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August 10th 2020

Accidents & Illness Abroad

Hitting the road for your holiday abroad? Here’s what you need to know when driving in France

Tracy Stansfield

Tracy Stansfield

Solicitor, Travel

Hitting the road for your holiday abroad? Here’s what you need to know when driving in France

A reluctance to sit on a packed plane with a couple of hundred other holidaymakers in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic could make the option of driving to a nearby European destination a popular choice for many families this year.

A reluctance to sit on a packed plane with a couple of hundred other holidaymakers in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic could make the option of driving to a nearby European destination a popular choice for many families this year.

France is an ever-popular destination attracting millions of tourists from the UK each year, and the proportion of those travelling by car in 2020 could be higher than usual.

However, in the excitement of finally going away for a holiday which for long periods looked impossible this year, those behind the wheel are advised to familiarise themselves with the differing rules and regulations with regards to driving in France – or potentially pay a heavy price.

Here, travel litigation solicitor Tracy Stansfield, of Hudgell Solicitors, sets out what holidaymakers should take into consideration before they set off;

  • Be aware of the implications of driving on the right – ‘Simple’, you may think, but it’s not just about being confident driving on a different side of the road. There is more to consider if you are driving your own car. Your headlights – which are set up to point towards the nearside on modern cars – could blind oncoming traffic at night. Consider having your headlights adjusted or a headlight beam adjuster fixed before you leave.
  • Always have a warning triangle and high-visibility vests – It is a legal requirement in France to have a high visibility vest for each passenger in case of a breakdown. You must also have a warning triangle at all times. The French police often stop British-registered vehicles to check they have the correct equipment.
    If you breakdown on the motorway or need to repair a puncture, make sure you wear the high-visibility jacket or you could risk a hefty fine.
    Motorcyclists must have a reflective jacket to wear in the event of a breakdown or emergency.
  • Know the drink-drive limits – Yes, you’re on holiday, but that doesn’t mean you should be less careful on the roads with regards to alcohol and driving. In fact, you need to be more careful as the blood alcohol limit in France is lower at 50mg per 100mg of blood, to the 80mg per 100mg of blood permitted in England. This is lowered to 20mg for drivers with less than three years’ experience.
  • Be aware of speed limits – Just like the UK, there are set speed limits for rural and urban areas that do not always feature repeated signage. Be mindful of your surroundings and adjust your driving accordingly. As a general guideline, built up areas are usually 50kph, but can be reduced to 30kph in residential areas. Trunk roads are all 80kph (unless otherwise directed), while motorways are 130kph (unless otherwise directed) in the dry and 110kph in the wet.
  • Know the rules on child passengers – If you are travelling with a child under the age of 10 they are not permitted to travel in the front seats with a special child restraint, unless there are no rear seats in the vehicle, they are already occupied by children under 10 or there are no seat belts. Babies up to 9 months in a rear-facing seat are an exception to the rule.

Advice for those involved in road accidents in France

The police will attend the scene of a road traffic accident involving an overseas vehicle to assess who was at fault for the accident.

In many cases, a ‘Constat Amiable’ or European Accident Statement, is completed between the two parties immediately as an ‘agreed statement of facts’. This is standard practice and should include written and graphic descriptions of the accident.

It is important that you fully understand everything which is being placed on this form, and if you don’t, do not agree to sign it as you could be accepting responsibility for something which you know was not your fault. This may then be used in evidence against you – either in a criminal case or should you wish to make a civil claim for damages.

Should you be involved in an accident in France, we would advise that you;

  • Ensure your safety first of all – Switch on your hazard lights, move to a safe place and ensure the police or emergency services are called (call 112 to alert them). Alert oncoming traffic by placing your red warning triangle (which you are required to have) 30 metres away and wear high-visibility jackets.
  • Take as many details as you can – including pictures – Make a note of the other driver’s registration number and take full contact details of any witnesses or police officers. Take photographs of the road (both ways), the angle of the road to vehicle, any road signs or road markings and the visible damage. If you can get a photograph of the driver so he or she does not deny being the driver later this may also help. A photo of their insurance details, driving license and either passport or Identity card is very useful too. If it is a hire car, take a photo the hire agreement.
  • Double check the other driver’s information – Remember to always check the details included on forms completed by other drivers against official documents, particularly those relating to a driver’s identity, driving licence, car registration and insurance details. Drivers must sign each other’s forms. Always check exactly what the other driver has written before signing.
  • Don’t sign anything you don’t understand – We cannot stress enough that you should only sign the ‘Constat Amiable’ if you are happy and fully understand what is written on it.

It is not obligatory to complete one and you may complete one in another language if your French is not very good.
There are a number of statements describing the circumstances of the accident and you should tick only the boxes that apply. Add up the number of ticks and enter the number in the box at the bottom. This prevents the form being altered later.
When the police arrive, co-operate fully with their requests and if you don’t understand what the police are saying, ask for an interpreter.

  • Contact your insurers and keep any documents given to you by the police

Contact your insurance company to report the accident. Keep any documents the police give you as you may need to refer to them in the event of a claim for compensation. If the police have attended at the scene they will make their own report, so you should request a copy if possible.

Mrs Stansfield, of Hudgell Solicitors, supports many people to successfully secure compensation for injuries suffered in accidents abroad, and says it is important that travellers from the UK are aware of the different laws, and how accidents are investigated in the countries they visit.

“Driving abroad brings many new challenges and complications, and it can be a hugely stressful time if you are unfortunately involved in a road accident abroad, be that on a holiday or when driving for work,” she said.

“There are still some French motorists who abide by former laws and customs, such as giving way to traffic making its way onto a roundabout. This can see some French motorists pull out onto the roundabout without warning, which of course we don’t experience in the UK.

“There are also many quirks of the road laws in France, such as substantial fines for issues such as not carrying a spare bulb kit, an expectation that you carry a personal breathalyser and banning orders in Paris on petrol and diesel cars registered before 1997 from 8am to 8pm on weekdays.

“Certain cities also require drives to have a sticker displayed on vehicles which identify its emissions levels as part of a ‘clean air’ initiative. These only cost just over €3 but come with an on-the-spot fine of €117 payable for not displaying one.

“Finally, if you witness an accident in France it is a criminal offence not to try to help people in danger, at least by calling for help. Fines can be as high as €75,000 and prison sentences can be as high as five years for failing to do so.”

Can I make a compensation claim after being injured in France?

If an accident is established to not have been your fault, or mainly the fault of somebody else, you may be entitled to compensation, whether you were a driver, passenger or pedestrian. In cases of fatalities, dependents (such as spouses and children) could also be able to claim damages.

Mrs Stansfield added:  “We represent people who have sustained a wide range of injuries, from those which lead to periods off work to catastrophic, life-changing injuries and families who have lost loved ones.

“It is important that people instruct solicitors with knowledge and experience of leading claims in the specific country where the accident occurred to ensure they can secure the relevant damages for pain, suffering, injury, illness and loss of income and amenity.

“In cases where injuries happen on holidays, there can also be damages awarded for loss of enjoyment and the disappointment or distress caused as a result of things going wrong.”

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