Driking and driving in France

Driking and driving in France

The way the French drink is slightly different from the way the Britons do. I think the main difference lies in the fact that alcohol consumption in France is nearly always associated with food consumption. People may come back from work or have some friends around, they will then have an “apéritif” which consist of one or two drinks like aniseed drink, or a lager, or port, or sparkling wine, … or champagne for a special occasion. Then there will be wine with the meal. It is said that a bottle of wine contains six servings, and people may have one or two glasses of wine with their meal. Things are changing a bit but lots of people will go to a restaurant or cantine for their lunch, and they will commonly have wine, even if they are working, because they usually only have it in moderation. I remember my school teachers having wine served with their lunch at school, but they probably only had one jug for the table. And my grandfather always had watered down wine for lunch, then he would go for a nap on the sofa…

However, like in every country, the authorities in France are clamping down on people driving after having consumed alcohol. Before reaching this fine balance of moderate drinking, lots of young people drink to excess. And unfortunately, some people can’t control their consumption. In order to know what’s acceptable and what’s not, there are laws. And it’s a good idea to know them and how they are enforced. Here are few information I’ve gathered from the Sécurité Routière (Road Safety Agency), I hope they will be useful for you.

Alcohol level in the blood

The level of alcohol in the body is measured per gram of alcohol per litre of blood or per milligram of alcohol per litre of air breathed out. The maximum level of alcohol is 0.5g/L of blood or 0.25mg/L of air breathed out.

The "unit" system, telling you how many units of alcohol a drink contains, isn't really in use in France. However, whatever the spirit, one serving always contains the same amount of alcohol. For example, 25cL of beer at 5%, 12.5cL of wine at 10%, or 3cL of strong spirit at 40% all contain about 10g of pure alcohol.

Each serving increases the quantity of alcohol in the blood by 0.2 to 0.25g/L. This amount can increase depending on health situation, tiredness, stress, smoking habits, or even individual metabolism: for slimmer persons, women, or older people each serving can increase alcohol level by 0.3g/L.

                Maximum alcohol level is reached:

·         1/2h after consumption on an empty stomach

·         1h after consumption with food

                Alcohol level drops at an average rate of 0.1 to 0.15g per litre of blood per hour following the peak level. Nothing can help the body to process alcohol quicker.

                It is worth remembering that some medications are not compatible with alcohol consumption.


Temporary license

For all drivers with a temporary license, the maximum level of alcohol is 0.2g/L of blood. This concerns all drivers for 3 years following receipt of the driving license, loss of 12 points on the license (in France, a full license will have 12 points, there is a loss of points whenever an offence is done), or cancellation of the driving license. This low alcohol limit means that no alcohol at all can be consumed before driving as even one serving can get alcohol blood level over the threshold.

This special regulation for temporary license drivers has been put in place because road accidents are the first cause of death and disability amongst the 18 to 25 years old, and in a quarter of cases a high alcohol level was the cause of the accident. An inexperienced driver if 4 times more likely to be involved in a lethal road accident, and they are concerned by 24% of all lethal accidents.



The minimum penalty for driving with an alcohol level higher than the maximum authorized level is:

·         a 6-point loss on the license

·         a 135 euro fine

·         vehicle confiscation

·         license withdrawal


However, if it is proven that the driver has been taking drugs as well as drinking over the limit, the penalty rises to a 3-year jail sentence, a 9000 euro fine, a 6-point loss, a 3-year license withdrawal or cancelation, and vehicle confiscation.

To help abide by the law, night clubs are now offering breathalyzers. This allows patrons to test their level of alcohol before leaving the venue. 


Annelyse Desbois

I created Live in France to help make things easier for you, and ensure your move is as smooth and successful as can be.

Ways I can help you

Pets Bank Children Students Utilities Health Car Benefits A la carte