What you risk if you drink and drive in France

A new punishment for drink driving is being rolled out across France in a bid to cut the number of road deaths linked to alcohol. Here’s what you need to know about what's at stake if you drive whilst under the influence in France.

What you risk if you drink and drive in France
1,035 people died in 2017 in France due to drink driving offences. Photo: AFP

France is introducing a new law that will apply to all those caught drink-driving.

From now on drivers will have to pick between either having their licence suspended or having a vehicle ignition breathalyser installed in their cars.

The ignition breathalyser means the car cannot be started unless you first pass a breathalyser test that involves blowing into a device installed in the car.

The devices known as EADs in French (ethylotest anti-démarrage) have been compulsory in France since 2015 on buses. 

(Drink drive offenders can opt to have an ignition breathalyser installed in their vehicles. Photo: AFP)

They require the driver's alcohol level to be below 0.2 grams per litre of blood in order for the vehicle to start. The legal limit for everyone else is 0.5 g/l, with drivers with less than three years of experience begin limited to 0.2 g/l.

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


Police recorded 123,926 drink driving offences in France in 2017. Photo: AFP

Drink driving is still seen as socially acceptable by many in France, but road safety charities say that it caused the deaths of 1,035 people in 2017.

Police say that they recorded 123,926 drink driving offences that year, which represents 20 percent of all traffic offences.

Alcohol is also said to be behind 58 percent of all road deaths at weekends.

Twenty-nine percent of the people surveyed by France’s Prévention Routière et Assureurs Prévention in 2014 admitted they had driven with more than the legal 0.5 grams/ litre of alcohol in their blood stream.

According to the study titled “Going out, drinking alcohol and driving: the French take too many risks”, 27 percent also claimed they had gotten in a vehicle even though they thought the driver was over the limit.

The head of France's leading motorists group said France had 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 at the time.


Here are the rules about drinking before you drive, but in general the official advice is that it's better to shun alcohol altogether if you’re about to hit the road.

With the limit being just one small beer or glass or wine – and even that can sometimes put you over the permitted level – full sobriety is the best way to go when you get behind the wheel.

These are the most severe punishments possible, but judges can and do impose lesser ones. Their punishments may depend on the consequences of the driver's actions, such as whether there was an accident and whether people were hurt or even killed.

  • Driving with more than 0.8g/l of alcohol in the blood can lead to a two-year jail sentence, a three-year driving ban or installing an EAD in the vehicle, and a fine of up to €4,500.

  • The above punishment can also be handed out to anyone who refuses to take a breathalyser test.

  • Any subsequent drink driving offence can land you four years in jail, a fine of €9,000, and a three-year driving ban (or getting an EAD installed)

  • All of the above offences will make you lose up to six of the 12 points on your licence, and you vehicle may be confiscated.

  • Driving under the influence of drugs or failing to cooperate with a drugs test will land you up to two years in jail, a €4,500 fine and a three-year driving ban.

  • Driving with between from 0.5g/l and 0.8g/l of alcohol in your blood can leave you with a fine of €135 (reduced to €90 if you pay within days of receiving the fine), the loss of six licence points, and a three-year suspension of your licence.

While you might escape paying a fine if you are caught by a speed camera driving in France in a foreign-registered car, this will of course not apply if you are caught drink driving, as this entails contact with a police officer who has stopped you.



Member comments

  1. What’s the use of having a Vehicle Ignition Breathalyser installed in your car, when you can just get a child or someone who hasn’t been drinking to breath into it so that you can start your car?

    1. The devices have a camera in them to record who’s blowing. They also require you to blow again after a period of time in order to continue driving.

  2. Agree with Daniela … but also one glass of wine or a small beer … ambiguous? Wine is higher in alcohol content than beer so I am having trouble with the “arithmetic”?

  3. Beer is usually weaker than wine (though not always these days) but a small beer is usually bigger than a glass of wine so the alcohol consumption is probably about the same, unless you’re drinking the special small beers they serve sometimes in bars, in which case the alcohol content may also be the same. Drinks and glasses all vary in strength and size so it’s bound to be a bit ambiguous, but it seems to be a rough estimate that will keep folk out of trouble. The best advice if you’re driving is don’t drink at all and the small amount that is permissible makes it hardly worth bothering with – so why bother?

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8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Taking a roadtrip through France is always a popular holiday option, but make sure that you're ready to take to the French roads.

