France cuts speed limit due to rise in deaths, should the UK follow suit?

Article Posted on: January 10, 2018

The French government said on Tuesday it would lower the speed limit on two-lane highways to 80km/h (50mph) from 90km/h, hoping to reverse an alarming rise in road deaths.

Several previous governments had toyed with the idea as a means of reducing highway deaths, which reached nearly 3,500 in 2016, but backed off in the face of widespread public opposition.

About 55% of those deaths – 1,911 victims – occurred on the 400,000km of so-called secondary roads across France, two-lane routes with no separating guardrail.

“Excessive or inappropriate” speed was involved in 32% of those fatal accidents, which far exceeded those in urban areas.

The government says the lower speed limit could save 350 to 400 lives a year.

“Unsafe roads are not inevitable,” prime minister Edouard Philippe said after a meeting of the government’s road safety council, adding that road accidents had killed 105 people in France over the recent year-end holidays.

“Lowering speeds reduces the number of accidents, as well as the severity of these accidents,” he said.

The government has compared the 80 km/h limit, which goes into effect on 1 July, to the laws enacted since 1973 requiring the use of seat belts, and the installation of automatic speed radars in 2002. Those laws also drew the ire of thousands of drivers, but contributed to nearly four decades of declines in automobile deaths in France, which reached a historic low of 3,268 in 2013.

But in 2014 the toll began rising steadily once again. The trend looks set to continue for 2017, with deaths up 0.9% for the first 11 months of the year compared with 2016.

“There are 3,500 deaths and 70,000 injured each year – 70,000! After decades of progress, the toll is getting worse,” Philippe told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday. “If saving lives means being unpopular, I’m willing to be.”

Opponents say speed is not the problem, but rather the dangerous behaviour of many drivers. “There’s no reason to change speed limits: cars are getting better, as is road quality,” said Daniel Quero, president of the 40 Million Drivers advocacy group.

Signs already warn drivers to slow to 70 km/h in dangerous sections, Quero said, calling the government’s plan “one more penalising measure”.

Philippe said any surplus revenue from speeding tickets would go toward care for victims of automobile accidents.

The government also plans to crack down on the use of cellphones while driving. Police can now suspend a licence if the driver is found to have broken other laws while using a phone that could “endanger his own security or that of someone else”.

So what do you think? Should the UK follow suit?

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