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DRIVING

Driving in France: What are the offences that cost you penalty points on your French licence?

French drivers don't exactly have the best reputation, but that doesn't mean that there are no rules in place on the roads in France. Here's a guide to driving offences and how many points they will cost you if you have a French licence.

Driving in France: What are the offences that cost you penalty points on your French licence?
Don't risk losing points from your driving licence. Photo: AFP

The first thing to note is that the points system in France is based on deduction – while in the UK you start with a 'clean' licence and have points added on if you commit offences, drivers in France have points taken off.

Newly qualified drivers in France start off with six points on their licence and get an extra two for every year that they don't commit any traffic offences until they reach the maximum number of 12.

READ ALSO Why you really do have to stop at a 'stop' sign in France


Don't get caught doing something you shouldn't by the gendarmes. Photo: AFP

If you exchange a foreign licence for a French one you start off with the maximum 12 (unless French authorities have on record any driving offences on your British licence), but if you are in a situation where you have to take a test in France you will start off with six.

Points are then deducted for traffic offences until you reach zero – at which point your licence can be taken away.

Not that tourists driving on foreign licences in France are subject to fines but not penalty points. Those living in France but driving with an EU licence are normally forced to exchange it for a French one if they commit a serious driving offence (but this often depends on the gendarmes). It's also possible that the penalty points on a foreign licence are stored on a database and then deducted when the driver exchanges the licence for a French one, but again this is not done across the board.

So what can you lose points for in France?

Drinking

Drink drive limits in France are lower than many other countries, which can catch visitors out. The limit is 0.5 grams per litre of blood, equivalent to just one small glass of wine or beer. For learner drivers the limit is 0.2 g/l.

France has a bit of a problem with drink drivers, especially in rural areas where it is often seen as socially acceptable and you will frequently see people do it. However that doesn't mean that it's legal and saying that everyone else in the bar was also about to drive will cut no ice at all with the gendarmes if you get stopped.

  • Driving with a blood alcohol of 0.5g/l to 0.8g/l is a class four infraction while the offences below all count as a crime. But it will still earn you 6 points off your licence
  • Driving with blood alcohol of more than 0.8g/l or in a state of obvious drunkenness – 6 points
  • Refusing to submit to a breathalyser or blood test – 6 points
  • Driving after drug use or refusing to take a drug test – 6 points
  • Failure to comply with a requirement to drive a vehicle fitted with a breathalyser – 6 points.

This last offence is a relatively new one. In 2019 a new law was introduced which allowed drink drivers in certain circumstances the choice between either losing their licence immediately or agreeing to have their car fitted with an ignition breathalyser which will not allow the car to be started unless the driver has provided a clear breath test.

Drivers must pay out of their own pocket (about €1,000) to have them fitted and during the agreed period must not be caught behind the wheel of any car that does not have the device fitted.


Fixed speed cameras are becoming a lot more common in France. Photo: AFP

Speeding

Breaking the speed limit will also net you points, especially in areas where there are lots of speed cameras, and how many points you lose depends on how much you were exceeding the speed limit by.

  • Breaking the limit by less than 20 km/h – 1 point
  • Breaking the limit by more than 20km/h if the limit is under 50km/h – 1 point
  • Breaking the limit by between 20km/h and 30km/h – 2 points
  • Breaking the limit by between 30 km/h and 40 km/h – 3 points
  • Breaking the limit by between 40km/h and 50 km/h – 4 points
  • Breaking the limit by more than 50 km/h – 6 points
  • Possession, transport or use of any equipment designed to disrupt or detect speed controls – 6 points

The above generally refers to speed camera detecting radars or phone apps but in some areas, especially rural ones, you will see drivers flashing their lights at you to warn that gendarmes are up ahead with a speed camera and this too is technically illegal. 

It's also worth pointing out that if you'redoing something particularly ridiculous like driving at 90 km/h past a children's playground while watching a video on your phone this would come under the heading of dangerous driving, which can attract much stiffer penalties.

READ ALSO: Why being a pedestrian is a high-risk activity in Paris

Traffic and parking offences

You might see some of these committed on a more or less daily basis, particularly if you live in Paris, but they are in fact illegal

  • Driving on an unbroken white line on the road – 1 point
  • Accelerating while someone is trying to overtake you – 2 points
  • Driving in the left hand lane (fast lane) on a dual carriageway when the right hand lane is free – 3 points
  • Dangerous overtaking – 3 points
  • Crossing an unbroken white line on the road – 3 points
  • Not respecting a safe distance between vehicles – 3 points
  • Changing direction without indicating – 3 points
  • Driving on emergency lanes (hard shoulder) – 3 points
  • Dangerous parking – 3 points
  • Use of a handheld mobile phone while driving, or a phone with headphones (using a hands-free kit that connects to the car's speakers is OK) – 3 points
  • Refusing to give way to a driver who has priority – 4 points


READ ALSO How does France's 'priorité a droite' rule work?

  • Going through a red light, a stop sign or give way sign without stopping – 4 points
  • Driving in a forbidden area (eg a pedestrianised zone) – 4 points
  • Driving at night without sufficient lighting – 4 points
  • Failure to give way to a pedestrian who is on a crossing, or a pedestrian at a crossing who clearly intends to cross – 6 points
  • Driving while disqualified or suspended – 6 points
  • Accidental injury to a person causing them to lose three months or more of work – 6 points


She is clearly intending to cross, so you must give way or risk a traffic offence. Photo: AFP

Others

  • Failure to wear a seat belt – 3 points
  • Failure to respect the transparency of windows or windscreen (ie having too dark a tint) – 3 points
  • Transporting more passengers than the vehicles has places for – 3 points 

Source: Service-publique.fr

Dangerous driving

And of course dangerous driving is an offence as well.

The French Highway Code, Article R412-6, states: “The driver must at all times adopt a cautious and respectful behaviour vis-à-vis other road users, particularly vulnerable road users.

“Every driver must be constantly in a state of readiness and in a position to execute all the manoeuvres required of him/her immediately.

“His/her freedom of movement and field of vision must not be reduced by the number or position of passengers, by the objects carried or by the affixing of non-transparent objects to the windows.”

So things like eating, smoking and putting on make-up at the wheel are not illegal, but if an officer judges that you are not in control or your vehicle you could face a fine of up to €150. In extreme cases police can also seize your vehicle.

Fines

As well as getting points on your licence, most of the offences above will also earn you a fine ranging from €33 for the least serious offences to €1,500 for the most serious – or €3,000 if you are a repeat offender. Swift payment can reduce the amount to be paid for some classes of offence.

If you have lost enough points that you are in danger of losing your licence, you can apply to go on a two-day driver re-education course. You pay a fee to attend – between €100 and €200 depending on where you are –  but if you complete the course to the satisfaction of the instructor you can have some points cancelled. 

READ ALSO France finally scraps law forcing drivers to keep breathalyser kits in cars

Breathalysers

One thing that is not illegal in France, however, is not having your own portable breathalyser kit in the car. This was initially proposed as a law, but was never subject to a fine. It has since been quietly dropped and now drivers no longer have to carry disposable breathalysers in their cars.

Reckon you're fully up to speed with the rules of the road in France? Take our quiz on French road signs.

 

 

 

 

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DRIVING

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!

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