8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Black weekends – as with all countries, France has certain weekends when the roads are likely to be especially busy. These generally coincide with school holidays, public holidays and opportunities to ‘faire le pont‘ – as well as the traditional ‘crossover’ weekend when the July travellers return and the August travellers set out.

There is a helpful traffic forecasting website called Bison futéfind it here – which publishes a calendar of days that are likely to be especially busy on the roads. Avoid red and black days if possible.

Fuel prices

It seems likely that fuel prices will remain high around Europe this summer, and France is no exception despite the government fuel rebate of 18 cents per litre.

The government publishes an interactive map of fuel stations and the prices they charge, so if possible you can plan your journey to fill up in the cheapest area.

MAP Where to find the cheapest fuel in France

Crit’Air stickers – if you plan on driving into or through a city, check whether a Crit’Air sticker is required for your vehicle. Initially the province of the big cities, more and more towns now require these. 

The sticker gives your vehicle a rating based on the emissions is produces, vehicles that get the highest ratings of 3, 4 or 5 are banned outright from some cities, while other cities limit their movement in days when air pollution is particularly bad.

The sticker costs less than €5 but must be ordered online in advance of your trip – here’s how.

Yellow vest – yellow vests in France are not just for demonstrators, they form part of the kit that you are legally obliged to have in your car. A red warning triangle and a high-vis yellow jacket must be carried with you at all times, although it is no longer compulsory to carry a breathalyser.

If you’re coming from the UK your UK driving licence is enough – there is no need for an International Driver’s Permit – but check that your insurance covers trips to France. Insurance ‘green cards’ are not required. 

Péages – if you’re driving on autoroutes you will likely need to pay, as most sections of the French highway are covered by tolls. When driving you will see warning signs that the péage (toll booth) is coming up and that is your signal to get your money ready.

The cost varies depending on which road you are on and how far you drive.

Usually you take a ticket at the first toll booth and then when you exit that section of road you drive through another station where you pay. The pay stations take either cash or debit cards – some but not all allow contactless card payments – and as you approach the pay station you will see signs with either a coin or a card on them, to ensure you’re in the right lane for your payment type.

Naturally the pay stations are on the left of the vehicle. If you’re driving a right-hand drive car and don’t have a passenger this can be a little awkward, so there is an option to buy a pre-paid radar device – known as télépéage – that allows you to drive straight through the péage.

Speed limits and alcohol – obviously you will need to keep an eye out for speed limits (which are of course in km/h not mimes per hour) but if you’re on the autoroute there are two different limits – 130km/h for fine weather and 110 km/h for bad weather.

As well as police officers doing speed checks, also keep an eye out for radars (speed cameras) which sit at the side of the road and are usually grey.

If you’re in certain parts of rural France you might think that drink-driving laws don’t apply in France, since unfortunately there is still a culture of drinking and driving in some areas.

In fact, however, France has strict limits on drinking and driving and they may be lower than you are used to. If you are stopped and breathalysed you face losing your licence and saying ‘well everyone else in the café had two glasses of wine and then drove’ is not a legal defence.

READ ALSO Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive laws?  

Fake police – Speaking of police, it is an unfortunate fact that every summer, some tourists fall victim to scammers who pretend to be police offices and demand cash for ‘fines’.

Real French police officers do stop drivers – either if they have been speeding or committed another driving offence or simply for a random check – but if you incur a fine you will be given a ticket that you pay later. Genuine police officers will not demand that you hand over money in cash at the roadside.

Priorité à droite – France’s most notorious road law is still in place in certain areas, but not everywhere. The priorité à droite rule (priority to the right) essentially means that you give way to the vehicle that is approaching from the right unless there are road signs or marking in place telling you to do otherwise.

In practice this means that on most major routes and in towns you simply obey the street signs, road markings and traffic lights to determine who has the priority.

It’s really more on smaller, country roads where there are no markings that priorité à droite applies, although it’s also in place on smaller roads in residential areas of cities and on Paris’ famously confusing Arc de Triomphe roundabout (although there are plans afoot to pedestrianise the area around the Arc).

You can read a full explanation of the priorité à droite rule HERE.

. . . and French drivers.

It pains us to peddle a cliché, but a lot of French drivers do live up to their international stereotype of being terrible drivers. Not all, of course, but certainly don’t assume that your fellow drivers will give way or let you join a queue of traffic. Also just because a vehicle isn’t indicating, that does not mean that it’s not just about to turn. Also, for the American readers out there – though automatic cars do exist in France, they are typically more expensive to rent and stick shifts tend to be the norm in France. 

Bonne route!