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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 February, 2004, 16:35 GMT
Concern over French motoring laws
Ferry
British motorists travelling to France may have to take extra care
British motoring groups have reacted with concern to attempts by France to co-ordinate the prosecution of motorists committing offences abroad.

The move could see British motorists getting penalty points on their licences for driving offences committed during trips to France.

Transport Minister Gilles de Robien is seeking deals with European states.

But RAC legal spokesman Jonathan Gulliver said: "I have real worries - the complications appear to be vast."

'Severe punishment'

Mr De Robien told the French parliament earlier this week the government wants foreign drivers to face action at home for offences committed in France.

He said the scheme would mirror one already agreed with Switzerland.

We are worried motorists may admit guilt just because it is easier than challenging a conviction
Spokeswoman
AA Motoring Trust

"We are working with other neighbouring countries - Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg - to extend this system so that we all share it," Mr De Robien said.

"There is also an Europe-wide agreement... to do with traffic infractions and the carrying out of legal actions, which is in the process of being adopted."

Labour MEP and European Parliament transport spokesman Mark Watts said: "As long as the system works both ways, with French motorists treated just the same as British motorists or any others, I can see nothing wrong with this idea.

"At the moment we have a situation in which motorists can be banned from driving for a serious motoring offence in one European country and yet return home to carry on driving.

"That could put people at risk and should be stopped."

'Worried motorists'

But Mr Gulliver told BBC News Online there was a danger that people could suffer "unduly severe punishment" because the laws in France and Britain are different.

"For instance, there is a lower level of alcohol content in blood required for a drink-driving conviction."

Speed sign
French drivers caught speeding in the UK are unlikely to be pursued

He added: "It is also not practical to appeal against charges, because it can be expensive and means you have to go back over there to fight them.

"You could then find your licence also being endorsed when you get back to the UK."

An AA spokeswoman said: "We support this in principle, but the devil is in the detail.

"Many Britons who get fines in France pay up because they do not understand how to challenge them.

"We are worried motorists may admit guilt just because it is easier than challenging a conviction."

On-the-spot fines

Bert Morris, the organisation's deputy director, added: "There is anecdotal evidence that Britons are already being targeted for on-the-spot fines.

"If British motorists are done in Paris for a parking or speeding offences it will be very difficult and expensive for them to defend themselves.

"Most will simply pay up and accept the points."

He said: "People in southern England are already furious that while French cars don't get prosecuted for speed camera offences, British tourist get on-the-spot fines in France."

A spokeswoman for the Home Office told BBC News Online: "We would consider any approach made by France, but there would be a number of difficult questions."

"This French idea is in its very early days, but as it would only apply to motorists breaking the law, and no-one else, there can be no objections in principle," said another Home Office official.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Allan Little
"The French are learning to drive more carefully"



SEE ALSO:
Speeding 'not a stigma'
20 Oct 03  |  UK
Motorist's camera rage
07 Oct 03  |  Lancashire


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