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Has France’s driving licence points system saved lives?

Political journalist Éric Zemmour has called the points-based driving licence system a ‘useless, state racket’, but the government claims it has made roads much safer

France’s driving licence points system sees drivers lose points for offences such as speeding Pic: sdecoret / Shutterstock

Political journalist and polemicist Éric Zemmour has said that he would be in favour of abandoning France’s driving licence points system, as it “is of no use”. 

French driving licences come with a maximum of 12 points, which are gradually deducted if the motorist commits any driving offences. (This is in contrast to some countries, such as the UK, where points are added to the licence in case of an offence.)

The point-based system was introduced in France in 1992.

The more serious the infraction, the more points are taken away. For example, while you might lose three points for using your mobile phone at the wheel, you will lose six for drink-driving. 

Those who lose all 12 points receive a ban from driving for at least six months, after which time they will have to obtain a new licence by undergoing a medical examination and potentially having to repeat their driving test.

Speaking on the political broadcast Grand Jury LCR-RTL-Le Figaro in late October, Mr Zemmour, who has still not confirmed his candidacy for the 2022 presidential elections, claimed that the system is “not just infantilising” but also “a racket organised by the state”.

“Do you know how much a [driving safety] course [through which drivers can recuperate up to four points] costs?”, he asked.

Reduction in accidents? 

France’s Interior Ministry claims that the system has greatly reduced the number of road accident deaths that occur on French roads each year. 

On the 25th anniversary of the introduction of points-based licences in 2017, the Délégation à la sécurité routière stated that: “[These] licences came into being on July 1, 1992, at a time when we saw more than 9,000 deaths on the road each year. 

“25 years later, this mechanism has really served its purpose, contributing to a drop of nearly two thirds in the number of deaths on our roads (3,477 people were killed in [car accidents] in France in 2016).

“These very positive figures show that French people have learnt to adapt their behaviour on the roads and that the vast majority have adopted responsible driving habits. The best proof of this is that today, a significant majority of French licence-holders (nearly 77%) have all 12 points intact.”

During the programme, journalist Benjamin Sportouch countered to Mr Zemmour that there is a correlation between the use of points and a drop in deaths related to road accidents. 

But Mr Zemmour argued that this “is not due to the points on licences” but “to the improvement of cars and [the introduction] of seatbelts in the back”.

He then cited the case of Sweden, which does not have a points system but has the safest roads in Europe, with fewer than half the number of fatalities that occur in France.

Far-right politician Marine Le Pen also stated during her doomed 2012 presidential election campaign that she would do away with the points if she were elected. 

Do licence points really help?

In 2018, governmental road safety information service Sécurité routière recorded 3,488 deaths caused by road traffic accidents, while in 2019 there were 3,498. 

But the reduction in the number of road deaths in France may not be solely linked to the use of points-based licences. 

The number of fatalities had already started to fall before the introduction of the points system in 1992: over 13,000 deaths were recorded in 1972, while by 1990 this figure had dropped to 11,215. 

The biggest reduction in the number of fatal accidents occurred around 2002-3 when then-President Jacques Chirac and his Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy developed a zero-tolerance rule with regards to highway code (Code de la route) infractions and introduced fixed speed cameras to French roads. 

Related stories 

Do I need a UK insurance green card to drive in France?

France’s private speed camera cars: Where are they, who drives them?

'I have been driving 40 years – but French test really rattled me'

Has reducing the French speed limit to 80km/h saved lives

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