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DRIVING

Reader question: Is my UK driving licence still legal in France?

The ongoing diplomatic impasse over driving licence swaps has left many Brits in France confused over whether they can continue driving. Here's the situation.

Reader question: Is my UK driving licence still legal in France?
Photo: Adrian Dennis/AFP

Question: I keep reading about these problems with UK driving licences and now I’m worried – is my UK licence invalid or can I still drive in France?

The saga of swapping UK driving licences for French ones has been a long and painful one, even by Brexit standards. But the situation at present is that Brits living in France need to swap their licence for a French one before the end of the year – except that no applications for exchanges are currently being accepted because the UK and France have so far failed to reach a reciprocal agreement on this.

So what does this mean if you’re in France and you need to drive?

If you are a tourist or visitor this doesn’t affect you – visitors to France can continue to use their UK licence and don’t need an International Drivers Permit.

If you are a permanent resident in France you will need to swap for a French licence, but French authorities have agreed to continue recognising UK licences until December 31st, 2021, so for now you can keep on driving legally.

If your UK licence has expired or is about to expire then you have a problem. UK licences expire once the holder reaches 70 while people with certain medical conditions need to renew their licence regularly and these people are caught in an impossible situation – they cannot renew their licences in the UK because they do not live there and they cannot swap it for a French one because applications are not currently being accepted. The Local has spoken to people, many of them elderly, now stranded in rural France with no driving licence. We have asked British authorities what they advise their nationals in this situation to do but have not received any guidance.

If you have already swapped your licence for a French one then you’re all good, there is no need to take any further action. Many UK nationals resident in France before 2018 have made the swap, but from 2018 applications were frequently returned and since 2019 there has been a block on UK licence holders swapping their licence for a French one, unless they met certain criteria. 

So what can UK driving licence holders do now?

There are only really two options – wait and hope that the British and French governments come to an agreement (negotiations are apparently ongoing) or take a French driving test.

The French driving test is complicated, involving both a theory and a practical test and also expensive – a certain number of lessons is compulsory even for experienced drivers and the total cost of both tests and lessons averages more than €1,000. 

If you choose to wait, you could sign this petition while you’re waiting, it calls on the UK government to end the impasse and make an agreement.

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

Member comments

  1. Although a reciprocal is being asked for, as a French person, you can apply on line from GOV.UK website for a “D1” pack which allows you to swap your French Licence for a UK one. It’s costs £43 (48 Euros) and I’d be happy to give the French Government 50 Euros just to get this completed…

  2. O.K. i am trying to get my head around his very distressing situation. If, as you say, a French person can exchange there driving license in England – albeit for a small fee. Then it would appear that the problem lies with the French government, we in France thought the UK were to blame. Can anyone please solve the puzzle?

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DRIVING

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

Certain countries around Europe have stricter policies than others regarding drinking and driving and harsher punishments for those caught exceeding legal limits. Here's what you need to know.

COMPARE: Which countries in Europe have the strictest drink-drive limits?

European countries set their own driving laws and speed limits and it’s no different when it comes to legal drink-drive limits.

While the safest thing to do of course, is to drink no alcohol at all before driving it is useful to know what the limit is in the country you are driving in whether as a tourist or as someone who frequently crosses European borders by car for work.

While some countries, such as the Czech Republic, have zero tolerance for drinking and driving, in others people are allowed to have a certain amount of alcohol in their blood while driving.

However, not only can the rules be different between countries, they are usually stricter for commercial (or bus) drivers and novice drivers as well. Besides that, the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is extremely difficult to estimate, so the old “one beer is ok” standards no longer safely apply.

In the end, the only way to be safe is to avoid consuming alcohol before driving. Any amount will slow reflexes while giving you dangerous higher confidence. According to the UK’s National Health Service, there is no ‘safe’ drinking level.

How is blood alcohol level measured?

European countries mostly measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC), which is the amount, in grams, of alcohol in one litre of blood.

After alcohol is consumed, it will be absorbed fast from the stomach and intestine to the bloodstream. There, it is broken down by a liver-produced enzyme.

Each person will absorb alcohol at their own speed, and the enzyme will also work differently in each one.

The BAC will depend on these metabolic particularities as well as body weight, gender, how fast and how much the person drank, their age and whether or not (and how much) they have eaten, and even stress levels at the time.

In other words there are many things that may influence the alcohol concentration.

The only way to effectively measure BAC is by taking a blood test – even a breathalyser test could show different results. Still, this is the measuring unit used by many EU countries when deciding on drinking limits and penalties for drivers.

Here are the latest rules and limits.

Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Croatia

In most EU countries, the limit is just under 0.5g/l for standard drivers (stricter rules could be in place for novice or professional drivers).

This could be exceeded by a man with average weight who consumed one pint of beer (containing 4.2% alcohol) and two glasses of red wine (13% alcohol) while having dinner.

If a person is caught driving with more than 0.8g/l of blood alcohol content in Austria, they can pay fines of up to € 5,900 and to have their license taken for one year in some cases.

In France, if BAC exceeds 0.8g/l, they could end up with a 2-year jail sentence and a € 4,500 fine. In Germany, penalties start at a € 500 fine and a one-month license suspension. In Greece, drunk drivers could face up to years of imprisonment.

In Denmark, first time offenders are likely to have their licences suspended and could be required to go on self-paid alcohol and traffic courses if BAC levels are low. Italy has penalties that vary depending on whether or not the driver has caused an accident and could lead to car apprehension, fines and prison sentences.

In Spain, going over a 1.2g/l limit is a criminal offence that could lead to imprisonment sentences and hefty fines. 

Norway, Sweden, and Poland

In Norway, Sweden, and Poland, the limit for standard drivers is 0.2g/l. It could take a woman with average weight one standard drink, or one can of beer, to reach that level.

Penalties in Norway can start at a one month salary fine and a criminal record. In Poland, fines are expected if you surpass the limit, and you could also have your license revoked and receive a prison sentence.

Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have one of the strictest rules in the European Union. There is no allowed limit of alcohol in the blood for drivers.

In the Czech Republic, fines start at € 100 to € 800, and a driving ban of up to one year can be instituted for those driving with a 0.3 BAC level. However, the harshest penalties come if the BAC level surpasses 1 g/l, fines can be up to € 2,000, and drivers could be banned from driving for 10 years and imprisoned for up to three years.

This is intended to be a general guide and reference. Check the current and specific rules in the country you plan to travel to. The easiest and best way to be safe and protect yourself and others is to refrain from drinking alcohol and driving.

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