France gets tough on motorists

IF YOU’VE driven through France over the past four years, you may have noticed that the country has been cracking down on dangerous drivers – there are now more than 1,000 speed cameras across the country and, by the end of the year, there will be 500 more. Meanwhile, more and more gendarmes have been armed with radar guns, and are setting up roadblocks for random breath testing. And, from next March, new European regulations will make it possible for fines on foreign drivers to be enforced.

One of the main reasons that so many foreign drivers break the speed limits is that, in many villages and rural areas, the limits are as low as 19 kilometres per hour. And at 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, drink-driving limits are now also low – a large glass of wine or a pint of strong lager could easily push you over the French limit, making you liable for at least a fine. If you are found to be significantly over the drink-drive limit, things could be more serious and you might be arrested and charged.

So what happens if you are caught speeding? If you are stopped by a gendarme with a radar gun, you will normally have to pay an on the spot fine, usually 100 euros – which you forfeit if you don’t answer the court charge. There is no way out – the police will take your passport away until you pay. If a speed camera flashes you, the consequences will depend on the car you are driving. If you are in your own non French-registered car, you are likely to escape. There is currently no system for collecting fixed-penalty fines from foreigners. However, that will start to change from March 22 next year, when a new EU directive comes into force. The French authorities will be able to ask their EU counterparts to identify the car registration. If you are then issued with a penalty notice and don’t pay it, the case can be followed up by your home country’s courts and you will be obliged to pay. So, if you do decide to drive through France, keep a careful eye on your speed and don’t drink and drive.