The matter was ruled by the Criminal Division of the french Court of Cassation in its decision of May 17, 2022. And the answer is : no!
On February 21, 2014, a driver was inspected on the road, during which he presented the gendarmes with a driving license issued by the Lebanese authorities. However, it was established that the person had previously had all of the points removed from his French driving license, so it was invalidated.
Despite the presentation of a foreign driver’s license, five days later, the defendant was summoned to appear before the criminal court to be judged on grounds of driving a car in breach of an injunction to restitute the (French) driver’s license, as a repeat offender. Under the terms of the judgment of October 1, 2014, the criminal court found the defendant guilty of the charges and sentenced him to six months’ imprisonment as well as the confiscation of the vehicle.
“Since the invalidation of the French driving license necessarily implies the prohibition of the right to drive on the French national territory, even if the defendant holds a license issued by another State or an international license, the argument that the Lebanese and international driving licenses presented by the defendant were obtained regularly is irrelevant.” (Cass. Crim., 17 mai 2022, n°21-85.611)
In other words, the invalidation of the French driver’s license means the general prohibition of the right to drive on French territory. It does not matter if the person has a valid foreign or international driving license.
This rule is not new. In fact, the Court of Cassation has already validated a sentence pronounced by the Court of Appeal of Aix-en-Provence of a person convicted of driving a vehicle despite the notification of a measure of cancellation of his French driving license, with a Spanish driving license (Cass. Crim., 8 janvier 2013, n°12-80.501).
As a reminder, when you move to France, the exchange of your driver’s license issued by non-European authorities for a French license is mandatory (except for a British driver’s license issued before 2021), within one year from the moment your residence in France is considered “normal” (from 185 days/year). The list of countries having concluded bilateral agreements with France allowing such an exchange can be found here. However, if you are a student, you can keep your foreign driver’s license during your studies.
If you own a valid driver’s license issued by another European country, you can, in principle, drive in France. However, you may request an exchange of your license for a French license. This exchange becomes mandatory, if (i) the validity of your European license has expired, (ii) you apply for a new category of license or (iii) you commit a traffic offence in France resulting in a loss of points, a restriction, a suspension or a cancellation of your license.
Attorney Maria Snitsar assists individuals in all matters related to driving licenses and, more generally, to the Road Code: whether it is a question of challenging a fine or representation before a criminal court.