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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Avis de Contravention

The French state is truly a marvel of efficiency.  Yesterday we received an Avis de Contravention (notice of violation of the speed limit) in the mail which states that on January 31, 2012 at 9:21 in the evening my spouse was driving 58 km/hour (8 km/hour over the authorized speed limit) on the Quai du 4 Septembre in Paris.  Yes, folks, my spouse's vehicle was flashed on the quay as he headed home from an alumni meeting in Paris.

Flashed?  Yes.  Isn't technology grand?  Human intervention was not required in the detection of this infraction.  Instead, a small device (probably a Mesta 210C automatic speed detector with camera) the technical characteristics of which you can read more about here, determined the speed of his vehicle, calculated that he was over the limit, and took a picture of the license plate.  A mere 7 days later the speeding ticket arrived at the apartment on pretty green and white stationery complete with the logo of the French Republic.

The description of the infraction was succinct:
Excès de vitesse inferieur a 20 km/h par conducteur de véhicule à moteur - vitesse maximale autorisée inférieure ou égale a 50 km/h.  Prévue par Art. R. 413-14 du Code de la route....
(Excess of speed of less than 20 km/h by the driver of a motor vehicle - speed limit authorized being less or equal to 50 km/h.  Provided for by Article R. 413-14 of the Road Code...)
Which has two consequences:

  • Permis de conduire (driver's license):  Since 1992 French driver's licenses have a certain number of points (the famous "permis de conduire à points").   These points can be deducted for bad driving behaviour or won back in the case of good behaviour.  For speeding on the quay my spouse lost 1 point off his license (he has 6 points total).  
  • Amende forfaitaire (fine):  a whopping 135 Euros (90 Euros if paid within 15 days) for being 8 km/h over the speed limit. Ouch.

Now in the good old days when you received a speeding or parking ticket during an election year you just sat tight and waited because incoming French presidents would often proclaim an amnesty and erase all that unpleasantness - a gesture of good will to all bad (or unlucky) drivers and other offenders against public order.  A fine way for a new president to help the country celebrate his election to high office and to thank the voters for their collective wisdom in conferring this honor upon him.

So when faced with a speeding ticket in 2012, the question is:  pay or don't pay?   Tough question because Sarkozy, in principle, is against such practices.  On the other hand, Sarko is not polling well these days and it is entirely possible that Hollande will win and we will be ushering in a new president this year.

My spouse and I are not ready to call this election just yet and we paid up last night via internet.  But like many people here, we will be watching the polls closely.  To those of you who might be visiting France this year, consider yourself warned.  It might be prudent to take the public transportation during your stay.  French drivers are, in normal times, rather aggressive.  With the possibility of an amnesty, some of them just might tempt fate (theirs and yours) by putting the "pedal to the metal" in that ancient Renault 5.

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