French departments ready for speed limit changes

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe's announcement that local authorities could set own speed limits gets cautious welcome

The government's decision to relax speed limit rules on departmental roads in France has been cautiously welcomed by local authority leaders - but a blanket increase in limits appears unlikely.

The speed limit on 400,000km of departmental roads across the country was cut from 90kph to 80kph in July 2018 - a decision that has proved hugely unpopular.

Motoring organisations and local government officials highlighted a lack of consultation at the time, and the gilets jaunes movement highlighted it as a main complaint when the protests first started in November 2018.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said last week that he would be willing to devolve the speed limit issue to local government offices.

"If the presidents of departmental councils wish to assume their responsibilities, I have no problem with that," he said.

But, any return to 90kph speed limits must be "systematically accompanied by measures" guaranteeing "the highest possible level of road safety", he added.

Germinal Peiro, president of the Dordogne departmental council, was one of those who welcomed the news. He said the speed limits on 'a little more than 20%' of the 5,000kms of secondary roads in the department are set to return to 90kph as soon as possible.

"Like most departments, I regretted this measure, which was taken abruptly and unilaterally. It was taken for the whole territory and without any consultation," he told Journal du dimanche.

"We are ready, but we have to see when the law will be promulgated and when the implementing decrees will come out."

Mr Peiro said the department's elected officials had already agreed in principal to restore the 90kph limit to 1,200kms of secondary roads across the Dordogne. But, he added he had concerns over the practicalities of the new speed limits - noting that signage could be an expensive matter.

The number of deaths on the roads in France dropped to a historic low in 2018, with 3,259 people killed, which the government claimed was a victory for the new measures.

However in January and February 2019, casualty figures began climbing again. The government said that vandalism of speed cameras was to blame for the increases.

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