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Speeding British drivers may lose their driving licence in France

This is a reprint of an article by Charles Bremmer in the Times on 27th October 2000 which will be of particular interest to V8 enthusiasts driving in France, not least during their visit to the 24 heures du Mans sports car endurance race in June. (Oct 00)

"British drivers who are stopped for exceeding any French speed limit by more than 25mph will lose their licences on the spot and find themselves unable to complete their journeys without a substitute driver, under draconian new laws announced in France in October 2000.

The ruling makes foreign licence-holders subject to the same immediate ban as French motorists under the confiscation measure, which was previously only applied to drink-drivers. Police will have discretionary powers on whether or not to confiscate licences but the French Ministry of Transport said that no distinction would be made between French and foreign drivers. This means, for example, that anyone caught speeding on a main road through a village at more than 56mph will face instant licence confiscation and fines.

The Automobile Association said that visiting drivers now risked having their holidays ruined if they flouted the law. Richard Freeman, an AA spokesman, said "It's something for tourists to worry about. If there is no one with you who can drive the car, then you will have to pay to have it brought back to the UK. This costs between £500 and £2,500. No insurance company is going to cover that because it would be considered negligence."

The French ban of up to three months was comparable to penalties imposed by British magistrates, he said, but in France the licence would be lost on the spot. The confiscation is provisional pending a court hearing which can suspend the licence for up to three years for a first offence or annul the licence on a second offence.

For the time being, foreign licences will be returned when the holder leaves the country, following international practice, but French driving bans will soon be enforced across the European Union under a 1998 convention on the mutual recognition of licence suspension that has yet to be ratified.

Foreign drivers will face the standard £900 fine for a high-speed offence as French drivers. A second offence carries a three month jail term and a £2,200 fine. French speed limits range from 50kph (31mph) in built-up areas to 130kph (81mph) on motorways in dry weather.

French motorists caught speeding in Britain will find the penalties are far less draconian. The courts have no power to give foreign speedsters penalty points, although for serious speeding offences they can be fast-tracked through the courts and fined or disqualified. France's heavy fines and possible prison terms for "very high speed" were introduced earlier this year (2000). Jean-Claude Gayssot, the Transport Minister, announced them along with a battery of other measures that reflect a determination to get to grips with the French culture of reckless driving.

The French Government wants to halve the country's 8,000 annual deaths on its roads, which would bring the rate down to that of Britain, usually cited as a model of road safety, and the Nordic states. M Gayssot said he did not believe the French were ordained by destiny to drive too fast and disobey the rules of the road. France has the most dangerous roads in the European Union after Portugal and Greece according to EU statistics."

Footnote: This article is a prudent reminder of the need to drive carefully in France, bearing in mind both their higher accident rate and that as British drivers' our conditioned reflexes are set up for left hand driving on UK roads. Most V8 enthusiasts will enjoy driving in France for the sense of space and the relatively low levels of traffic on both major and minor roads and will also want time for enjoying the lifestyle and good food en route. The autoroutes are good but can be alarming roads once traffic densities reach a level at which French drivers tend to harry you by very close tailgating. This is particularly the case on twin lane roads where pulling into the nearside lane littered with camions can make journeys very frustrating. The alternative is to get out the Michelin maps and take to the secondary roads where the scenery is often far better and driving far more relaxed for gentle burbling with V8 power.

Footnote (5.2.04): Even more draconian measures were reported in the Times on 5th February 2004

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