Older Drivers and French Driving Licences
Tuesday 10 November 2020
The French government is continuing to resist regular calls for more stringent controls on driving licences for elderly persons.
While in several European countries a medical examination is necessary for those age 70/75+ years to retain their driving licence, this is not the case in France.
In the UK, once you reach the age of 70 years you need to renew your licence, which you then need to do every three years, and those with certain medical conditions are subject to a medical examination by their GP.
In France, the driving license is granted for life and without medical examination. The suspension of the license for medical reasons would only occur on the rare occasions where the driver requested it themselves (perhaps because they have been refused insurance due to a medical condition) or where the local préfet acts following concern expressed by relatives or police/gendarmes. In such instances, the driver might be required to undertake a medical check-up, which could lead to suspension of their licence.
The issue is a hot topic in France and there are frequently calls in the French Parliament for a medical examination to be introduced.
Such demands often follow tragic road accidents involving an elderly or infirm driver. That was notably the case in 2018, when an 85 year-old driver who suffered with poor eyesight fatally hit a 15-month old child in an accident. Similar calls arose in 2017 after an 80-year old driver provoked an fatal accident by driving in the wrong direction on an autoroute.
This year there have been further calls for a change in the law from several French parliamentarians, which the government have once again rejected.
In refusing any change the government claimed that, although seniors were at a far greater risk of serious injury or death if they were involved in an accident, the evidence showed that they did not cause more accidents than other drivers.
Drawing on studies that had been carried out in several European countries, the government has disputed the effectiveness of medical tests being used in other countries and claim it is noteworthy that the European Union have not made a medical examination mandatory as part of its own regulatory framework on driving licences.
The powerful lobby for the silver generation in France has defended the existing arrangements, arguing that although older drivers showed a decrease in certain capacities with age, they generally adopted more cautious behaviour, with an awareness of their limits.
As a result, any proposed new controls are likely to be fiercely resisted and in the absence of a local public transport infrastructure in rural France, it is unlikely to be a battle the government would want to fight or would be likely to win.