What to do if you have a vehicle accident in France

Nobody likes to have an accident but they are sometimes unavoidable. Driving in France should be an enjoyable experience and having an understanding of what to do in an accident and knowing that you are protected by doing some pre-trip actions, should help to give you peace of mind.

If you’re driving in France or going to be driving in France make sure you know what to do in the event of a car accident ( accident d’auto), or breakdown.

The following information is a guide and we do not accept responsibility, any errors, omissions  or changes in law, check with your insurance company first or the country of your visit.

Breakdown cover for driving in France:

European Breakdown cover for your vehicle is highly recommended.  It should cover you if you need to repatriate your car or to get it repaired whilst in France which can be extremely expensive.

If you break down on one of France’s toll roads you will be obliged to use the toll road operators and administrators breakdown company  – your own breakdown cover service may not be able to assist you so check with your breakdown policy whether you are covered or not – before you travel and make that call for the breakdown service. If you have a satnav or mobile data on your phone this should help to locate where you are.

If you have a minor car accident in France you should know what to do:

Before getting out of your vehicle put your: –  hazard lights on, high visibility jacket on, move yourself and any passengers to a safe off the road location.

  • If either you or the other driver(s) involved decides to call the police, don’t move your vehicle or allow other vehicles to be moved unless this is necessary to unblock the road. If you are able – photograph as much as you can.
  • If anyone is injured, immediately call the fire service (sapeurs-pompiers) by dialling 18. Remember if you have a mobile data plan on your phone you may be able to use the translation services  on teh internet or your mobile app.
  • Emergency phones (orange pillars with SOS written on them) are positioned at 2km (1.2mi) intervals on motorways and every 4km (2.5mi) on other roads. To use them press and release the button marked pour demander au secours (‘to summon help’) and speak into the metal grille. Give the number of the telephone and as many other details as possible.
  • The mobile (cellular) phone emergency number is 112.
  • If you take an injured person to hospital yourself and he dies in your car, you could be sued for a great deal of money!
  • If there are no injuries and if damage to vehicles or property isn’t serious, it’s unnecessary to call the police, unless another driver has obviously been drinking or appears incapable of driving.
  • You must never leave the scene of an accident, however minor, before completing this procedure, as this is a serious offence.
  • Switch on your hazard lights,  then move to a safe place if the Police or Emergency services are not being called and alert oncoming traffic by placing your red warning triangle 30 metres (100 feet) down the road to alert oncoming traffic. Do ensure it can be seen by other drivers at this distance.
  • If it’s an accident and only two cars are involved, you may be asked to fill in a “constat amiable” (an amiable declaration) by the driver if a French car is involved. This is standard practice and should include written and graphic descriptions of the accident – if you don’t understand what has been written or don’t agree – do not sign the form – this is a very important document and can be used as evidence.
  • The “constat amiable” is provided by insurance companies (keep one in your car). It isn’t obligatory to complete a constat, although an insurance claim made out in any other form can take longer to process.
  • If your French isn’t good, you may complete a constat in another language. At the bottom of the form there are a number of statements describing the circumstances of the accident. You should tick the boxes that apply, add up the number of ticks and enter the number in the box at the bottom. This prevents the form from being altered later.
  • If more than two cars are involved, then each French driver will need to fill in a “constat amiable”.
  • Make a note of the registration number and take the details of any witnesses or police officers
  • Use your phone or camera to take photographs of the road (both ways), the angle of the road to vehicle  pre and post collision, any road signs or road markings, the visible damage, if you can get a photograph of the driver so he or she does not deny being the driver later this may help greatly.  A photo of their driving license and either passport or Identity card. If it is a hire car photo the hire agreement.
  • It’s important to check the details included on forms completed by other drivers against official documents, particularly those relating to a driver’s identity, driving licence, car registration and insurance details. Drivers must sign each other’s forms. Always check exactly what the other driver has written before signing. Don’t sign a statement, particularly one written in French, unless you’re absolutely certain you understand and agree with every word. In the event of a dispute, a local bailiff ( huissier de justice) should be called to prepare an independent report ( constat d’huissier). If the police attend the scene of an accident, they will also make their own report.If you witness an accident or its aftermath, it’s a criminal offence not to try to assist anyone in danger, at least by calling for help, and you can be fined up to €75,000 and imprisoned for up to five years for failing to do so.

  • France has a national fund, the Fonds de Garantie Automobile (FGA, www.fga.fr) that may pay compensation to people injured and vehicles damaged by hit-and-run drivers. However, you can claim for damage to your vehicle only if the person responsible can be identified and is uninsured or insolvent.

To make a claim,

Accident prevention is promoted by Prévention Routière (01 44 15 27 00, www.preventionroutiere.fr).

Other useful contacts are the Fondation Anne-Cellier Contre l’Insécurité Routière (01 45 00 95 35) and the Ligue Contre la Violence Routière (01 45 32 91 00).

All   parts of France except the south east should contact the Paris office at 64 rue de France, 94682 Vincennes Cedex (01 43 98 77 00).

The south-east of France should contact the Marseille office at 39 boulevard Vincent Delpuech, 13255 Marseille Cedex 06 ( 04 91 83 27 27); those in

NB:  The French insurance industry has a “no claims bonus” structure so it is possible that French drivers will ask you to agree to pay independently for damage to protect their “no claims” status so they can avoid further long-term costs.

If you have a more serious car accident in France you should:

  • Leave your vehicle(s) in the position of accident and follow the above information, unless dangerous where in this case move to a safe place and alert oncoming traffic with the warning triangle
  • Contact the police or the gendarmes as soon as possible –  make sure that you can give them details of your location:

Medical – Samu – 15

Police – Gendarme – 17

Fire – Pompier – 18

If you are calling from a non-French mobile phone dial

Single European emergency call number – 112

  • Take the name and addresses and insurance details of all parties involved and the registration numbers of the vehicles.  You may be asked to fill in or sign a “constat amiable” – as above, do not sign this if you don’t understand what’s been written or disagree with what’s been written.
  • Take the names and addresses of any witnesses. Try to obtain as many as possible.
  • If you are involved in an accident involving any sort of injury – even if it is not your fault – you MUST remain until the police have come.

NB: If there are four or more people in your vehicle and only one yellow fluorescent jacket between you this may be looked on unfavourably – but whatever you do, make sure that you use the jacket. The easy way of avoiding this is to hold as many fluorescent jackets as your vehicles maximum capacity.