With departmental councils to be given discretion to lift the 80km/h speed limit, the road map of France is set to become a more confusing one.
Last month, the French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced that the government are to allow departmental councils to reinstate the maximum 90km/h speed limit on departmental roads.
The Prime Minister acknowledged that reduction of the speed limit to 80km/h measure had been unpopular and a frequent issue brought up in the ‘grand débat national’ undertaken by President Macron since Nov 2018 as a result of the 'gilet jaunes' protests.
Nevertheless, the government maintained that the reduction in the speed limit, which has been in operation since 2018, contributed to a reduction in road deaths last year, down from 3,448 in 2017 to 3,259 in 2018.
Whether this was due to the reduction in the speed limit remains unclear, but as we indicated in our article New Speed Limit on French Roads, the reduction in the speed limit to 80km/h was as much a political gesture as a policy based on sound evidence.
The government have stated that if local councils are to increase the speed limit, such a change would need to be "systematically accompanied by measures guaranteeing highest possible level of road safety". In other words, if road deaths increased as a result of reinstatement of the 90km/h maximum, then councils would only have themselves to blame.
In addition, the proposal change in the law, which is now before the French Parliament, only grants discretion on departmental roads, leaving the 80km/h to continue to apply on national roads, which are under the tutelage of central government.
Nearly 10,000 kilometres of roads in France are management centrally, whilst there are around 380,000 kilometres of departmental roads. The local communes also have responsibility for 700,000 km of roads.
Whilst most departments have indicated that they propose to reinstate the 90km/h limit, it is by no means an unanimous view, with many yet to take a view, but in the majority of cases it is likely a mixed policy will be adopted.
The graphic below shows the current view of departments. Only the department of Ardennes has come out definitely against any increase, some 50 have said they are likely to adopt it, at least in part, whilst the around 40 departments have yet to take a view. Several departments have indicated that they would prefer that a national policy was adopted.
Source: France Info
The speed limit map of France is therefore going to become a confusing one, for not only will the 90km/h and 80km/h limits apply on main roads, but a 70km/h limit also frequently applies on national and department roads where there is a greater risk to road safety.
In addition, where there continues to be a 90km/h limit on dual carriageways, which increase to 110km/h where there is a central reservation.