1. Is the testing of AVs (SAE Levels 3-5) permitted on public roads in your jurisdiction?

The testing of a vehicle with partial or total delegation of driving on a road open to public traffic in France is permitted only where specific prior authorisation has been obtained from the Ministry of Transportation after consultation with the Ministry of Interior and various other administrative authorities (Arrêté of 17 April 2018 relating to experimentation of autonomous vehicles with driving delegation on public roads).

If authorisation is given, it must specify the conditions under which the testing is permitted to take place. However, in all cases, testing must meet certain minimum conditions, which can be summarised as follows: 

  • tests shall be operated under a provisional certificate of registration called “a WW DPTC certificate”;
  • when the driving delegation functions are activated, a person is responsible for driving the vehicle as the driver. This driver must receive specific training for the delegation of control and be able to take control of the vehicle at any time, in particular in the event of an emergency or when the vehicle leaves the conditions of use defined for the test; 
  • where the test authorisation allows the driver to be physically outside the vehicle, he must be able to take control at any time, which requires permanent supervision of the vehicle and the driving environment.  When taking control, the driver must be able to perform manoeuvres necessary to ensure the safety of the vehicle, its occupants and road users; 
  • vehicles with a driving delegation may only transport consenting persons and equipment authorised by the driver, who shall enter this information in a registry kept on board the vehicle; and
  • minors are generally not allowed to participate in such testing.    

2. Are consumers permitted to use AVs (SAE Levels 3-5) on public roads in your jurisdiction?

Consumer use of vehicles with partial or total delegation is not permitted on public roads. Any use is strictly limited to experimental purposes, in order to carry out technical tests, to assess the performance of vehicles or for public demonstration (events). 

3. Who has liability for damages caused by a car in automated driving mode?

In terms of civil liability, French legislation does not provide for specific provisions concerning accidents involving AVs. Therefore, the general legislation applicable to vehicles, (the Law n°85-677 of 5 July 1985 referred to as “Badinter” Law), applies to AVs.

Similarly, general rules applicable to defective products liability or vehicle insurance obligations may apply to AVs.

The Badinter law provides for a system of liability without fault allowing for certain and rapid compensation of victims of traffic accidents (covering both physical and material damages). Every owner of a vehicle must take out compulsory civil liability insurance to cover damage for any injured party caused by him or by a person using the vehicle. After compensation, a case-by-case examination makes it possible to determine the sharing of liabilities between the persons involved in the accident and possibly including third parties (manufacturer, equipment manufacturer, software supplier, other vehicles, infrastructure, etc.).

In terms of criminal liability, the “Pacte” Law deals with criminal liability in the event of an accident occurring during the testing of AVs.

In principle, the driver of a vehicle shall be liable for offences committed while driving the vehicle. However, the driver will not be held liable when the driving delegation system has been activated in accordance with its conditions of use and when it is in operation. In this case, the responsibility of the driver is transferred to the holder of the experimental authorisation

If the use of such a vehicle with partial or total delegation has caused an accident resulting in bodily injury, the holder of the experimental authorisation will be liable for offences of involuntary injury to the life or integrity of the person when it is established that there is a fault (within the meaning of Article 121-3 of the French Criminal Code) in the implementation of the system of delegation of conduct. This concept of “fault” may include deliberate fault as well as recklessness, negligence or failure to observe an obligation of due care or precaution imposed by any statute or regulation, where it is established that the offender has failed to show normal diligence, taking into consideration, where appropriate, the nature of his role or functions, his capacities and powers and the means then available to him. In this case, the offender who has not directly contributed to causing the damage, but who has created or contributed to the situation, which allowed the damage to happen and who failed to take steps enabling it to be avoided, is criminally liable where it is shown that he has broken a duty of care or precaution laid down by statute or regulation in a manifestly deliberate manner, or has committed a specified piece of misconduct, which exposed another person to a particularly serious risk of which he must has been aware.

Art 31 of the LOM has recently opened to the government the possibility to adopt within 24 months from the promulgation of the law (i.e. until 23 December 2021) an ordinance, which should adapt French legislation (in particular, the highway code) to the case of the circulation on public roads of AVs and define a new applicable liability regime. 

For the sale or lease of AVs, provision may be made to require appropriate information or training for the driver prior to the provision of such vehicles equipped with delegation of driving.

4. Are there any specific mandatory insurance requirements for AVs?

General rules applicable to defective product liability or vehicle insurance obligations may apply to AVs.

5. Is there general liability based on warranty claims against the manufacturer for AVs?

General rules applicable to defective product liability or vehicle insurance obligations may apply to AVs.

Anne Laure Villedieu
Anne-Laure Villedieu