French speed limit slashed after increase in road fatalities

Government to roll out 80km/h restriction on two-lane highways following 3500 fatalities in 2016

Planning to take your classic car to France this summer? Then watch your speed, as new limits of 50mph (80km/h) are being introduced on July 1, 2018.

In an attempt to tackle growing numbers of highway deaths, which reached an alarming 3500 in 2016, the most recent period for study, French governing bodies are introducing the drastic cut on two-lane highways with no separating guardrail. An estimated 55 percent of French road fatalities – 1911 victims – were struck on the country’s 40,000km of secondary roads, where the limit is currently 90km/h.

The move had been mooted by several previous governments, but the plans were shelved after a strong public backlash. The present government believes the lower speed limit could save over 400 lives per year.

‘Unsafe roads are not inevitable,’ said Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, after a meeting with the road-safety authorities. He added that the lives of 105 people had been claimed over the Christmas and New Year holiday period.

‘Lowering speeds reduces the number of accidents, as well as the severity of these accidents.’

  • Édouard Philippe, Prime Minster of France

Poorly judged overtaking manoeuvres and tiredness have been largely blamed for fatal crashes, with ‘excessive or inappropriate’ speed involved with over a third of recorded accidents.

The government has compared the new 80km/h limit with the 1973 seatbelt enforcement and 2002 installation of automatic speed radars. Although these previous measures attracted wrath from the French driving public, the country has seen a rapid drop in road deaths over the past four decades.

However, while there was a record low of 3268 deaths in 2013, the figure has since been on the rise. The 12 months of 2016 also saw 70,000 injuries in road-traffic accidents, while the steady increase looks set to continue with 2017’s statistics.

Opponents to the new safety move claim speed is not the outright problem, but rather the dangerous and irresponsible behaviour of modern-day drivers. They say ever-faster and more refined cars shelter the occupants from the speed travelled and install ill-fated confidence on the tarmac.

France is also planning a crackdown on the use of mobile phones while driving, with police entitled to suspend a licence should the motorist be found to have also broken other laws or been a repeat offender.

If you’re taking your classic to France in the summer, you’ll need to adhere to these new rules. Beware of hidden police cars and cameras on the main roads as the new speed limits arrive in time for the seasonal rush.

Quick reminder: 80km/h is 50mph.

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