Drinking & Driving in France


Beware of the change in attitudes!

The relaxed attitude to drinking and driving in France has surprised and sometimes delighted many foreign visitors. Tales such as the account in ‘A Year in Provence’, where policemen were helping drunk party-goers into their cars at the end of a village meal were not rare. But things have swiftly changed, since the French government pledged to lower the terrifyingly high number of deaths on French roads.

You now have to carry an NF approved breathalyser in the car by law while driving in France. Pick one up before you go to make sure you comply with the law when you get off the Ferry or Tunnel. We recommend the single use AlcoSense NF breathalyser, which sells for £5 for a twin pack at Halfords and direct from www.alcosense.co.uk. It’s one of a handful of products that is officially approved for use in France.

Roadside police checks have now become common, and penalties for driving under the influence are harsh. The death toll has been drastically reduced by these checks, along with the introduction of speed cameras, and the strictly upheld drink driving laws.

It is strange that prison sentences and fines have proved more of a deterrent than the possibility of being killed, maimed, paralysed or causing some else’s death! Nonetheless, if you decide to take the risk of driving whilst over the limit, you also risk a two year prison sentence – more if you’re involved in an accident.

The blood-alcohol drink-drive limit in France is 0.5 grams/litre (lower than the English limit of 0.8g), and means that you can be breaking the law on one or two glasses of wine. You are liable for prosecution if you are over or equal to this limit.

Possible penalties:

  • Blood/alcohol level between 0,5 g/l and 0,8 g/l = fine of €135 (and the loss of 6 points on your licence if resident in France).
  • Blood/alcohol level is in excess of 0,8g/l = 2 years in jail, €4,500 fine, the confiscation of the vehicle (and the suspension of the licence or the loss of 6 points if resident in France).
  • Blood/alcohol exceeds the legal limit, and a presence of banned narcotics (drugs) is detected, the penalty could include: 3 years in prison, €9,000 fine.
  • If you cause an accident while driving over the limit, the fine could be increased to €30,000.
  • If you cause serious physical harm or commit involuntary manslaughter (you kill someone while driving), penalties may be: 10 year prison sentence and a fine of up to €150,000

If you refuse to take the breathalyser, there may be further penalties.

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