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DRIVING

Stranded: Brits in France left with no driving licence due to lack of post-Brexit agreement

Brits in France have told how they have been left stranded with no driving licence due to the lack of a post-Brexit reciprocal agreement over driving licence swaps.

Stranded: Brits in France left with no driving licence due to lack of post-Brexit agreement
Photo: Kenzo Tribaullard/AFP

Elsa Cormack’s UK licence expired when she turned 70 in January and she has been unable to either renew it or exchange for a French one, leaving her unable to drive despite living in a small village in southern France with no public transport.

Her husband Sydney, who has been dealing with the swap, said: “There is no public transport here, just the school bus, so I have had to drive her everywhere. Our son is getting married this year so we will try to get to the UK as soon as the borders open up, but we usually share the driving as it is a long way.”

Jon Savage, 55, lives in the Vienne département in western France and without a driving licence is now struggling to access vital medical appointments.

He said: “I’m an insulin-dependant diabetic so my UK licence needs renewing every three years. I moved to France in 2018 and sent off my dossier in November 2018 to swap my licence for a French one.

“It was returned and I was told I could keep driving on my UK licence for the time being. I applied again at the end of last year because the licence was close to expiring but my application has been sitting in a queue ever since and now my UK licence has expired.

“I can’t get to my medical appointments which are in Poitiers, which particularly important for me as I have just been diagnosed with a heart problem. 

“If you are caught driving without a valid licence then the fine is up to €15,000 and a year in prison!”
 
Josephine Washington, who lives in Corbieres, has also been left without a licence after hers expired while waiting for the exchange.
 
She said: “I sent my forms off by post a few months before my 70th birthday back in June 2019, 18 months later these were returned and I was advised to apply online instead – except that my licence has now expired and the online portal is not accepting applications from UK licence holders.
 
“I live about a mile outside the nearest village so I need to drive for everything, even taking the rubbish out. My husband was very ill and died in October 2019 so there were a lot of trips to and from hospital that I had to rely on others to drive me.
 
“I’m also partially disabled so driving really is vital for me. I’m looking into taking the French driving test but I’ve heard this can be very expensive and also quite a time-consuming process even for those people who have already held a driving licence but there don’t seem to be any other options and no-one can tell me what I should do.”

Brits living in France were supposed to have 12 months to exchange their licences, with the exchange process intended to open on January 1st 2021 and an agreement that UK licences for residents in France would continue to be recognised until the end of 2021.

This applies only to British people living in France and does not affects tourists, visitors or second-home owners.

However when January 1st came around, the online portal for licence swaps was not accepting applications for UK licences.

The British Embassy in Paris initially told The Local that the French site simply needed to be updated, but later admitted that the problem was the lack of a reciprocal agreement in place between France and the UK.

There is still no agreement in place and the window to exchange licences has now shrunk to just over nine months.

But those whose licences expire face being left with no licence at all, a huge problem for those living in rural France where public transport networks are often minimal or non-existent.

UK driving licences need renewing once the driver hits 70, but currently this is impossible, making this a particular problem for the over 70s.

Sydney said: “I applied online for her in November last year, when they were at least still accepting applications from people whose licence would shortly expire, but since then we have heard nothing and every time I call or email they just say to wait.

“We can’t get any help or advice from people, some say just to keep driving anyway but the official advice seems clear that you cannot drive if you don’t have a valid UK licence and it would probably invalidate the insurance.

“We’re lucky because I managed to exchange my licence the previous year, but what about people living alone?”

A spokesman from the British Embassy in Paris said: “The latest on exchanging driving licences in France remains that UK driving licences will continue to be recognised in France until 31 December 2021.

“The rules for exchanging your licence have not been confirmed. We will provide updates as soon as we have them, and you can find full information here.”

Since 2019 Brits living in France have only been able to exchange their licences in certain specific circumstances after an earlier surge in applications left a massive backlog at the centre in Nantes that processes such applications.

This means that people who moved to France since 2019 have never been able to apply to change their licence, while many others were left waiting for months or had their application turned down.

French officials are still working through the backlog, which is also slowing down some applications from drivers of other nationalities.

Anyone who doesn’t manage to exchange their driving licence before it expires potentially faces having to take a French driving test, a lengthy and expensive undertaking even for people who have many years’ experience behind the wheel.

READ ALSO Four years and €1,800 – taking the French driving test as a foreigner 

A petition has now been launched calling on the French and UK governments to end the hardship and conclude a reciprocal agreement. You can sign the petition HERE.

Member comments

  1. I have just been on the uk government website which says “You can use your French licence in the UK for short visits, or exchange it for a UK licence without taking a test. We will update these pages if there are any changes to the rules, as soon as information is available”. Is this the case for french residents and if so why do our licences run out at the end of the year in France and we have to take a test until/unless an agreement is reached?
    Andrew Tarr

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DRIVING

Driving in France: Understanding the new French traffic laws

Over the past few months France has brought in several new laws relating to the roads - here is what you need to know, whether you're a pedestrian, a cyclist or a motorist.

