

Up until now fines could be given out if passengers were found not wearing seat belts which presumably would be the case if there were too many passengers in the car.

But from now on any driver caught carrying more passengers than there is seats will face a €135 fine and the loss of three points on their driving licence.

Wide berth for vehicles stopped by road

From now on in France if you see an emergency vehicle flashing its lights or any vehicle using hazard lights while stopped or travelling slowly on a hard shoulder, legally you have to slow down as you approach and change lane, if you can do so safely.

If you can’t change lanes safely give the vehicle as much space as you can in your lane. Those who ignore the law and drive too close to an ambulance or breakdown vehicle parked by the side of the road will face a fine of €135.

No holding any device that makes a noise

While France already has a ban on people using their mobile phones at the wheel the rule has been extended to cover any device that needs to be held to an ear that emits a sound. 

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