20 May 2011

Speed Limits in France

Last week the UK and French governments made important announcements concerning road safety. The UK produced a Strategic Framework outlining plans to reduce deaths and injuries on Britain's roads. Fig 6.1 from this document is shown below:
The central forecast is what would be expected to happen in the years ahead as the economy recovers with the existing road safety programme. The low variant should be achievable if the new measures are successful. These include better education, both in training young drivers and remedially, tougher measures against dangerous driving not just focussing upon speeding, and more scope for local government action judged against outcomes. Road injuries follow a similar pattern to deaths.

By comparison with the rest of the EU, including France, the UK has already achieved a high standard of road safety. Relevant data are provided in the European Commission’s Statistical Pocketbook 2010 (Chapter 3.7). Fatalities in France reduced significantly between 2000 and 2008, though the total number of fatalities remained higher than in the UK.

The Table below compares the fatalities in the UK and France for 2008, allowing for population and so on.

However, a deteriorating trend in road safety in the last few months in France has led to the introduction of new measures during the summer of 2011.

The measures include:
  • A ban on radar detectors (more than six million drivers use radar detectors in France, according to the suppliers)
  • The end of signs giving advance warning of speed traps (publishing maps of speed trap locations). Plans have already been announced for an extra 1,000 speed camera sites across France.
  • Speeding at more than 50kph above the limit is punishable with jail
  • More points to be taken off the licence for drink driving
  • A heavier penalty for mobile phone use and for using DVDs or computer screens while driving
While there is no reason to think that this is a revenue raising exercise, the French government will probably expect the extra resources involved to be financed by the fines being levied.

British motorists on French roads already have to drive on the “wrong” side of the road and deal with limits in kph rather than MPH, but will need increasingly to pay careful attention to speed limits to avoid uncomfortable and expensive encounters with the gendarmerie.  It is important to remember that town signs (example below) are equivalent to warnings of entering and leaving 50kph zones.
There is no equivalent in France of the 40MPH (65kph) zones common on the outskirts of UK urban areas, so speeds should drop from 90 to 50 kph and stay there until leaving, even if the area is not built-up.  This table attempts to summarise the speed limits in France (for dry and wet conditions) and converts them to MPH.  The “mph” are suggested maxima on UK car speedometers, bearing in mind that these tend to exaggerate.

Actual speeds are provided on satnav (GPS in France) displays. Switching the satnav distance unit from miles to km seems a good idea. There may be a margin above the limit which is ignored before any penalty applies (10% of the limit +2MPH in the UK) but the increasing accuracy of speed measurement based on lasers will presumably reduce this, if it applies.

Contrary to myth, the gendarmerie do not expect fines (about 75€ upwards) to be paid on the spot – a problem if you don’t have a French bank account and chequebook. There is a discount if you pay promptly, and fines can be paid on the internet. Some websites may advise that as a non-resident you should ignore the fine. Motorists are expected to carry various items of documentation and equipment. For details, consult an appropriate website like the AA’s.

If there any errors in the above, please point them out by commenting and I will correct them as applicable.

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