British driver who killed French teenager tested positive for cannabis

The 36-year-old could face up to three years in prison

Samu helicopter for emergency airlift to french hospital
The teenager was airlifted to hospital in Nantes but was pronounced dead soon after
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A British driver awaits sentencing for killing a French teen in a vehicle accident in the west of France in 2023.

The 14-year-old, called Ismaël, was engaged in a left turn on his scooter when he was struck from behind by an overtaking car on a departmental road in the commune of Avessac (Loire Atlantique) on September 29, 2023.

The car, driven by the British man, was travelling at 80km/h and threw Ismaël 50m. 

He was conscious when the emergency services reached him, but unresponsive. He was taken by helicopter to hospital in Nantes, where he was pronounced dead.

The next day would have been his 15th birthday.

To compound the tragedy, Ismaël’s mother was on the same road and happened to be caught up in traffic where she caught sight of her fatally injured son.

Read more: Driving in France: why are the roads more deadly than in the UK? 

Positive for cannabis

The British driver, who according to French legal practice was not named in reports, had been living with his mother in France for three years, reports .

He reportedly has a son and ex-partner in the UK.

Around 20 of Ismaël’s family were present at a tearful hearing on May 7, where the British driver, who had tested positive for cannabis, was tried for culpable homicide. 

His blood test for alcohol was negative.

Speaking with the help of a court interpreter, the driver appealed for clemency.

“I have changed,” he said. “I cannot imagine the pain that the victim’s parents feel. I think about it every day.”

He claimed that it was CBD, or Cannabidiol, which is not psychoactive, that he had smoked that weekend, rather than cannabis. Although he conceded that he had been addicted to cannabis since the age of 14.

Driving after the consumption of drugs, including cannabis, cocaine or crack, is banned in France. It does not matter which drug has been consumed; the law does not differentiate.

Similarly, if the test shows as positive at the time of the road accident, the law does not apply differently if the drug was consumed today or last week, or whether the use of drugs is regular or infrequent.

In 2019, it was estimated that cannabis contributed to the 494 road deaths, or 23% of the national total.

Drivers who test positive for cannabis - including for CBD - can lose six points on their driving licence.

Read more: French driving licences: how to check if you have any points

‘Pain, confusion, anger’

The court heard that the teen’s parents have not been able to return to work since the fatal accident.

“Our future has been destroyed and the present is unlivable,” said the boy’s father.

The court ruled that a prison sentence would be required.

“When driving a vehicle, one must keep an attitude of constant vigilance, particularly when overtaking,” said the state prosecutor, noting that in this case there was no need to overtake.

“We cannot ignore the possibility of a repeat offence.”

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 28, with the court recommending 18-months of prison and a three-year suspended sentence.

The driver’s lawyer told the court that it would ask for a reduced penalty.

“He has changed his behaviour,” said his lawyer Me Fabien Bourdon. “Today, he does not want to appear the victim, but he has to take several treatments, including anti-Parkinson’s medicine for tremors.”