Traffic Police

The enforcement of driving rules in France

Traffic Police

In France, the gendarmerie nationale, which is actually a branch of the army, is responsible for road patrols, and gendarmes use both cars and motorcycles. The police can stop motorists (called a contrôle) and ask for identification and car papers at any time.

These may include your passport or residence permit, driving licence (French if held), vehicle registration document ( carte grise) and insurance certificate.

It’s wise to make a copy of all these documents and keep the originals on your person (you should never leave them in the car). Police may accept copies, provided you present the originals at a gendarmerie within five days; if you don’t have even copies of the required documents, you will be fined. If a vehicle isn’t registered in your name, you will also need a letter of authorisation from the owner. I

f you’re driving a rented foreign-registered vehicle, you should ask the rental company for a ‘hired/leased vehicle certificate’. You’re entitled to ask the name and particulars of any policeman or gendarme who stops you, but it’s probably better to do so after you’ve found out what you’ve been stopped for!

Fines & Penalties

Fines can be imposed for a range of traffic offences. For offences not involving third parties (e.g. exceeding the speed limit or failing to stop at a Stop sign), police can demand an on-the-spot fine of up to €135. On-the-spot fines are commonly applied to non-resident foreigners, whose vehicles are usually impounded if they’re unable to pay. (French police may take you to a bank to allow you to withdraw cash!) It’s well known that French traffic police target foreigners, although it’s naturally officially denied. (It certainly looks suspicious when police produce pre-written tickets in English!)

Residents who are unable to pay fines on the spot are given 30 days to pay and fines are automatically increased (significantly) if they aren’t paid on time. A 30 per cent reduction is granted to residents who pay a fine on the spot or within 24 hours. You can opt for your case to go to court rather than pay a fixed penalty, in which case you must usually pay a deposit ( amende forfaitaire).

The papers are sent to a police court ( tribunal de police), where the case is dealt with in your absence. The case can be dismissed (extremely rare), the €135 fine confirmed (actually a €129 fine plus €6 costs) or the fine increased. You receive the verdict in the form of an ordonnance pénale and have 30 days to appeal against the judgement, should you wish to do so.

If you receive a fine by post (e.g. having been caught speeding by a camera), you must pay it within seven days or the fine is increased: e.g. a €90 fine becomes a €135 fine after seven days and €345 after a month.

Speeding in France

Speeding fines vary with the type of road and driving conditions. On a dry country road, for example, the fine for exceeding the limit by less than 40kph is €135 (reduced to €90 if paid within three days) and for exceeding it by between 40 and 50kph, €1,500; if you’re more than 50kph over the limit, you must attend a tribunal, which will decide the fine to be imposed. If you fail to pay a fine within 30 days, it’s automatically increased (e.g. a €135 fine rises to €375).

Under the licence points system, motorists also lose one to four points for speeding, depending on how many kph they were exceeding the limit by: up to 20kph (one point), between 20 and 30kph (two points), between 30 and 40kph (three points). If you’re more than 40kph over the limit, your licence is confiscated. If you’re apprehended for speeding in your first year or for not displaying the ‘A’ disc, you will be penalised four points irrespective of your excess speed.

Drunk Driving in France

If you’re found to have between 50 and 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, you’re fined between €135 and €750 and lose three points from your licence. Above 80mg, you can be fined up to €4,500 and lose your licence. Drunken drivers can be jailed for up to two years (or have to do four years’ community service), without even having caused a serious accident. If you maim or kill someone, you can be faced with a €30,000 fine and four years in prison.

Other Offences

Fines and penalties for other offences include the following:

  • One point for straddling an unbroken white line.
  • Three points for crossing an unbroken white line.
  • €11 to €38 for failing to present necessary documents on demand (rising to €135 if you don’t present them within five days).
  • €35 to €150 and three points for changing direction without warning or driving on the hard shoulder of a motorway.
  • €135 for carrying a child under ten in the front seat of a car (other than in an approved child seat) or a child under 13 without a seatbelt or child seat.
  • €135 for parking or driving in a bus lane (and cameras have been set up in Paris to catch those who do so).
  • €35 to €135 and two points for using a mobile phone while driving (note that these also apply to the use of a ‘hands-free’ system, although you may get away with a lesser punishment).
  • €135 and two points for stopping or driving on the central reservation of a motorway.
  • €135 and three penalty points for not wearing a crash helmet or seatbelt (note that passengers can also be fined, although only the driver loses points).
  • €135 to €750 and one point for failing to dip your headlights when necessary.
  • €135 to €750 and two points for accelerating while being overtaken or failing to move into a lane to the right to allow another vehicle to overtake.
  • €135 to €750 and four points for ignoring priority signs or failing to stop at a stop sign or red light.
  • €135 to €750 and three points for driving on the wrong side of the road (Britons beware!) and dangerous overtaking (e.g. crossing an unbroken white line), parking or stopping.
  • €135 to €750 and three points for failing to leave at least a two-second gap between your car and the one in front (which applies to 90 per cent of motorists). Note that police patrol some motorways from the air to catch tail-gaters.
  • €1,500 and the suspension of your licence for using a radar detector.

If you’re found responsible for an accident in which someone is injured, you can lose four points and, if someone is killed, six points. For multiple offences (e.g. driving through a red light on the wrong side of the road and killing a pedestrian), you can lose up to eight points. Officially you ‘only’ lose six points for refusing to take a breathalyser test or being over the limit, although you will usually have your licence withdrawn on the spot and receive a suspension.

Punishment for infringing the rules of the road can be very severe. A new category of offence has recently been created, relating to drivers who ‘deliberately put the lives of others in danger’, for which you can be fined €15,000 and imprisoned for up to three years. If you’re found responsible for the death of another road user, you can be fined up to €100,000 and imprisoned for up to seven years.

This article is an extract from Living and working in France. Click here to get a copy now.

Further reading

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