Calls for harder line on drug driving after French actor’s crash

The Pierre Palmade cocaine crash – which led to the death of a pregnant passenger’s baby – has shocked France, and reignited calls for harsher punishments for drug-drivers

A split photo showing a blurred road and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has called for harsher punishments for drug drivers
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After a crash that has shocked France, campaigners are calling on the government to take a harsher stance against dangerous driving linked to drugs, including the creation of a new ‘road homicide’ crime.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has also called for perpetrators to have their licence revoked. He told le Journal du Dimanche: “Naming things properly enables us to acknowledge the magnitude of these events.”

He has particularly called for the word ‘involuntary’ to be removed from the crime’s title, to be replaced instead with ‘road homicide’ (rather than ‘involuntary homicide’ caused by the consumption of drugs or alcohol).

Mr Darmanin has also said that anyone who consumes alcohol or drugs before driving should have 12 points taken from their licence, which would, in practice, mean their licence is suspended.

This is in contrast to the current laws, which state that a driver can only have their licence taken away for a second offence.

Mr Darmanin has also said that anyone who loses their licence in this way would need to have an obligatory medical visit, and must get treatment before having their licence returned.

In a tweet, he wrote: “There are no recreational drugs; only deadly drugs. Around 600 people die each year in road accidents linked to drugs. I want to strengthen sanctions against drivers who drive under the influence of drugs.”

It comes one week after comedian Pierre Palmade caused the severe injury of three people, one of whom also lost her baby, after driving while under the influence of cocaine.

Dominique Courtois, president of the national road victims’ association la fédération nationale des victimes de la route, said: “The victims of drivers under the influence of drugs are asking for two things: [Firstly] the creation of this offence so that the unbearable adjective ‘involuntary’ disappears…

“And [secondly] that prison sentences pronounced by magistrates are actually applied.”

Victims say that courts are “too lax” when it comes to drug-related driving offences, which are actually the cause of 20% of fatal road accidents in France. In 2022, a total of 800,000 road checks “against drugs” took place, which is “double that of previous years”, said the Interior Ministry.

Mr Darmanin said: “I have instructed police to do 1 million checks this year. 16% of the checks on the use of drugs while driving are positive, compared to 3% of those concerning alcohol.”

What was the Pierre Palmade crash?

Pierre Palmade, 54, is a comedian and actor. He is known for his struggles with drug addiction.
On February 10, he caused a head-on crash in the village of Villiers-en-Bière. south of Paris, while driving under the influence of cocaine.

Three people were in the other car: a pregnant woman, 27, her brother-in-law, 38, and his six year-old child. The brother-in-law was driving. He and his child are still in intensive care.

The pregnant woman lost her baby. The 38-year-old is also the father of two other children, including a seven-month-old baby.

Two men reportedly fled from Mr Palmade’s car after the accident, and they are being considered as ‘present witnesses’ to the crime. They deny having run away after the collision, with one saying that he had even tried to perform first aid on the victims. The other said he was asleep just before the crash.

Mr Palmade was admitted to intensive care after the accident, but his condition has since improved. He was taken into police custody, and is now under house arrest via the use of an electronic ankle tag. He is also receiving drug addiction treatment from the Paul-Brousse hospital.

The family of his victims have called for him to receive no preferential treatment, and have rejected an early apology.

The prosecutor of Melun said in a statement that Mr Palmade “admitted to using cocaine and synthetic drugs before driving" but "said he had no clear memory of the circumstances of the accident".

The punishment he risks is currently uncertain, depending on the eventual condition of his victims, and police decisions on what happened to the pregnant woman’s baby, which was delivered by Caesarean section before passing away. The woman had been due to give birth in May.

He could face the charge of ‘involuntary homicide’ if it is found that the baby lived, even for a moment, after being delivered. An autopsy on the body and further investigations are currently ongoing.

"As soon as a child is born and breathes, even if only for a few seconds, after its birth by natural means or by Caesarean section, it has a legal status,” said Olivier Vercellone, a Toulouse lawyer specialising in road traffic offences, to La Dépêche.

“The baby is therefore considered a person in its own right. On this basis, involuntary manslaughter could be retained easily, as has already been shown in case law.”

If he is found guilty of causing the baby’s death by ‘involuntary manslaughter’, Mr Palmade risks 20 years of prison, especially given his long and well-documented history with drugs.

If not, he still risks five years in prison, and 10 years if his drug history (and previous related convictions) are taken into account.

What are the current drug driving laws in France?

Driving after the consumption of drugs, including cannabis, cocaine or crack, is totally 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 care if the drug was consumed today or last week, or whether the use of drugs is regular or infrequent.

Currently, drugs-related driving offences are punished by the taking of six licence points, and the automatic suspension of your licence for three days.

In case of a drugs-related accident causing injury or death, a drugs-positive driver risks:

  • Licence suspension of up to three years, no matter how many points remain on the licence
  • Licence cancellation and potential ban on retaking it for three years
  • Obligation to complete a road safety awareness course
  • Obligation to complete an awareness course on the dangers of using narcotics

Severe offences can also be punished by prison time and heavy fines, including a minimum of two years in prison and a fine of €4,500.

If the driver is found to have caused a severe accident and bodily injury, they risk seven years in jail, and a fine of €100,000, and up to 10 years and €150,000 if the accident is fatal.

The chance of a fatal accident while driving doubles if the driver has consumed cocaine, and if the driver has taken drugs and drunk alcohol, the chance increases by a factor of 29, reported

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