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France set to send out millions more driving fines after Covid lull

Numbers of fine and point withdrawal letters had dropped due to the pandemic but this is not expected to last. What are the rules for drivers who have foreign licences?

Drivers caught breaking road rules may receive an avis de contravention letter notifying them they have lost points on their licence Pic: Pixavril / Shutterstock

The government is budgeting for a steep increase in the number of fines sent out in the post in France after a lull due to the pandemic.

A government document attached to the 2022 budget law showed that expected numbers of avis de contravention – letters detailing a driving fine and points removal from licences – has dropped compared to previous predictions, due to Covid lockdown and home working rules, but is expected to shoot up again.

A budget document attached to the 2022 Finance Bill shows the state expects to send 8.7 million avis de contravention in 2022, but as many as 13 million in 2023.

It said this was due to a trend of people driving faster in urban areas, and the increase in traffic following the Covid health crisis, meaning “the number of rule violations should increase in 2022, and more letters will need to be sent”.

Read more: Speed limit set to lower in most of Paris to 30km/h from August 30

The budget plans have been criticised by drivers’ association la Ligue de défense des conducteurs which described it as ‘money grabbing.’

Its secretary general, Nathalie Troussard, said: "With this 51% increase in the number of letters sent, our government is betting on a juicy return on investment, because a letter withdrawing points means a fine.”

A prediction of sending 13 million letters a year was originally made for 2021 but was pushed back by two years due to the health crisis. 

In France, drivers are generally given driving licences with 12 points already on them (apart from new drivers, who have six), which are removed if they break road traffic rules, as opposed to in the UK where drivers are given points if they break the rules.

Read more: How does the points system work on French driving licences?

In 2020, the number of letters sent telling drivers they had lost points fell by 13% compared with 2019, as people drove less during the peak of the health crisis.

At 8.06 million, predictions for the number of letters to be sent in 2021 are still lower than the 8.6 million sent in 2019. 

The government document said: “Due to the massive implementation of working from home, expectations are lower [for 2021] than those set before the beginning of the health crisis.”

Points restored

Drivers in France can have points restored to their licence if they break no further road rules for two or three years depending on the original offence. They are notified of this by letter. 

The budget document revealed that currently more letters are sent to return points than sent to remove them but this is expected to change.

In 2019, 8.6 million ‘point removal’ letters were sent, compared with 9.3 ‘point restoration’ letters. In 2020, 7.5 million ‘point removal’ letters were sent, compared with 9.2 ‘point restoration’ letters.

However by 2023, the document predicted that 13 million ‘point removal’ letters will be sent, compared to 11.5 million ‘point restoration’ letters.

Foreign licences

If you are a resident in France with an EU licence you are entitled to drive on it as long as it is in its validity period and as long as you do not get a letter about loss of points. Due to the recent France-UK agreement on driving licences this continues to apply to residents in France driving on UK licences issued up to the end of 2020.

People driving on other non-EU foreign licences are asked to apply for a swap within the first year of residency in France.

Long-term foreign residents of France should have French plates on their car, in which case they will receive a fine in the post in the case of being flashed, but will not ‘lose points’, as France cannot take points from a foreign licence. 

However it is a French legal rule that in the case of a driving offence that would usually involve loss of points a person driving on a foreign licence receiving a fine notice should apply to swap to a French licence.. You can incur an additional €135 fine if found not to have done this (rising to a maximum €750 if unpaid).

In certain driving offence cases where no exchange was made French courts have also taken the view they can treat such a driver as if they had already exchanged the licence and withdraw ‘points’ from the hypothetical French licence, including annulling the licence if all the ‘points’ have been lost. 

Visitors on foreign licences in France will not incur points loss but may receive an on-the-spot fine if caught by police, or a fine at home if their country is one with which France has an agreement on exchange of driver details, which is the case for most of France’s European neighbours, but no longer the UK.

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