New Laws for Drivers and Motorcyclists in 2012

Update 7th October 2012: Shortage of tests means the start of fines is delayed until March 1 and Interior Minister Manuel Valls says he will meantime evaluate the usefulness of the law – let’s hope it is scrapped!

New Driving Laws in France

As of January 5, 2012, a number of new measures affecting motorists and bikers in France were announced by the Minister for the Interior.

These driving law reforms were first announced by President Sarkozy on November 30, based on decisions made in spring 2011 by the Interministerial Committee for Road Safety.

All Motorists and Bikers

Possessing any radar warning device illegal in France

The possession, transport and use of GPS radar warning devices which correlate data on the position of the radar with the  position of the vehicle calculated by the GPS is now prohibited.  Usage is subject to a fine of 1,500 euros, licence penalty 6 points and the confiscation of the device or vehicle if the device is attached to it.  The use of “active” radar detectors has always been illegal.

However, warning of dangerous and accident-prone areas which are not simply radar traps is still allowed, and these can be legally downloaded to your GPS.  Radar checks, both fixed and mobile, may “coincidentally” be among these but manufacturers have pledged not simply to report the location of radars, so the number of identified hazard areas will be far higher than the number of radars to encourage motorists to moderate their overall speed.

Driving while distracted by other activities

This decree increases the sanctions against the use of a hand-held phone. The fine goes up from 35 to 135 euros and licence penalty from 2 to 3 points.

The police have reported that some “foreign truck drivers” watch TV while driving, so watching a screen device operating in the field of vision (other than a driver assistance and navigation type GPS) by the driver of a vehicle in motion, now becomes liable to a fine of 1500 euros (instead of 135 euros) and the licence penalty of 3 points (instead of 2 points).

Other new measures

For a license plate that does not comply in terms of typeface and spacing the fine increases from 68 to 135 euros.

Straying even momentarily into the autoroute emergency lane, fine of 135 euros and licence penalty three points.  This follows cases of vehicles drifting out of control due to inattention or drowsiness.

Car Drivers

Compulsory to carry a breathalyser in the vehicle

The minister announced that from a date to be fixed (probably 1 April 2012) all cars must carry an alcohol breathalyser test.  Simple test kits can be bought from pharmacies, service stations and some supermarkets for under 2 euros, or electronic ones from about 10 euros. There are even small electronic key ring versions for about 6-8 euros.  Motorists who fail to carry an alcohol test device in the car will incur a fine of 17 euros.  The breathalyser joins the list of existing mandatory equipment for vehicles – safety vest and triangle emergency warning.  The existing fine for missing these is 135 euros for (90 euros if the fine is paid on the spot).

Failure to use, disabling or failure to maintain in working order an alcohol lock where the vehicle is fitted with one is now punishable by a fine of 750 euros. The Highway Code states that any driver of a vehicle equipped with a mandatory alcohol lock device must use this prior to starting the vehicle.


Not later than 1 January 2013, all riders or passengers of a motorcycle with a cylinder capacity exceeding 125 cc or a vehicle of category L5e (e.g.trike) exceeding 15 kW, must wear reflective clothing complying either to French standards or to other standards of an equivalent level of safety.

The reflective area can be divided in several parts over the clothing, but must have a total surface area of ​​at least 150 cm2 visible to other road users.  The material does not have to be fluorescent – only reflective –  and the colour is not fixed – it is likely that material that appears red, green or even black in daylight will conform as long as it reflects in headlights at night.

The reflective material must be worn on the upper body, between the belt line and the shoulders, so as to be visible to other road users.

The Ministry of Transport might in 2012 also make compulsory the wearing of gloves and shoes deemed suitable for driving a bike – this has to be decided.

Source material (in French)

The measures are laid out in the speech given by the Minister of the Interior on the 5th January here :

and there is a good summary here:

21 thoughts on “New Laws for Drivers and Motorcyclists in 2012

  1. I dont know what the France government is thinking off, as prohibiting the use of the radar detectors will never gone make.

  2. The reflective area can be divided in several parts over the clothing, but must have a total surface area of ​​at least 150 cm2 visible to other road users. that’s nice info thanks..

    1. On the 18th Decemeber 2012 there was a U-turn on this regulation and consequently the law has not been brought into effect; reflective clothing is now merely recommended, not obligatory. The French road regs of recent years are littered with such examples of new “laws” followed by u-turns. The alco-meter was another one!

  3. Great tips for motorcyclists, you can also find a touring checklist here:

  4. Pete in Southampton 1 Nov 2012 — 6:18 pm

    Re reflectives on Bikes.. Does the law make it clear whether the whole 150cm2 has to be visible from the front, back, or sides??? Can it be spread over the whole torso? I can forsee lots of little shiny dots appearing!!!

    1. They haven’t said. As usual it isn’t clear. But the bike forums and magazines are talking about a reflective arm band so that should suffice

      The fine will be 68€.

