France decrees new laws on pedestrian and road safety

Sanctions for drivers who do not respect pedestrian priority have been hardened

A range of new measures to improve road and pedestrian safety in France have now come into law after their publication in the Journal Officiel this week.

The measures, from the road safety committee La Comité Interministériel de la Sécurité Routière, were first announced on January 9 and published officially on September 18, signed by five senior ministers including Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Home Secretary Gérard Collomb.

The decree details stronger protection for pedestrians, and harsher sanctions for drivers who do not respect pedestrian priority. It also gives more power for law enforcement to demand the “anti-start” alcohol test for drink drivers.

Drivers who do not respect pedestrian priority - including at pedestrian crossings and anywhere on the roads where pedestrians have priority over cars - will now lose six points from their licence, rather than the previous four.

Authorities will now have the power to forbid driving to anyone convicted of an alcohol-related offence (driving over the limit of 0.8g/l) except in a car equipped with an anti-start alcohol breathalyser.

Drivers convicted of an alcohol-related offence who are found to be driving a car without such a breathalyser risk losing their licence completely.

Law enforcement officers will also have more powers to record driving infractions without necessarily stopping the vehicle involved at the scene, if it would ensure greater protection of pedestrians or avoid traffic from going in the wrong direction.

Drivers also face the removal of three points from their driving licence if found with too many passengers in the car (any seats with more than one person each).

The rules come after 517 pedestrians were killed in road accidents in 2017; of which more than half were in urban areas.

One taxi driver in Saint-Étienne (Loire, Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes) told radio station France Bleu that extra protection for pedestrians was needed because many do not take enough care themselves.

He said: “All the young people today [walk around] with headphones on - I see that, and I watch out. When I see a young person crossing the road, I slow down, but one in five of them don’t even look [to see if anything is coming]. If I wasn’t being careful to brake, I’d hit three per day.”

One pedestrian suggested that drivers were inconsistent in their caution. He said: “There are some cars that stop easily, but others - if you don’t insist [on your crossing], you won’t get across.”

Commenting on the new rules, Loire gendarmerie captain Gilles Fréry said: “These are very good measures because the priority is, above all, to protect the vulnerable: pedestrians.”

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