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UK drivers face French roadside drug tests

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UK drivers could face a roadside saliva drug test if they are caught not wearing a seat belt or speeding in France. The one in 20 of Brits who used cannabis recently could be on a collision course with France’s policy of zero tolerance towards any trace of illegal narcotics.

As part of their campaign to reduce the country’s heavy road casualty toll, French authorities have adopted a more aggressive stance against driving while under the influence of illegal drugs. However, the Home Office’s latest British Crime Survey shows that 4.6 per cent of 16 to 59 year olds have used cannabis in the last month.

Official guidance shows that French police will routinely test for drugs after a fatal accident. They will also test after an injury accident where the police suspect the driver has taken drugs. A drugs test may also be carried out following: any road accident, a road offence that could lead to a driving ban, a speeding offence, the failure to wear a seat belt or helmet.


Penalties in France are severe and offenders risk going to prison for two years and a fine of €4,500 (£3,893). A driver found also to have 50 or more milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood (UK limit is 80) could be imprisoned for three years and face a fine of €9,000 (£7,786).


“UK drivers who take drugs days or even weeks before driving though France and other parts of Europe are taking a high-stakes gamble. Unlike the UK, where drivers have to be impaired, the French approach is to prosecute simply for having traces of illegal drugs in the body. In fact, the official French wording suggests a driver could be tested at the discretion of a gendarme anytime after a road safety offence,” says Andrew Howard, the AA’s head of road safety.

“The AA and other road safety organisations will be watching the procedures, results and impact of the French roadside drug testing regime carefully as the UK considers what sort of controls it may enforce in the future. Certainly, a survey among 8,800 AA members found zero tolerance of impaired drug-drivers.”

Official French guidance on drug-driving enforcement

German experience

In Germany a zero tolerance for drugs in drivers was introduced in 1998. In 2000, some 7,000 drivers were arrested for drug driving and this had risen to 35,000 by 2008. This reflected more screening and more testing. However, it was questioned whether these people were impaired to drive, or solely had traces of drugs in their bodies. They had been stopped for bad driving, interviewed and given a ‘little’ impairment test. What happened then depended on situation, but there was no automatic random test of drug presence.