As we reported a few weeks ago, classic car trips to Continental Europe show no signs of diminishing in popularity despite the current political uncertainty. But you’ll need to watch your speed closely, as French authorities in particular have recently issued a glut of historical fines to UK-based drivers – even if the offence took place a year ago.

While we certainly wouldn’t condone speeding, UK drivers going above the limit on barren stretches of French highway certainly aren’t unheard of. Previously, drivers of UK-registered cars could be stopped in person by traffic police and fined, but there were unlikely to be any repercussions for those flashed by fixed cameras as UK vehicle registration data was not shared with countries across the Channel.

However, in May 2017 a cross-border enforcement directive was expanded to include the UK and Ireland, having already been running in many EU states for a few years. This change in the law was aimed at locating people committing traffic offences in vehicles that are registered in a different EU country to where the offence was committed, meaning cross-border requests for registered keeper details could be made. New General Data Protection Regulation rules haven’t stopped this sharing of data as all the countries involved have common safeguards on its storage, retention and use.

The directive compels member states to exchange the identity of the registered keeper of a vehicle, who then gets chased for fines. However, there’s an inconsistency because Britain operates a driver liability system, so British authorities have a much harder job chasing an alleged offender from another member state than a country like France, which uses keeper liability. Many believe this has created an unfair situation.

French fines

Regardless, plenty of UK drivers have recently received fines, especially from France. One person who has witnessed this increase is classic car enthusiast Tanya Field, who regularly drives in France. “These historical fines are an unpleasant surprise and I’m trying to find out how far back the French are going,” she said. “I know of people who are receiving fines now from October and November last year which wouldn’t be possible in the UK but the French appear to have different rules.”

There are a couple of possible reasons for the plethora of fines. One is the controversial reduction of the 90kmh speed limit to 80kmh on secondary roads in July last year, which has caught out drivers and led to a rise in the amount of alleged offences.

This was certainly the case for Roger Hunt, a veteran of the Italian Job charity tour to Italy, which has been running since 1990. Earlier this month, he was sent a fine for an alleged offence on the way back through France following the event, which took place five months previously on November 3, 2018.

He was allegedly driving at 94kmh near Annecy, which would have likely escaped a charge with old speed limit of 90, but he fell victim to the new 80 limit. “I’m not going to be the only one, and I know there are several people expecting fines,” he said. “I’m happy to pay a fine, if they are paying fines over here too.”

Another theory for the rise in alleged offences concerns the Gilets Jaunes (yellow vest) movement, which erupted last November. Alongside fuel duty, the reduction in the speed limit is thought to be a major spark of the revolt, with almost 60 per cent of fixed cameras now destroyed.

Because of that, it’s thought the central office is having a clear up, hence the glut of fines. Others have suggested the plethora of fines is because authorities want the fines settled before Britain leaves the EU, when the cross-border data sharing could potentially be severed. Whether or not the French authorities have recently requested a glut of data from the DVLA, or received it previously and sat on it, is not clear. DVLA was unable to reply to our request for information before we went to press.

The historical fines are permitted because the cross-border directive requires the DVLA to provide details of the registered keeper/owner at the time of the alleged traffic offence if the authorities in another EU country make contact within 12 months of the date of the alleged offence – hence fines being issued from last summer. This is in complete contrast to the UK, where fines have to be issued within 14 days of the offence. You can request a photo from the French authorities if the registered keeper wasn’t driving the car, but the French appeal process still requires you to name who was driving.

One saving grace is that the fines are cheaper than in the UK. Outside of built-up areas, anything from 1-19kmh over the limit means a €45 fine, and for 20-39kmh it’s a €90 penalty. No points will be issued to UK licences either.

It’s expected that France will have 4700 cameras by the end of 2019 so the problem isn’t going away. You could ignore any fines, but while some confusion abounds over how the money would be collected, it’s surely not worth the risk. Not only will the fine increase say the AA, but you can expect travel difficulties if you try to return to the same country.

Of course, it would be very easy to say all of this could be avoided by not speeding, but the recent changes in the limits have caught drivers out, and limits are more strictly enforced than in Britain. The tolerance for a fixed camera in France is 5kmh up to 100kmh, and then five per cent of the speed measured. In the UK, guidance provided by the NPCC (National Police Chiefs Council), suggests that officers do not seek prosecution of a driver until they have exceeded the speed limit by 10 per cent, plus 2mph. On older cars with inaccurate speedos, that could cause a problem.

Our advice? Pay attention to new limits, and ensure your speedometer is accurate – companies like Speedy Cables offer a calibration service if you’re in doubt. As for historical fines, you may have to wait up to 12 months to find out…