Driving in France: Understanding the new French traffic laws

Changes for bicycles

France already has quite strict laws in place for cyclists, including a ban on listening to music on headphones while cycling, but as the government attempts to boost cycling in France, some additional laws have come into effect.

New categories – Starting in October 2022, France will create two additional categories for bicycles: the vélomobile (bicyles with protective panelling) and the vélo couché (horizontal bicycles). As these bikes are lower to the ground and more difficult for motorists to detect, they will be banned on roads where speed limits exceed 50 km/h.

Fast bicycles – Bicycles whose electric assistance allows them to go up to 45km/h will have to ride on a D9 track on roads with a speed limit of 50 km/h or more. This type of track allows for a separate space for pedestrians and cyclists. These types of bicycles should not ride on D10 tracks (where the sidewalk is shared between cyclists and pedestrians) for safety reasons.

Reflectors – New rules will go into place at the start of October also allow bicycles to use orange or yellow reflectors, which were previously prohibited. 

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about cycling in France

Changes for drivers

Signs

Signs banning the use of “cruise control” were repealed starting October 1st.

Additionally, starting in October, on the road in front of railroad crossings, a checkerboard marking area will be added to limit the possibility of accidents. This is intended to help vehicles be more aware of where they cannot enter, particularly if they are to be blocked in that space due to traffic. 

QUIZ How well do you know your French driving laws?

Electric vehicles

Starting 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. Violators risk a fine of €58.

Driverless cars

Starting September 1st, a new set of laws went into place that allowed for the licensing of more types of autonomous vehicles on the road in France, albeit with some limits.

Specifically, the laws concern “Level 3” (on a scale of 1 to 5) ‘semi-autonomous vehicles.’ These vehicles can operate either with a driver or automatically. However, France is still a long way from allowing unmanned vehicles on the roads, and it is important to note that so far only one such semi-autonomous vehicle has been approved for use – the Mercedes S-Class. Several other manufacturers have also announced their plans to launch their own versions.

City vehicle limits

Several new cities have introduced either introduced or extended their current rules regarding low-emission zones, which ban the most polluting vehicles from certain areas, based on the Crit’Air sticker system.

As of September 1st, the cities of Marseilles, Lyon and Rouen introduced such changes.

All vehicles are required to display a Crit’Air sticker, which gives them a rating of 1-5 based on their emissions level.

In Marseille Crit’Air 5 vehicles will be banned from a zone in the city centre, while the law comes into effect on September 1st, police will only start issuing fines on October 1st.

In Lyon the low-emission zone which is already in place in the city and its surrounding suburbs will now include private vehicles – previously it only concerned commercial vehicles. It covers Crit’Air 3,4 and 5 vehicles, however fines will only start being given in January 2023, until then police will simply inform drivers of the new rules.

READ MORE: MAP: Which French cities have vehicle bans or restrictions?

Rouen too is expanding its low-emission zone – which covers 13 communes of the city and its suburbs – to include private vehicles with a Crit’Air 4 or 5 rating.

A similar scheme is already in place in Paris, covers vehicles with Crit’Air 3, 4 and 5 ratings, while several other cities have intermittent schemes that come into effect when pollution levels rise. 

The sticker requirement covers both French and foreign-registered cars.

“Contrôle techniques” for motocycles and two-wheel vehicles

Technically, all motorised two-wheel vehicles were expected to need to submit to inspects as per a 2014 directive from the European Union.

In France this means the Contrôle technique – the regular vehicle inspection already required for cars (similar to the MOT in the UK). This would affect owners of motorised two-wheelers (scooters, motorcycles, mopeds) larger than 50 centimetres cubed. It would also impact owners of unlicensed cars, three-wheeled scooters, sidecars and quads.

If you have a vehicle dating from before 2016, according to the directive by the European Union, you should do your technical inspection prior to October 1st. For vehicles manufactured between 2016 and 2020, you have (in theory) until January 1, 2024. There is no set time frame for newer vehicles.

However, there has been much confusion surrounding this rule. President Emmanuel Macron’s government has attempted to pass legislation eliminating the obligation, but the legal status of the French government’s attempts are unclear, as they are still being judged by the European Commission. There will likely be more clarity on the subject, including further regulations regarding sound pollution, in the coming months, according to La Nouvelle Republique

According to reporting by La Voix du Nord, owners of two-wheeled vehicles do not have to worry about being fined if they have not yet submitted to inspections. 

Paris 

Within the city of Paris, riders of motorbikes, mopeds and scooters now have to pay for parking.

The new rules come into effect on Thursday, September 1st and concern motorbikes, mopeds and scooters.

Anyone who parks a motorbike, moped or a scooter with an internal combustion engine in public parking spaces within the Paris area has to pay.

READ MORE: Paris brings in new parking fees for motorbikes and scooters

Low-emission two-wheelers, such as electric scooters, can still park for free – however you will still need to register with the scheme. 

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