Speeding fines, older drivers: Five ways driving in France will change

The changes come after deadly, high-profile car crashes in France this year

The majority of the changes are aimed at improving road safety
Published Last updated

Several new measures will be introduced in France aimed at making driving safer.

Largely focused on stricter penalties in the case of breaking the rules, they have been met with both praise and criticism.

Campaigners welcomed the moves, believing they will reduce accidents and provide comfort to families who have lost loved ones on the roads.

However, some people believe the changes do not go far enough and are largely superficial.

It comes after French actor Pierre Palmade’s cocaine-fuelled car crash earlier this year, which saw a pregnant woman in the other vehicle lose her baby. It sparked debate over harsher penalties for drug-driving offences.

In May, three French police officers died near Lille after a head-on collision with a car travelling in the wrong direction.

Below are the five key changes announced by the government.

1. Automatic licence suspension for drug-driving

Those found guilty of driving under the influence of drugs will see an “automatic” suspension of their licence.

Prefectures will be required to suspend a person’s licence. At the moment, it is at their discretion.

On top of this, driving under the influence of drugs – or alcohol – will lead to eight points being removed from a licence, instead of the current six.

Eight points is the maximum amount that can be removed in one penalty.

As a reminder, in France points are removed from a licence, instead of being added on to them, as in the UK. Once your licence reaches 0 points (starting from 12) your licence is revoked.

Drivers under the influence of drugs are the cause of “one-in-five” road traffic accidents, said France’s interior minister Gérald Darmanin.

Read more: Cocaine-related A&E admissions in France soar

2. The creation of a ‘road murder’ charge

If somebody dies as a result of a car accident involving a driver under the influence, the charges laid against them will now be of ‘road homicide’ (homicide routier)

Previous rules meant drivers who accidentally killed a victim during a crash were charged with manslaughter (homicide involontaire), much to the chagrin of victims’ families.

The charge levelled against drivers who kill someone during an accident has long been at the forefront of campaign groups’ demands.

Despite the name change, however, the actual penalties and sentence against the guilty driver will not change, and will remain the same as before.

France’s prime minister Élisabeth Borne called it a “highly symbolic” change aimed to comfort victims “shocked by the [previous] charge of manslaughter".

Some road victim campaigners have called the change “psychologically good” and believe the change will help people better grieve the loss of loved ones.

There has also been criticism however, including from road traffic lawyer Rémy Josseaume, who called it a “cosmetic reform” that will “change nothing in the lives of drivers who decide to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs”.

He urged the government to institute a “more general reform… [including] a change in the status of the penalty and perhaps even a criminalisation of certain behaviours.”

3. Harsher penalties for speeding

Those caught driving 50 km/h above the legal speed limit will now be charged with a ‘gross speeding offence’ (grand excès de vitesse).

Previously, the first speeding offence of a driver led to a fine, and only a second offence would lead to a misdemeanour, but this will now be applied from the first offence if the speeding is excessive.

On top of this, planned changes to other speeding rules announced earlier this year were reiterated.

Speeding offences less than 5 km/h over the legal limit no longer be subject to a points deduction on a licence from January 2024, but will still be subject to fines.

Read more: Explainer: Difference between contravention, délit and crime in France

4. Digitalisation of driving documents

Mr Darmanin said while “there will always be a physical driving licence”, plans to create a digital version will go ahead.

He said he wanted “a licence that you can have on your smartphone so you can present it to the forces of law and order”.

The service is set to be trialled in a number of French departments later in the year before being rolled out nationwide in 2024.

On top of this, Mr Darmanin announced that the digitalisation of green insurance stickers will be implemented on April 1, 2024.

From this date, insurance companies will host information on databases accessible by police, meaning drivers will no longer need to display an insurance vignette on their windshield.

Read more: France to trial digital driving licences as move online gathers pace

5. Medical exams for those ‘unfit to drive’

If a driving offence is linked to a person’s medical condition, their licence will be suspended until they are deemed “fit to drive” by a medical professional.

They will have to undergo a series of tests before their licence is given back to them.

This can be framed in the wider context of medical exams for older drivers in France. They are often demanded after accidents involving older people. That is despite annual figures showing around 10% of accidents on French roads involving someone over the age of 65, but more than double that – over 20% - involve a young driver between the ages of 18 and 24.

This change does not mean older drivers will face tests – it will only be necessary if they cause an accident because of a medical condition linked to their age, e.g. deteriorating eyesight or slow reflexes.

Read also

Should older drivers in France face medical tests to stay on the road?

UK driving licence exchange: Why is there a 70 on my new French one?