If you’re planning on riding in Europe this year, chances are you’ll be heading through France at some point – but how can you best protect yourself, legally speaking, if you have a road accident while riding through the country?
The interpretation of untraced driver’s claims in Europe changed in 2016 and now the local law, not English law applies
If you have a prang in France, there is a fairly set procedure, but if you get it wrong the ordeal can become a French farce. If you have been injured you must contact the police (in an urban area) or the gendarmerie in the country, but if you phone 112 from your mobile you will be put through to the right people.
If there is no injury, much like in the UK the police will not usually attend. If the police attend they will take details, but do yourself a favour and take those details yourself as well. It can be extraordinarily difficult getting details out of the French police and we have had to appoint lawyers in the past to go to the prosecutor’s office to retrieve the papers by hand. All the information you can get, take it.
It is customary in France for drivers to carry a ‘constat amiable’ which is a form where each party gives their details. You can find a constat amiable in English on one side and French on the other on our website. It has been known for a French rascal to fill in the form misleadingly, but you can protect yourself.
Use your phones camera to do the following things: photograph the number plate, photograph the vehicle in the road ideally with some kind of identifying point such as a road sign showing the location of any collision, take a shot of the windscreen which in France will have a short form insurance sticker affixed to it, but do not take a photograph of the driver without their consent. It is a minor criminal offence in France to take a photograph without permission, which is the rule that Kate Middleton relied upon when pictures were taken of her sunbathing. It is therefore best not to aggravate the situation by taking what amounts to an illegal photograph. I asked a couple of French lawyers what would actually happen if you took a photograph, and it seems very little.
If it transpires that the vehicle plates are false, or you were given false information, it is not the end of the world. Instead of your case being dealt with under French law it will be dealt with under English law.
If you are either sufficiently injured or shaken to go to hospital, a recovery agent will remove your bike to a local garage and the driver will give you a receipt. Keep that. You can have a nightmare otherwise trying to trace your vehicle. French garage storage is a lot cheaper than it is in the UK. In hospital you will be seen and invoiced for treatment, even if you have a European treatment card. On discharge you will be given a discharge letter which will make life a great deal easier if you keep hold of it as French insurers will usually expect to see one.
In the event of a more serious collision the police may ask to interview you. They will do this with an interpreter. Usually most town stations have one, normally of the rank of sergeant or above, with a basic interpreter’s certificate. Their English is OK,but if you are interviewed by a French police officer, keep your answers very simple and if you are potentially facing a criminal prosecution in France you need a French lawyer. This little cut out and keep guide from Adventure Bike Rider does not substitute for a French lawyer advising you.
The French police are particularly hot on documents. If you do travel to France you should keep a printed copy of the constat amiable with you, along with your proof of ownership (V5 or hire document), your UK driving license and if you still have a counterpart take it with you. Keep your original documents on your person. I know they are no longer required here in the UK but the more official paperwork you present to a foreign officer the happier they tend to be, and you will need proof of your insurance, with the back sheet printed, because that explains in French what the document is. It is also wise to keep spare copies, either waterproofed or laminated and as any traveller will tell you emailing yourself scanned copies of your documents, including your passport, can save a great deal of aggravation if things go horribly wrong. Keeping copies of all your documents in a sealed bag under your seat is a good plan.
Finally, I am aware that some people might be put off travelling to France after recent events, but the statistical risk of being hurt in the country by a terror attack is massively smaller than the risk of being hurt by falling off your motorcycle. One thing that may change, however, is interest in foreign plated vehicles, including motorcycles. I would expect there to be greater checkpoints, particularly approaching urban centres, with intelligence led or random checks carried out on vehicles. Given this, I would not take any chances travelling without documents in France, but one thing’s for sure, I will certainly continue travelling there as I always have done, and I hope that readers of this magazine will take a similarly robust view. The tourist industry is a big part of France’s economy, and it is of much more practical help to go to the country than to stay at home.