After years of driving, I got my first speeding ticket, sort of, while driving in France.
We’ve driven extensively in Europe and we’ve noticed that speeding enforcement in France and Spain has made driving safer, predictable and enjoyable, particularly for a foreigner on vacation.
In 2013, France had more than 4,150 fixed-radar cameras and more than 800 red-light cameras (radars aux feu rouge) on its highways. Many, but not all radar cameras have a warning sign within 600 mteres. France is also installing radar tronçon (stretch radar) that takes two images over a distance from 1km to 5 km to calculate your average speed. Images are processed electronically but often not until several months later. In 2014, more than 4.5 million tickets were issued to foreigners.
For French domestic speeders, prosecution is very straightforward: a ticket is mailed to them. However, for vehicles registered outside France, and particularly rental vehicles, the process becomes more convoluted.
First, it requires cooperation with the country where the vehicle was registered, and that number of countries is evolving. Secondly, for a rental vehicle, the renter must be identified and notified. Months after a wonderful vacation, a jubilado could conceivably be served with dozens of traffic violation notices if he or she were a persistent speeder.
So, as a warning if you’re going to drive in Europe, here’s my experience.
As a Hertz Gold Member, I had rented a BMW in Spain. We were travelling on a rural two-lane road in Aquitaine, France, at noon on a Saturday. The road was deserted. We passed the friendly warning.
Most of our driving in France had been on expressways or dual carriageways where the speed limits are 130 km/h and 110 km/h, respectively, unless it’s raining, when it drops to 110 km/h and 100 km/h, respectively.
Quick! What’s the speed limit on a two-to-three-lane open road in France? 100 km/h? 90 km/h? International signage isn’t always helpful.
This indicates the end of the town of Champeix. Beyond this sign the speed limit is back to 90 km/h (or whatever it was before the town).
I don’t recall if I saw the warning sign. If I did, I may have slowed slightly out of paranoia. Also, the speedometer on the BMW and the Garmin that came with it had a difference of several km/h in indicated speed.
Within a minute we passed the camera, hiding on the right beyond the big tree.
In 2010 this camera “flashed” only 805 times; in 2009 it was 3,867 times. In 2014 it flashed at least one Canadian.
More than nine months later, we got a notice from Gesthispania, a parasite of a company that Hertz, Avis, Caixa and Firefly use to outsource the processing of traffic violations. I was charged with travelling 91 km/h—1 km/h above the regulated speed of 90 km/h! The measured velocity was 96 km/h, but there is a 5% tolerance or reduction to compensate for possible error when caught with fixed radar and a 10% tolerance with mobile radar.
The French authorities didn’t issue the ticket until seven months after the violation! If paid within 45 days, the fine was €45; within 76 days, €68; thereafter, €180! When did Gesthispania contact me? Not until 80 days after the ticket was issued.
Under the fine print in the Hertz Rental Agreement, in the event of a traffic violation, I agreed to pay “a reasonable administration charge for dealing with these matters.” What would be a reasonable charge for Gesthispania to provide my identification to the authorities? €40 was automatically charged to my credit card on record! And Hertz is a company that emails me at least twice a week notifying me of its promotions. It’s not like I’m hiding from them.
Contacting Gesthispania by email was impossible. Their email to me was sent by noreply@Gesthispania.com. Their website is only in Spanish, and the contact form includes a required field that rejects North American telephone numbers with the country code “1”. They advise contacting Hertz Spain directly but that telephone number linked to a cascade of options, all in Spanish, and none that stated that the number had, in fact, reached a Hertz office.
Hertz’s corporate office in the US subsequently reviewed the claim, but provided nothing in return, other than confirming that this is their standard practice.
The good news? I haven’t yet been contacted by the French authorities and it’s been 15 months since my one-click-over-the-line-sweet-Jesus offence. Searching the Internet, it appears this is often the case, particularly for minor violations. The bad news? If subsequently stopped in France, I may be in their system as having an outstanding violation.