If you drive in France, it’s important to be aware of the many traffic laws and regulations, from speed limits and alcohol consumption to laws regarding stop signs and seat belts. Let’s take a look at some of the most common driving offences in France and the possible penalties.
French Driving Offences
In France, all drivers – including foreign drivers and rental car drivers – must adhere to the French ‘Code de la Route’. Many of these laws are common sense and will likely be similar to those in place in your own country. However, there may also be some fineable offences which differ to those you are used to, so it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the rules before you hit the road. Our article on Driving in France is a good place to start.
The most common driving offences (infractions routières) in France are as follows:
- Failure to wear a seat belt (for both the driver and passengers)
- Crossing a red light
- Driving under the influence of alcohol
- Driving under the influence of drugs
- Failure to wear a helmet (motorcycle drivers)
- Driving in a prohibited lane
- Use of a mobile phone (or any other communication equipment – including headphones and Bluetooth headsets) while driving
- Parking offences (parking in a dangerous or inconvenient manner, or failure to pay the required parking fees)
What happens if you commit a driving offence in France?
Violation of any of these rules can result in a fine, points on your licence, impounding of your vehicle, and/or prosecution, depending on the severity of the offence. In France, the penalties faced depend upon the severity of the offence committed, and there are five different classes of tickets (contraventions) that can be issued, with the 5th being the most severe.
The following is a rough breakdown of traffic violations/tickets:
1st Class (1re classe)
- Parking infraction (Non respect des règles de stationnement) – minor
2nd Class (2e classe)
- Change of direction without indicating (Changement de direction sans clignotant)
- Non-payment of a toll (Non-paiement d´un péage)
- Absence of an insurance certificate (Absence d´attestation d´assurance)
- Parking infraction (Non respect des règles de stationnement)
3rd Class (3e classe)
- Speed less than 20 km/h (for a maximum authorized speed greater than 50 km/h) (Excès de vitesse inférieur à 20 km/h (pour une vitesse autorisée maximale supérieure à 50 km/h))
- Non-compliant braking devices (Dispositifs de freinage non conformes.)
- Use of a handheld telephone (Usage d’un téléphone tenu en main)
- Driving on the hard shoulder of a motorway (Circulation sur la bande d’arrêt d’urgence)
- Driving without seat belt (Conduite sans ceinture de sécurité)
- Failure to give priority (Refus de priorité)
- Failure to respect a red light or stop (Non-respect d´un feu rouge ou d’un stop)
- Crossing or overlapping a solid line (Franchissement ou chevauchement d’une ligne continue)
- Absence of a valid Controle Technique (Absence de visite technique périodique)
- Driving under the influence of alcohol (Conduite en état alcoolique)
- Driving in a prohibited direction (Circulation en sens interdit)
- Non-compliance with the safety distance (Non respect de la distance de sécurité)
- Speeding (up to 50 km/h over the speed limit) (Excès de vitesse inférieur à 50 km/h)
- Dangerous overtaking (Dépassement dangereux)
- Circulation without lighting (Circulation sans éclairage)
- Absence of a vehicle registration certificate (Absence de certificat d´immatriculation)
- Speeding more than 50 km/h over the speed limit) (Excès de vitesse supérieur à 50 km/h)
* Classifications are taken from the government guidelines here and may be subject to change.
Penalties and Points for French Driving Offences
The penalties for each class of driving offence will depend on the classification level and the type of offence. Typically, all offences will result in a fine and the deduction of points from your licence. More serious offences such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and accidental injury or death to another driver or pedestrian are likely to also be classed as a criminal offence, resulting in the loss of your licence, a criminal record, and a possible prison sentence.
The below chart shows the fine amounts for the different classes of offence – the ‘normal’ fine amount is generally reduced to the ‘minority’ amount if paid within 15 days, while the ‘increased’ fine is applicable if you fail to pay the fine or contest it within 45 days.
Receiving a speeding or parking ticket in France
Common driving offences such as speeding or parking tickets typically result in a fine and points on your licence. These may be issued on the spot by a police officer or traffic warden, or an ‘avis de contravention’ will be sent to you via post (in the case of the offence being picked up by a speed camera).
Points for speeding
The amount of points deducted from your French licence will depend up the amount by which you were over the speed limit:
- less than 20 km/h – 1 point
- more than 20km/h if the speed limit is under 50km/h – 1 point
- between 20km/h and 30km/h – 2 points
- between 30 km/h and 40 km/h – 3 points
- between 40km/h and 50 km/h – 4 points
- more than 50 km/h – 6 points
You can also receive 6 points on your licence for the possession or use of any equipment designed to disrupt or detect speed controls (including those that are included in your GPS – so be sure to disable them). Note that it’s also an offence to signal to other drivers that a speed camera or police check is ahead (by flashing your lights, for example).
Points for other traffic offences
Most driving offences (including using a mobile phone or headphones, driving on the hard shoulder, or dangerous parking) will earn you 3 points on your licence, but some are more severe, such as refusing to give way to a driver that has priority, driving through a red light, or driving at night without headlights, all of which will earn you 4 points. 6 points are issued to the most severe offences such as failure to give way to a pedestrian, driving on a suspended licence, or accidental injury to a person.
Driving under the influence of alcohol
Drink driving limits in France tend to be lower than in other countries, so it’s important to be aware of how much (or rather, how little), you are able to drink if you intend to drive. The limited is 0.5 grams per litre of blood, which for most people would be equivalent to a single small glass of wine or beer. For learners, the limit is just 0.2 g/l.
Drink driving penalties can be severe and all but the lowest level of offence (driving with a blood alcohol of between 0.5g/l to 0.8g/l) may result in a criminal record, seizure of your vehicle, and a driving ban for up to three years. All drink driving offences result in 6 points on your licence and a fine.
Foreign Drivers in France: Can I Get Points on My Foreign Licence?
If you are driving in France on a foreign licence, you will still be subject to fines for driving offences (and possible prosecution in the event of more severe offences), but penalty points will not be added or deducted to your licence. However, if you are resident in France, you may be forced to exchange your licence for a French licence in order for the relevant points to be deducted.
If you receive a speeding ticket or other fineable driving offence when driving a rental car, you will also be expected to pay (this will likely be in your rental contract and may be deducted automatically from your card).
How to recover lost points on a French Driving Licence
If you have lost points on your French driving licence, there are two options available. You can wait until the points are reinstated, which takes anything from six months for a single point, or 2 to 3 years for class 1 to 3, or class 4 to 5 infractions respectively, assuming you do not commit any further offences in that time period.
Alternatively, you can take a driver re-education course (stage de sensibilisation à la sécurité routière), which typically costs €200 and takes two days. Completion of the course will allow you to regain 4 points on your licence.
Driving in France
Whether you own a car in France, travel to France in your UK or EU-registered car, or hire a rental car – FrenchEntrée has all the need-to-know info about driving in France. Our Essential Reading articles will take you through buying, registering, and insuring your car, as well as offering tips and advice on driving and car ownership in France.