Who’s fuelling who? France’s hated speed limit works - or does it?
Road deaths are at an all-time low, but opponents say they were dropping anyway
Road deaths in mainland France have hit an all-time low just six months after the government introduced a controversial new 80km/h speed limit, it has been announced.
But with anger from “yellow vests” mounting nationwide over the new restrictions – leading to 60% of the country’s speed traps being damaged or destroyed – the prime minister conceded that demands to row back on the limits were “legitimate” in some cases.
In 2018, about 3,250 people were killed in road traffic accidents in mainland France, nine fewer than the previous “record” in 2013. The fall came after three consecutive years of rising death tolls between 2014 and 2016 – an unprecedented spike since 1972, followed by a 2017 plateau. The rise prompted the government to cut speed limits on 400,000km of two-way B-roads with no central reservation from 90km/h to 80km/h last July.
That sparked howls of disapproval from automobile groups, who said the measure was another wheeze to fleece motorists via speed traps, and even caused dangerous and environmentally unfriendly traffic jams.
Some analysts said the speed limit was the initial catalyst for the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement, even before resistance erupted to a decision by President Emmanuel Macron to slap new green taxes on diesel and petrol in the new year.
Announcing the road deaths drop, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the effects of the new restrictions were “without ambiguity” and that 116 lives had been saved because of them. “We took a decision that we knew was unpopular,” he said. “We are proud of the results, of the lives saved.”
But 40 Millions d’Automobilistes, a French drivers’ organisation, pointed out that road deaths had already started to fall at the start of 2018 before the speed limit cut was implemented. “Death rates had generally been slowing down, even a year before the speed limit,” said the group.
In a nod to anger over the restrictions, Philippe said it was “legitimate to discuss the issue” in the “great debate” launched by Macron in a bid to defuse the gilets jaunes revolt. “But it would be mad to lower the level of ambition,” he added. “I wouldn’t want measures to be taken that would degrade this figure, raise the number of road accidents, the number of injured. We are proud to have shouldered our responsibilities.”
Philippe has stuck his neck out over the new speed limit, a source of tension with Macron, who reportedly blasted it as a “stupid mistake” of the prime minister’s doing and not in his electoral manifesto. The president has said he would be willing to find a more “intelligent way” of cutting deaths, while aides have let it be known they could be willing to grant local authorities the power to rescind the speed limits in certain cases.
However, Chantal Perrichon, the president of the league against road violence, said that allowing local MPs or regional heads to set speed limits would herald a “return to feudalism, with barons who had the power of life and death over serfs”.
– © The Daily Telegraph