  5. Joe Cunningham 1 Jul 2012 — 10:15 am

    Interesting to read about these new laws.But I wonder if there could be a human rights issue here with the breathaliser issue,Those who do not drink , being forced to carry the kits.
    As for the Hi Vis jackets, I can understand and agree with the use of these after dark, but to make motorcyclists wear them during the day is in my opinion, utter nonsense.I was cleaned out on a round about in the UK ,in broad daylight by a car driver . Being lit up like blackpool tower with a flashing light on my helmet would not have made any difference.He just did not bother slowing down even though his vision was obstructed by another car in the outside lane
    I also was driving with my headlights on

    1. I don’t think the human rights issue will wash – but interesting to note that the head of the “road safety pressure group” that persuaded Sarkozy to introduce this silly law is a marketing director of the biggest manufacturer of breathalysers in France – Contralco has a virtual monopoly. Before this, the company was in serious financial trouble – now they are riding the crest of a wave. Surprise!

      Riders don’t need to wear the reflective hi-viz type jackets in the day, but there will need to be hi-viz material incorporated into their outer clothing – like already is on a lot of biker jackets. The devil is going to be in the detail on that one!

  6. Besides breathalysers will the French police carry tape measures (presumeably permanently borrowed from the wife’s sewing kit) to measure the 150 sq. cms. of reflective surface on our jackets?

    1. I guess once they’ve thought it through they’ll make it a requirement for the rider to carry a tape measure and calculator – I don’t think they would want to encumber themselves with all this extra kit as it might get in the way of the gun and handcuffs.

  7. Do the French authorities see a trike as a bike or a car? as on previous trips on a bike I would not have carried a warning triangle but a trike obviously has more luggage space. Also if they see it as a car type vehicle then I will probably need the breathalyser

    1. From July 1 the breathalyser rule applies to all motorised vehicles except those funny little “mobylettes” with pedals an a rubber band engine 🙂

      But they’re only going to start fining drivers/riders from 1 November.

      Bikes and trikes and quads do not need to carry a warning triangle or gilet.

  8. ND from Normandie 15 Feb 2012 — 12:24 pm

    🙂 funny topic!
    btw what about alcohol breathalyzer in UK or anywhere else such germany or holland? is it existing or obliged too?

    1. No – once again, France leads the world! LOL!

  9. I can’t see anywhere where it says drivers need to carry theses breathalizers, but it does state that anyone serving alcohol has to have ..

    1. Hi Tim – if you read the article I mentioned then after talking about the existing law for bars & restaurants that you refer to the Minister says:

      Cette démarche d’autocontrôle sera par ailleurs renforcée, comme le Président de la République l’a annoncé le 30 novembre dernier, par l’obligation de détenir, dès le printemps prochain, un éthylotest à bord de son véhicule.

      Cette mesure, dont la mise en œuvre reste aisément réalisable en raison du faible coût d’un éthylotest, constituera une réelle avancée en matière de prévention de la conduite sous l’empire de l’alcool.

      Ainsi, chaque conducteur pourra, en cas de doute sur son taux d’alcoolisation, renoncer à son déplacement ou décider de laisser le volant à un tiers en connaissance de cause.

      Since this announcement, the ethylotest has been and continues to be discussed on radio phone ins etc. and it is currently assumed that the law will come into effect in spring exactly as planned. Of course, this is France and things can change, but that’s how it stands at present.

      Hope that clears away any doubt 🙂


  10. Thanks for the information Phil. Do you know of a French government website which will have these regualtions on it, particularly for the breathalyser and radar warning devices. I have several drivers in France during the summer so could do with the new regulations printed out.

    1. Hi Mike – yes, the new laws are on the Legifrance website but they take a bit of digging out and are not in one place. However, the measures are laid out in the speech given by the Minister of the Interior on the 5th January here : and there is a good summary here

  11. Thanks for this information. Looks like we will need to buy a breathalyser kit. however as I never drive having drunk alcohol it seems a bit of an extra expense. If you are the type of person who would have to use this you probably shouldnt be drinking and driving….? In fact the alcohol limit in France is so low I think that as opposed to in the UK, in France you are wiser to avoid alcohol altogether if planning to drive. Is that correct ?

    1. Personally, I think this measure is a complete waste of time and money. The gendarmes carry breathalyser kits for if they pull a driver over, they aren’t going to rely on a kit the driver has bought, so what purpose carrying a test kit in the car is supposed to serve is a mystery. The limit in France is 0.5g alcohol per litre of blood (or 0.25mg of alcohol per litre of air breathed out). As the effect of alcohol and the amount in the blood depends on a variety of factors it’s recommended not to drink at all before driving, nor to drive the morning after an evening of substantial drinking.

  12. Thanks for this, I’ll forward it to my parents who’ve just booked their next trip over!

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