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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The law changes drivers in France need to know about in 2023

From petrol discounts and motorway tolls to low-emission zones and help to buy a greener car, here’s what’s changing for motorists in France in the next 12 months.

The law changes drivers in France need to know about in 2023

Petrol prices 

The French government’s €0.10 per litre discount on petrol and diesel ends on January 1st, and TotalEnergies’ discount-match at its fuel stations also finishes.

Motorists may be able to look forward to some help from the supermarket chain E.Leclerc, which also owns several petrol stations across France, after the head of the chain E.Leclerc, Michel-Edouard Leclerc, told BFM Politique on December 18th that the company would “make a gesture” to help motorists in France with rising fuel prices, but he did not provide any further details.

But the blanket discount will be replaced by targeted assistance for households on lower incomes who rely on their vehicles for work, with about 10 million workers expected to receive a one-off payment of €100.

To apply for the aid, you will need to register your details on the tax website. 

READ ALSO Who will get France’s €100 fuel hand-out and how?


The French government has unveiled a plan to encourage carpooling on Tuesday, offering drivers who register on carpooling platforms a benefit of €100.

Drivers will be able to register starting on January 1st, and the payment of €100 will be done in instalments – with a lump sum of “at least” €25 upon registration and then the remaining amount distributed over the course of 10 carpool journeys.

“Carpooling is a very effective lever for reducing our country’s fuel consumption in a sustainable way. It is good for the climate and good for the purchasing power of the French,” French environment minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher told Huffpost.

READ ALSO French government announces €100 payment for those joining carpooling platforms

Motorway tolls

From February, motorway toll fees will rise by an average of 4.75 percent, after rising 2 percent in 2022.

The Transport Ministry pointed out that the 4.75 percent toll increase – announced in October – is “markedly lower” than France’s inflation rate of 6.33 percent. 

On some networks, electric vehicles will benefit from a five percent discount, while regular users – who make a minimum of 10 return journeys a month on the same route – may be eligible for a discount of 40 percent, up from the current 30 percent. Check with the motorway operator for details.

READ ALSO Driving in France: What is télépéage and how does it work?

You can find out tariffs for autoroutes on the website of France’s official autoroute body AFSA – where you can also calculate the cost of your journey – including fuel.

Breakdown fees

No one wants to break down on the motorway, but if you do, you probably want to know how much getting your vehicle fixed will cost. The annual government-set charges are clear.

If your vehicle can be repaired at the side of the motorway in 30 minutes or less, you will be charged a government-set fee. A decree published in September 2022 indicated that the fee was to rise €131.94 in 2021, to €138.01, plus parts.

READ ALSO French motorway breakdown services cost rises

Extra help to buy electric vehicles

French president Emmanuel Macron announced in October an increase in the financial aid available for anyone who trades in a combustion engine car for an electric one from January 2023.

In a partial reversal on previous plans, under which the ecological bonus for trading in an older car for an electric model was set to fall, Macron said: “Because we want to make the electric car accessible to everyone, we are going to increase the ecological bonus from €6,000 to €7,000 for half of [France’s] households.” 

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: The financial aid available to buy an electric car in France

Electric car charge points

Since October 1st, electric vehicles parked in front of a public charging station must be connected and charging – drivers cannot simply use them as an extra parking space. Anyone who ignores the rule risks a fine of €58.

Crit’Air sticker extension and more fines for polluting vehicles

France’s environment minister announced in October a major extension of the city low-emission zones controlled by Crit’Air stickers, plus an increase in fines up to a maximum of €750. 

Between 2023 and 2025, 43 more French cities will create low-emission zones, on top of the 11 that already have them.

READ MORE: Crit’Air: Drivers face €750 fines in France’s new low-emission zones

The Crit’Air system requires all motorists – including the drivers of foreign-registered vehicles – going to any of the low-emission zones to get a sticker for their vehicle. The sticker assigns the vehicle a number from 0 (all electric vehicles) to 5 (the most polluting).

Some low emission zones will begin gradually banning more polluting cars. Paris, for instance, intends to ban Crit’Air 3 vehicles in July 2023, a move held back from July 2022.

READ ALSO Driving in France: How the Crit’Air vehicle sticker system works

Winter tyres

France introduced a law, the Loi Montage II (mountain law II), in 2020 making winter tyres, chains or socks compulsory in certain areas, which will finally come into effect in 2023.

The law makes either snow tyres, all-weather tyres or chains compulsory in 48 of France’s 96 mainland départements – generally those areas which are mountainous, with local authorities in those départements responsible for deciding where such rules will be applied.

READ ALSO Winter tyres and snow chains: What are the rules in France?


Drivers in France may not have to worry about the little green stickers that they attach to their windscreen (windshield) soon, after French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire announced plans to scrap them in favour of a digitalised system set to start in 2023.

The goal, according to the finance minister, is to simplify the process for drivers and reduce costs.

French car insurers, like France Assureurs, have been pushing for the piece of paper to be scrapped for some time.

READ ALSO France announces plan to scrap vehicle insurance windscreen stickers

Roadworthiness test for motorcycles

After some back and forth, the French council of the state decided in October that motorcycles (two-wheeled vehicles) would also need to comply with “roadworthiness” testing starting January 1st, 2023. This is part of a decree passed by the French government in August 2021, and it specifically concerns two-wheeled vehicles registered to dates prior to 2016. The council of the state specified that the vehicles concerned are “motor vehicles with two, three or four wheels with a cylinder capacity of more than 125 cm3.” As of December 2022, the details regarding how this plan will be implemented were not yet available, so it is possible enforcement measures will be staggered, according to reporting by Auto-Moto.