French police step up watch on British drivers

UK drivers liable for on-the-spot fines as British Government opts out of EU road safety legislation

British holidaymakers driving in France could be in for an unwelcome surprise as EU legislation coming into force this year would mean that those caught speeding would have to pay on-the-spot fines worth up to £323.

The innocuously-named EU Directive on Road Safety aims to cut down the number of speeding offences in each member state committed by foreign drivers by making it easier for authorities to track the down the car owner to their own country and fine them.

However, Britain, along with Ireland and Denmark, has opted out of the directive, meaning that drivers from the UK caught speeding in France will be made to pay a fine there and then, without any exceptions.

The French police say that many foreign drivers break the speed limit, particularly on motorways like the A64 towards Biarritz and the Pyrenees mountains, because they know they can avoid being fined.

The legislation that comes into force across the 28-nation bloc will allow member states to exchange data on motoring offences.

The UK Government has stayed out of the new cross-border rules because of concerns that the directive means exchanging vehicle owner information, rather than driver information. It argues that often, the offending driver in this type of situation does not own the vehicle. Authorities on this side of the channel have also suggested that fines are a poor deterrent for bad driving, compared with points on a driving licence. The Government also wants to assess the cost of setting up the EU-wide data exchange system before opting in.

Because of the UK's opt-out, the only way British drivers caught speeding in France can be penalised is through the payment of an on-the-spot fine.

Specialist teams within the French police are equipped with binoculars that can quickly calculate speeds, helping them to pursue errant drivers.

According to the RAC, if Britons commit serious traffic offences that lead to a heavy fine, suspension or even a prison sentence, French police can hold the car until the driver pays up.

An RAC spokesman:  “Finding you are liable for an on-the-spot fine of up to €375 when holidaying in France with no option to have this transferred back to the UK can be a very unwelcome surprise. This issue highlights the need to be aware of the rules of the road when driving abroad to ensure you don’t have the gendarmerie pulling you over in the first place.

“In France, this could be as simple as not carrying a reflective jacket, so we urge motorists to do their homework before they leave and make sure they don’t end up with substantial additions to the holiday budget.“