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Road Accidents Fuel Speed Limit Debate

Tuesday 09 April 2019

Road accidents in France have shot up this year, as the radar network is trashed by protesters, and debate rages about the future of the 80km/h speed limit.

After a year on the roads in 2018 described as "historic" by the government, there has been a dramatic spike in road fatalities this year.

According to figures published by the Ministry of the Interior last month, 238 people died in January, compared to 229 in the same month last year, an increase of +3.9%, whilst in February the increase was +17.1% with 253 people killed, 37 more than last year.

The sharp increase in road deaths was particularly noticeable amongst pedestrians and cyclists, with the cyclist mortality the highest recorded in the month of February for 10 years, with 18 deaths.

"Road mortality is particularly increasing on the secondary network outside of urban areas and off motorways", the government state, and that "the effect of the sharp deterioration of fixed radars is increasing and is reflected in a relaxation of motorist behaviour on all networks".

Other indicators are just as bad, with accidents involving more than one vehicle rising to 4,091 (+22,3%) and the number of injured rising to 5,201 (+21,5%).

The increase in number of deaths is bound to fuel the controversy over the lowering to 80 km/h of the maximum authorised speed limit for 400,000 kilometres of secondary roads, in force since 1 July 2018, and which, alongside a new carbon tax on fuel, provoked the start of the gilets jaunes protests. The decrease in the speed limit has been branded by the protesters as a "racket de l'État.

Against this backdrop, last month the Upper House of the French Parliament, the Senate, voted to amend a highways bill to allow departmental councils and prefectures to increase the maximum authorised speed above 80 km/h on certain roads on a case-by-case basis. The vote was against government advice, and is unlikely to pass the Lower House, the National Assembly.

As we indicated in our article New Speed Limit on French Roads, the reduction in the speed limit appears to have been as much a political reflex as a policy decision based on relevant evidence, and one that has gone spectacularly wrong.

Since the beginning of the yellow vest movement last November the majority of fixed radars in France have been damaged or destroyed by protesters.

The Minister of the Interior, Christophe Castaner, has stated that "nearly 75% of the radars ... had been neutralized, attacked and destroyed".

The government have substantially increased manpower engaged to repair or replace the damaged radars, but in many cases they are later immobilised by protesters.

The replacement of those radars damaged beyond repair is proving to a bigger problem, costing around €50 million to which must be added the loss in revenues estimated at around €500 million.

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